The challenge was to design, produce, install, maintain and support the compact equivalent of an entire outside broadcast set up, capable of withstanding the extremes of temperature, constant vibration, and the corrosive saltwater environment for the nine month epic adventure. All this, whilst making it simple enough to use by the Media Crew Member (MCM), who has the job of camera operator, sound recordist, editor, production engineer.
The cameras are above decks in the most adverse conditions and have to survive the physical onslaught of waves, on board activity and salt water. Connectors are often the weak link and have been a key consideration for the MkII design. The new models see the connector housing machined into the body of the camera so there are fewer parts and enhanced performance.
In extreme conditions, the fixed cameras provide shots that would be simply impossible with a handheld camera. However, a handheld camera can be far more flexible and can capture the drama from all angles. For documentary purposes the local recording facilities of the handheld can be used, but for “Live interviews” over the satellite or during the in-port racing the camera has to be connected to the Media Desk. Three ‘HDMI Uplink Points’ provide this connection, one on the stern aerial mast, one at the hatchway and the other at the navigation desk.
HD Delay Line
The use of delay line technology has been proved to be a ‘must have’ for capturing dramatic events. Livewire Digital has developed a sophisticated delay line technology for the 2011-2012 race based around the AVCHD recording format. The new generation of Delay Line can now record HD material with a history of up to 3hrs. The Delay Line is a self-contained unit built into the Media Desk, which continually records from the pre-selected onboard camera (generally the stern camera) and microphones. When a crash event occurs, either as a result of pre-defined telemetry (such as a capsize or other sudden event) or a crewmember hitting any of the crash record buttons, the Delay Line has been configured to record the previous 4 minutes and subsequent 4 minutes. Using an app on the Media Crew Members laptop, the MCM can access and manage the media held on the Delay Line. The material from the delay line can then be edited using Final Cut Pro.
The Media Desk integrates a range of hardware (cameras, microphones, satellite terminals, microwave) and combines them with a set of software applications that the Media Crew Member uses to deliver media to Race Office, their sponsor and the general public. The design of the 2011-2012 Media Desk draws on the notion of having an ‘App’ for the specific job, mirroring the latest smartphone and tablet approach. The 2011-2012 designs also see a move from the traditional concept of a hardware console with dedicated switches and buttons towards the concept of the ‘soft console’ that can be used on both a Mac and an iPad. With so many possible inputs and outputs the management of a complex A/V system like the Media Desk requires some high level structure to be employed. By selecting a ‘workflow’ the Media Crew Member effectively configures a collection of underlying equipment and A/V routing allowing MCMs to focus on the media objective and not the underlying technology.
The media services rack provides a hosted infrastructure to manage video and audio contribution from the yachts for provision through to sponsors, broadcasters, radio stations and the internet.
HD Video Transmission via microwave during in port racing
During the in port races Livewire personnel will be on hand to ensure the smooth running of the HD video transmission. The video feed will not only be supplied to broadcaster, but will also be used for the giant displays around the race village and also fed to the internet. This will ensuring a captivating spectacle for race fans.
The Network Controller is a compact system designed to manage two Inmarsat Fleet Broadband terminals, a configuration often found on smaller vessels and racing yachts. The Network Controller offers terminal & service selection (different contexts) and can support the routing of IP traffic over different terminals.
The Java user interface can operate on both Apple Mac and Windows computers and supports concurrent user sessions allowing management of communications from different locations.
To help avoid 'Bill Shock' the Network Controller provides on screen advisory accounting and management of streaming class contexts ensuring that they are not left active during idle periods.
The 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race yachts have two fleet broadband terminals on board, an FB500 and an FB150, operating on the Inmarsat global mobile broadband platform.
This offers some exciting new options but put up a number of challenges for managing communications from the yachts, the key areas being:
1. How can the two satellite terminals be simultaneously connected to the same network?
2. How can the sailing crew decide which terminal to use?
3. Fleet Broadband offers a range of different types of connection, how does the crew select which one and how does the traffic go to the correct one?
4. Given the extreme environment, what is the fallback procedure if one satellite terminals gets damaged?
5. How can the management team support the yachts and monitor any problems and usage?
To address these issues, Livewire Digital has designed the Network Controller, a unit that bridges the on-board network and the satellite terminals. The Network Controller manages the terminals, bringing up connections as required, routing and monitoring IP traffic.
The Network Controller user interface runs on a Mac or PC and offers an intuitive application for the crew to select services and manage the on-board communications. Multiple client applications can be run simultaneously, so the navigator and media crew member can both have control of the on-board communications without complicated procedures.
The Fleet Broadband FB500 and FB150 provide very robust voice communications under extreme conditions. Livewire Digital has integrated the voice services with the Media Desk allowing voice communications through on-board audio systems including the wireless Talkback handsets. This is managed through an application on the Media Crew Members’ laptop.
The 2011-2012 race will see 1080i High Definition productions in all ports by host broadcaster IMG Media. Live material will be transmitted from helicopters, chase boats and the yachts direct to shore.
Livewire Digital has incorporated the latest generation of OEM HD microwave modules into the RF sub-system on board. Custom antennas are fitted to the aerial mast on the transom of each yacht and the system is capable of transmitting HD material over distances in excess of 15 nautical miles.
Configuring and managing sophisticated A/V & microwave equipment generally requires experts and technicians on site. During the in-port race, the Media Crew Members must take on these responsibilities and one of the key challenges has been to offer them a simple way to control and manage the system. The MCM selects the ‘in-port racing’ workflow, which pre-configures the Media desk A/V routing and then uses the Microwave Management App to select one of a set of profiles that configure the microwave to operate optimally under different prevailing conditions. He can then focus on camera and microphone control.
The on-board technology can support transmitting full HD material off the yacht, but how does the producer back on shore direct the Media Crew Member to use a specific camera, focus on an adjacent yacht or hold a shot?
Using the Fleet Broadband FB150 services in conjunction with the Media Services Rack, Livewire Digital provide a bi-direction audio bridge that allows the producer to talk to any of the MCMs. The MCM can then respond using a ‘push to talk’ facility.
On shore Livewire Digital engineers manage the microwave receivers taking instructions from the producer and presenting a number of live feeds to the IMG production facility.