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 7 On Board Reporters (OBRs), who have the job of camera operator, sound recordist, editor and production engineer.
The cameras are permanently installed 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 latest design. The connector housings are 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. For the 2014-15 race a new one-design yacht has been built for each team with camera positions key to design decisions. A new electronically stabilized PTZ camera is mounted in the hatchway where crewmembers can be interviewed in a sheltered position. 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. ‘HD-SDI Uplink Points’ provide this connection, at the hatchway and at the OBR Media Station below decks.
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 2014-2015 race based around the AVC-HD recording format. This generation of Delay Line can 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 either 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 On Board Reporter’s laptop, the OBR 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 or Adobe Premiere. This was used to great effect by Team Vestas OBR Brian Carlin when the Vestas yacht went aground at speed during Leg 2, as well as for capturing several “Chinese Gybes”, flying fish attacks and Dongfeng’s mast breakage.
The HD Media Desk integrates a range of hardware (cameras, microphones, satellite terminals, 3G/4G modems) and combines them with a set of software applications that the On Board Reporter uses to deliver media to Race Office, their sponsor and the general public. The design of the 2014-2015 Media Desk expands on the notion of having an “App” for the specific job, using the latest smartphones and tablets. The 2014-2015 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 On Board Reporter effectively configures a collection of underlying equipment and A/V routing allowing OBRs to focus on the media objective and not the underlying technology. OBRs can operate the media system from anywhere on the yacht, above or below decks, by means of the wireless access points installed on the mast and on the stern aerial platform.
Livewire Digital have designed and implemented a number of key facilities at Race Office in Alicante to support the delivery of data and media from the fleet of racing yachts round the clock.
The Audit & Telemetry Collector is responsible for receiving data from the yachts and making it available to the team at Race Office as well as to third parties to update the tracker and web site presence. The on-board Media Station collects telemetry data from the B&G equipment and relays a defined set of information, via satellite, to the Telemetry Collector every 10 seconds. Likewise, other important information such as satellite terminal and on-board systems status is delivered to the Audit & Telemetry Collector.
The JATS File Receiver is responsible for receiving file-based media from the yachts, such as Store &Forward video, still photos and blog text. M-Link Newscaster delivers the content to JATS receivers over the satellite services where it is integrated with the Race Office video and photo workflows.
Live video has become a central part of the Volvo Ocean Race media coverage and the yachts make daily use of M-Link Live X over the Inmarsat Fleet Broadband satellite service. Live X receivers at Race Office are integrated with the professional studio equipment, providing the critical live links with the fleet for use in online productions or live interviews on broadcast television worldwide.
The Network Controller is a compact bonded system, designed to manage two Inmarsat Fleet Broadband terminals, 3G/4G modems, and Wi-Fi connection to shore-based networks when in port. This configuration may often be 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 or modems.
The Java user interface can operate on both Apple OSX 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 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race yachts have two Cobham Satcom Fleet Broadband terminals on board, an FB500 and an FB250, operating on the Inmarsat global mobile broadband platform, as well as 3G/4G modems and access to shoreside wireless networks when moored during stopovers.
This offers some exciting new options but puts 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 or network 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 of the satellite terminals gets damaged?
5. How can the management team support the yachts and monitor any problems and usage?
6. How can Telemetry data from each yacht be delivered in a timely manner to Race Office for use on the VOR website and in other monitoring applications?
To address these issues, Livewire Digital has designed the Network Controller, a unit that bridges the on-board network, the satellite terminals and public 3G/4G/Wi-Fi networks. The Network Controller manages the terminals, modems and wireless access points, bringing up connections as required, routing and monitoring IP traffic. Remote access to all systems allows Race Office as well as Livewire support engineers to monitor and remotely fix systems as required.
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 FB250 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 iPhone apps. This is managed through apps on the OBR’s laptop, iPad or iPhone.
Advanced motion, strain and environmental sensors are installed on the VO65 yachts, generating valuable telemetry data in real time about every conceivable aspect of the yacht’s physical environment, including temperatures (air and water), wind and boat speed, wind and boat direction, strains on masts and rigging, GPS position, heel angle, wave height and force, and many other measurements. All this information, from a variety of different sensors in proprietary data formats, is amalgamated into customized data feeds transmitted over the on board satellite systems at regular intervals 24-7 whilst the yachts are sailing. These telemetry feeds are used to automatically generate graphics and tables on the VOR website as well as other systems in use by Race Management and other support teams. Livewire Digital has designed the telemetry relay to Race Office and applications that use this data to graphically represent the position of each yacht in relation to the Inmarsat satellites in order to make it easy to see at a glance any line of sight problems and what state the connections are in.
All media, whether edited video, photographs, or live video streaming, is delivered using Livewire Digital’s M-Link software, which is the software of choice of leading broadcasters worldwide for the transmission of high quality HD video from the world’s toughest news spots. M-Link Newscaster and Live X, running on embedded computers or the OBR’s MacBook Pro, ensure reliable, fast and simple uploads and streaming using the Fleet Broadband or 3G/4G systems installed on the yachts.