Ocean racing challenges both man and machine, and until the late 1990’s this extreme sport took place in complete isolation, the adventure could only be portrayed when safely back in port. The advent of satellite communications and compact media equipment presented the opportunity to transform the sport and engage the public on a daily basis.
In 1997 Livewire Digital started designing the media and communications systems for the Whitbread Round the World Race. On board stills and video were captured, encoded as MPEG-1 and transmitted back to Race HQ over the Inmarsat-B satellite service.
The Whitbread Round the World Race became the Volvo Ocean Race, the Formula 1 of ocean racing. Over the past 20 years satellite and video technology has changed radically and Livewire Digital has worked with the race organisers to deliver the highest quality content from the most extreme environment. Always looking to the future, the race was delivering HD content before most mainstream broadcasters had made the transition.
As the race developed, Livewire Digital re-designed the system to fit the new requirements. Live coverage of in-port racing meant that each boat had a custom microwave system fitted, in combination with shore side receivers and remote control of the on-board cameras.
Media coverage is so important to the race that each boat has a dedicated, professional video journalists known as the On Board Reporter (OBR). Their sole job is to capture the drama of the race using the on-board media system and transmit it back to Race Office. In addition to high quality file based material; the OBR now manages live links, and when this is from Southern Ocean the logistics are challenging to say the least. Using on-board telemetry data the media system presents the OBR with a 3D model of the boat and current satellite look angles so they can check for line of sight blockages.
The advent of social media and the smartphone revolution changed the way the public view content but also the on-board equipment. Livewire Digital integrated tablets and smartphones with the on-board media system, allowing selection of cameras and microphones, control over live links, coordinate feeds as well as intercom facilities.
The last race saw the introduction of the VOR65 “One Design.” Racing in identical boats levelled the playing field for the teams. This provided the opportunity to increase the amount of metadata coming off the boats, complimenting the audio-visual material and enabling sophisticated web content. The on-board media system provided telemetry reports to Race Office every 10 seconds.
The 2017-18 race will again set new standards; the on board communications will be extended to three Inmarsat Fleet Broadband satellite terminals, four high gain 4G cellular modems and options for Wi-Fi and mesh network technology. This provides the foundations for new media workflows, including live coverage of leg starts and finishes, in port racing and more content from the high seas all delivered over IP.
The scope is far wider than a “bonded live video link”; the solution has to deliver telemetry, biometrics, weather, social media, as well as high quality video and work in one of the most hostile and challenging environments.
The communications will be managed using Livewire Digital’s SD-WAN RazorLink® Technology. RazorLink can combine the satellite and terrestrial services providing more bandwidth to any on-board application, overcoming the limitations of TCP to accelerate data transfers, prioritise important traffic like biometrics and of course, deliver low latency, resilient live video feeds.
Tristan Wood, MD of Livewire Digital Ltd said “ Engineering solutions to enable high quality content to be delivered from this extreme environment is always a challenge, one of the important aspects is to reduce very complex systems to simple workflows so that the OBR’s can get on with their job of delivering the story for the fans.”