Notes from Oberhausen

I am sitting here in a control booth in Oberhausen, Germany…It is 8:17 a.m. and we are in the midst of a rehersal. I have a few moments to write. It has been a crazy, amazing week. Starting about a year ago, WCA Germany asked me to look  for an alternative method to broadcast Germany’s Leadership Summit from Oberhausen, Germany to Linz, Austria and Winterthur, Switzerland. After looking at countless alternatives including, Streambox, Sony, Optibase and several others. All of the products we looked were amazing. However, it became clear to me that we were going to have to come up with a creative solution. Our budget was simply too constrained to afford satellite and every internet based alternative we look at went from $40,000 to $60,000.

So…after much digging here is the solution we came up with…

1. Video Capture/Conversion…Rather than go with a capture card that required a high end computer with  a specialized Cardbus like PCIx, we decided to go with Canopus ADVC 1000 SDI to DV converters. All the pro IP broadcasting solutions we looked at used engineered hardware solutions that were  beyond our budget…The challenge was that we still need a pro quality SDI video feed. The Canopus fit the bill. I offer SDI video and AES/EBU audio in at less than $2,000. Furthermore,  this configuration also allowed us to  separate our capture/conversion process from our encoding process. Now I could use a lighter weight less powerful computer to support encoding. All I needed was a basic firewire connection to support a DV input stream.

2. This brings us to the second componants –

The encoder…There were about five or six software based encoders that crossed our path on this project. As I mentioned above, we decided to go with software based encoders because hardware encoders were either too expensive, too inflexible or required too much infrastructure to broadcast from a single sit to multiple location. In this case I need something small, light and simple that could handle high resolution video, be set up quickly and most of all…fit our budget.

These requirements led me to software based encoders like: Quicktime Broadcaster, VLC, Wowza Flash and Window Media Encoder 9. After reading about them and trying them first hand, we landed on Windows Media encoder. It was easy, the video and audio quality were amazing and best of all it was free.

3. The last part that I needed was hardware to run our encoders…After considering various notebooks and small form factor PCs…we landed on the mac mini with BootCamp running Windows XP service pack 2. This configuration gave me the superior engineering of Apple hardware with built in firewire for DV streams a nice, concise but powerful mobile Intel CoreDuo processor. This also gave us the flexibility to run other software based encoders on different platforms like Apple or Linux as they are discovered.

What’s Still Missing…

Quality Bandwidth…

Our major struggle in broadcasting this event was quality bandwidth between our site and our remote venues. We had between 10 and 20 Mbit in bandwidth up and each site had between 10 and 20 Mbit down. However, there were at least 20 router hops between our sites. We had no control over the quality of our connection through the networks and hardware between our sites.

We looked at various service providers who offered "video grade" quality controlled internet services. They all cost more than satellite and most, if not all, of them are designed for yearly contracts to support highend video conferencing and not week long events.

In my opinion, satellite is still the most cost effective choice for simulcasting large events across multiple sites. With Satellite you get more stability and better synchronization between sites.
I still believe that Internet based video is the future and I would do what we are doing in Germany again next week if I have the opportunity. Especially if it meant that key information would have no other way of getting to its destination. The only heads-up that I want to pass along to others is that IP broadcasting is still the Wild, Wild West of broadcasting. I don’t recommend it for people who don’t have a sense of adventure.

Next Steps…A friend of mine named Paul just forwarded an email to me yesterday from a woman who partially owns an IPTV broadcasting company. What’s unique about them is that they offer a distribution  network that spans through out North America and Europe and they offer an inexpensive set top box to make it easy for people to access the stream without the inconsistencies of a computer. I am very hopeful that this is a key component to propel our IP broadcast efforts.

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