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NBC taps Scopus to transmit Olympics from Athens to America

Manufacturer Scopus entered the international sports scene in 2002, providing digital transmission gear for the World Cup. This year, it's working on the Summer Olympics in Athens. NBC has tapped the company to provide equipment to help transport video and audio signals to the U.S.

For the World Cup, broadcast from Korea, Scopus transmitted soccer matches live to more than 200 countries. The Olympics won't be totally live, but, with millions in advertising at stake and a premium placed on prime time coverage, the stakes are high.

"I'm interested to see how the time difference plays into it," says Scopus President Carol Basile. "NBC will be able to bring back the content and have enough time to package it for prime time viewing."

To facilitate the coverage, Scopus E-1100 MPEG2 DVB encoders will be installed at the Olympics International Broadcasting Center (IBC) to compress the signals for transmission back to the U.S. AT&T is putting the final touches on the transport area. It's integrating products from vendors such as Cisco, Lucent and Tiernan to ensure the six transmission paths (three satellite and three terrestrial fiber) can handle the load.

"Both transmission paths will back each other up. And all the paths are live," says Mike Jenner, AT&T vice president, enterprise networking services. "If there is a point where there is degradation or service interruption, the cutover can be virtually immediate."

The Scopus gear is able to send as many as two HD channels and 25 SD channels across the Atlantic. The signals will be received on Scopus IRD-2800 integrated receiver decoders at NBC's headquarters in Manhattan and also in Hauppauge, N.Y.; Secaucus and Englewood Cliffs, N.J.; Hialeah, Fla.; and Burbank, Calif.

Scopus and NBC began discussions in 2003, once NBC found itself with a hole in its configuration for encoders and receivers.

The network was on the hunt for high-quality compression and reliability in the gear, according to Dave Mazza, NBC Olympics senior vice president of engineering. "Scopus provides that in an easy-to-use platform that meets our standards," he says.

The E-1100 encoder is 1 rack unit in size and can handle 4:2:2 and 4:2:0 encoding profiles. Its video-output rate can range up to 52 Mbps (megabits per second), while audio can be output up to 348 kbps (kilobits per second). As for the IRD-2800, it also is 1 rack unit and has an option for two digital SDI digital video interfaces with embedded vertical blanking intervals and up to two stereo channels.

"We're one of the few manufacturers that can satisfy a total solution from encoders to multiplexers, statistical mixing, news gear and receivers," says Basile. "The only exception are set-top boxes in consumers' homes."

In fact, Scopus will also help NBC Olympics with its newsgathering needs. The E-1100 encoders will be used in two digital satellite newsgathering vehicles in Athens, transmitting footage from Olympic events or city streets back to the IBC.