Field transmission is getting a face-lift. Thanks to low-bit-rate delivery systems, field reporters and crews have new ways to get stories back to the station.
Formats like Microsoft's Windows Media 9 can help crews transmit files from the field to the station. They can edit a package in MPEG-2 or DV-based formats, then convert it to WM9 for transmission. A WM9 file can be transmitted in about 25% of the bandwidth required to send an MPEG-2 or DV file. And using Internet Protocol to put the content into even smaller packets (or packetize it) for non-real-time transmission makes it possible to send content over links as small as 128 kbps.
One example of a WM9-based new product is Telestream's MAPone product line, with the MAPone transmission application for news at the core. MAPone uses WM9 and Internet Protocol to packetize content and make it suitable for transmission back to the station via wireless technologies like WiFi. David Heppe, Telestream senior vice president, sales and marketing, says the user can dial up different settings to change the video quality to suit the delivery method. If the crew needs to get the story back quickly, more content can be packed into each second of transmission (with picture and audio quality falling). And if there's time, the crew can pack less content into each second of transmission, increasing delivery time but producing better-looking pictures and audio.
"It's designed for the journalist or crew in the field and can work over any IP-based delivery network," explains Heppe. For example, in Washington and Miami, where Verizon is testing city-wide WiFi connectivity (a service it will roll out in other markets later this year), a crew can transmit stories from anywhere as long as it has a wireless connectivity card in the PC. Sending back a story while sipping a Latte in Starbucks has never been so easy.
One feature of the system, HyperMAP, improves the amount of content the system sends through a pipe. For example, a user could access a 5-Mbps connection, but throughput would be only 1 Mbps. HyperMAP ensures that packet loss (the 4 Mbps not being used) is minimized.
Stations most often use FTP (or File Transfer Protocol) to send back content. One headache with such a method is that, if the user transmits half the story and the connection is lost, the whole file has to be re-sent. But MAPone has a feature that enables the system to resume transmission from the spot the connection was lost. "The reporter can go back to the hotel room, and it will recognize the settings and where it was in the transfer process," Heppe explains. The result is a savings in both time and money.
The system is as simple to operate as a right-click on a mouse. Once a story package is completed in an editing application like Pinnacle Liquid, Avid NewsCutter, or Thomson's NewsEdit, the user right-clicks the file, brings up the MAPone Media Portal, and begins sending.
Price is $1,950 for a software license for each laptop, although the cost is higher if the system includes HyperMAP or the company's FlipFactory (which automatically translates the content from WM9 to other formats when it's received at the station).
One company bringing live transmission to WiFi connections is SignaSys. Like the MAPone system, the VidLink system is intended to put file-transmission capability on every reporter's laptop.
It has three components: the VMU (VidLink Mobile Unit), the software tools that reside on the laptop; the VidLink Mobile Receive Unit (VMRU), which resides at the station and can receive files and live feeds from any number of deployed VMU units; and the VTS (VidLink Transceiver System), which allows live streaming and file-based content to be shared among a group of stations over wide-area networks.
"There are two goals," says SignaSys Chief Technology Officer Mark Brown. "One is to lower capital costs of news operations, and the other is to make [the operations] more competitive. With this system, they can get more stories on air and be first to air."
Brown says it takes about five minutes to send one minute of content encoded at 2 Mbps and transferred at 384 kbps. With T1 connectivity, it would take about 6.6 minutes.
The VidLink system is also ready for next-generation formats like Sony's XDCAM. Users can transfer files into the PC, translate them into WM9, and send back the video and audio as well as related metadata (like MAPone, VidLink can also resume when transfer is cut off).
It's the live application, though, that holds the most promise. "Instead of using an FTP application, VidLink opens a streaming window that is based on the WM9 technology," says Brown. "The system lets the receive unit know a live feed is being sent back and uses either WiFi or a satellite phone to send the content."
At 128 kbps, video quality is usable, but there is some "edginess" to the images.
Price of the system is about $10,000 for a laptop with the software and the live application only. Another $5,000 adds non-live applications to the laptop. The receive unit is $21,000-$25,000; the VTS, approximately $24,000.
From Tandberg comes the new E5745 digital satellite-newsgathering encoder, intended to improve field transmission capability. Last year, the company introduced a three-rack package: a two-rack-unit encoder and a one-rack-unit from Vocality that provided voice and data connectivity. This year, the three racks are down to two with the Vocality unit integrated into the Tandberg unit, bringing eight possible phone lines to the crew in the field.
"We've also done a little bit of modification to the cards in the back to allow a couple of more modules," says Tandberg Director of Marketing Lisa Hobbs. "Now the station or network can input a remux card that allows two or three camera feeds to be sent back on one transport stream."