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Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Jul 29

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7/29/2011 10:38 AM  RssIcon

With television coverage of sports on the rise at the college, high school and even community level, the desire for a ‘broadcast-quality look’ in this coverage is creating demand for superior, but economical solutions. Viewers have become accustomed to the visual presentation they see in network broadcast and cable sports, and one key area of interest is for effects such as live instant replay with slow motion. Abekas has responded to this desire by providing a top-quality yet affordable instant replay solution with its Mira Instant Replay server—which is being employed worldwide by production companies, local broadcast and cable operators, venues, colleges and universities.

Schoolcraft College in Livonia Michigan is one recent customer embracing the Abekas Mira server. The community college covers campus sports including men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, and soccer. which are all transmitted on the campus television channel—and often on the local community’s Brighthouse cable system. The school’s media department also covers the Plymouth Whalers ice hockey games at the nearby Compuware Arena, which are broadcast on local cable. These games are also streamed by the Ontario Hockey League making them available worldwide. During playoffs, if a Canadian team is playing against Schoolcraft, broadcasts are also distributed by Rogers SportsNet.

These live sports productions at Schoolcraft College originate from a box truck which was donated to the school. Media Technician David Brown estimates the size of the vehicle at about 100 square feet, including racks and countertops. The truck supports six cameras, including a fixed overhead camera in the hockey arena. The vehicle carries Sony PMX-EX3 cameras and employs AJA devices to convert the fixed arena camera into SDI for use with the Abekas Mira. The main production switcher is a Broadcast Pix Slate G-2100.

For Brown, the introduction of the Mira server has meant a world of difference in the school’s sports coverage. “Before, we had a bare-bones system for instant replay,” he explains. The old system had limited capability, “for example, you couldn’t do replays that played in reverse.” And the Mira server provides “recording quality that looks so good, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t live.”

Schoolcraft is using an 8-channel Mira Instant Replay server, allowing them to simultaneously record six cameras non-stop, with two output replay channels. The 8-channel Mira can also be configured for two users; each with four channels for ‘2-IN/2-OUT’ or ‘3-IN/1-OUT’ replay operations. Abekas also offers a 4-channel version of Mira for use by a single replay operator.

Douglas Johnson, Chief Product Manager for Abekas, explains the instant replay/slow motion marketplace is divided into what he calls three ‘Tiers’. The ‘Tier 1’ marketplace includes national network broadcasters and sports cable channels, which is fairly saturated with EVS instant replay servers. “EVS has been in that market space for quite a long time, and really hasn’t had a lot of competition.” For Abekas, the ‘Tier 2’ and ‘Tier 3’ marketplaces include regional network broadcasters, colleges, universities, local cable, sport arenas, and large high schools. The instant replay solution for these markets is the Mira server, which Johnson describes as “significantly less expensive with a significantly smaller chassis size; and Mira provides more video channels in that smaller package.”

He adds that “Mira is using JPEG-2000 compression, which provides better image quality than what you find in most competing products.” Abekas also offers DVCPro native video recording hardware in Mira as well, with availability in August.

For Brown at Schoolcraft College, the transition to the Mira Instant Replay system was smooth and effortless. “It’s pretty much an ‘out-of-the-box’ experience,” he explains. “Take out the old one and put in the really good new one!”

Brown and his production colleagues are also taking advantage of the Mira’s built-in media file export capability. Clips stored on Mira can be easily exported for post-game highlights editing. “We go back, pull off the footage and hand it off to our editor,” says Brown. For post-production of game highlights, Mira can export captured content into media files with Quicktime MOV or MXF wrappers, with support for Avid DNxHD, XDCam, DVCPro-50, DVCPro-100 and IMX video encoding.

At the heart of the live instant replay operations is the ‘DMAT-AB’ control panel from DNF Controls. “During live games, the input video channels continuously record from one to six cameras on the input side of the server.” Abekas’ Johnson explains. “The DMAT-AB panel controls only the playback channels of Mira.” During the game, the DMAT-AB operator marks and saves clips with in and out points. “The operator then constructs a playlist of highlights from a selection of those saved clips, to present various stories from the game.” says Johnson.

The DMAT-AB control panel features a familiar layout and design with jog wheel, command buttons and T-bar for smooth and precise speed control of Mira’s slow motion capabilities. Functionality includes fast and flexible clip mark, save and recall operations. It’s unique ‘Instant Live Cut’ provides live switching between record streams, and can coordinate clips from up to six cameras and pre-loaded media files. The main features of the replay system include ‘Active Instant Replay’ which provides fast instant replay without the need to ‘clip off’ anything. It can be combined with live switching between recorded cameras on the active replay channel, which vastly streamlines operations. The ‘Play List’ feature allows an operator to stack clips in any desired order, and play them out automatically with cuts or dissolves. And the highlights ‘Melt’ feature gathers clips from any number of playlists and quickly exports them into a series of self-contained media files; with a choice of MOV or MXF file wrappers. The DMAT-AB is also fully compatible with the Super Slow Motion recording option available in Mira.

Every Abekas Mira Instant Replay system is fully HD capable, but can be used in SD environments such as found in the production truck at Schoolcraft College, where they are currently using Mira in standard definition. Brown says they hope to upgrade to HD in the near future—school budgets allowing. “Our cameras are already HD, and the Mira is HD,” he says. “Probably next year we’ll go full HD.”

And to put the icing on the cake, every Mira Instant Replay server can be instantly configured by the user to operate in stereoscopic 3D with the simple click of a mouse. So every Mira user has a secure 3D future, when that future materializes.

To Abekas’ Johnson, the success of the Mira Instant Replay server is based on the system’s combination of high-quality images, expansive feature set, ease-of-operation and exceptionally low price.

Brown at Schoolcraft College agrees, simply saying “It’s excellent.”

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