Picture This! - TvTechnology

Picture This!

Technology sometimes changes at a blistering pace and one field where that’s happening today is in the area of RF and wireless gear. What was once the domain of a chosen few uplink and microwave operators has given rise to portable cell phones whose video ends up on CNN. The progression took some time, but changes n
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Technology sometimes changes at a blistering pace and one field where that’s happening today is in the area of RF and wireless gear. What was once the domain of a chosen few uplink and microwave operators has given rise to portable cell phones whose video ends up on CNN.

The progression took some time, but changes now take place in a year that previously would have taken five or more. It’s almost comical nowadays to think of the early Super Bowls where handheld cameras and cables stretched to mid-field for the coin toss.

Mostly gone as well is the two-person wireless camera team where an operator and a microwave transmit person choreographed a dance to cover a post game victory celebration. Trying not to get separated amid the throng was an art unto itself, two people often pointing in opposite directions: A camera toward the field and an antenna toward the press box.

News ENG crews increasingly operate with one person as the shooter and transmission person. And the 80’s saw C-band SNG go the way of Ku-band to the point that by the 90’s Ku was the norm.

Of course the world of technology changed the most when things went digital. At that point more could be done with less and multiple-signal SNG trucks became the norm.

Entrepreneurship has been a hallmark of the RF field. While a studio-to-transmitter link (STL) is likely furnished by an RF company and often ENG/SNG trucks are as well, a surprising number of mobile RF units are homemade.

I’ve worked at two TV stations where the first ENG truck was assembled by engineers at the station in someone’s garage—that is until the mast was placed atop! Recently, a friend of mine who shoots as a freelance ENG person built his own SNG truck during sporadic downtime between projects.

The field’s progress has resulted in more wireless cameras in more unusual places than ever before. Wireless cameras go on the field, in masks, on racecars and just about everywhere.

And while wireless HD is all the rage, that hasn’t stopped smaller companies from selling SD units that provide low-resolution, point-of-view shots. Some angles are so unique that you don’t expect the resolution to look that good anyway.

It used to be that wireless cameras were not the friend of an EVS playback operator because their latency was so far off it was difficult to cue to the correct point. The horse that crossed the finish line by a nose was nearly a half-second off the mark when cued up for a replay from the wireless camera’s signal; in that case, latency was downright confusing.

Today’s best of the best RF camera gear is HD and has a latency of fewer than two frames. The algorithms are better and some use formulas where each frame is protected so as to not anticipate what happened in the middle, but actually see it!

This newest generation is self-contained on the camera so no transmission person is needed. The omni-directional transmission path no longer requires an antenna to point directly at a receiver.

For TV stations, the Sprint Nextel spectrum reallocation means new, digital ENG transmission gear. The end result, provided it all goes according to plan, will give viewers digital quality live shots and ease the station’s need to replace aging equipment.

But the biggest change in RF is likely to be the proliferation of wireless devices that are redefining the field, from cameras on cell phones to video recorders that email wireless B-roll from a PDA. As someone who’s spent much of his career in the sports television world, one has to wonder if a day won’t come when the instant replay angle that decides a game is transmitted to the TV truck and the replay officials by Fred.

You know Fred, right? He’s the guy in the third row seat at the goal line that was recording the play on his cell phone. From his seat, which was at just the right angle, Fred zoomed in to record the football crossing the plane of the goal line and decide the game.

Maybe future stadiums will have central receivers that pool all the cell phone cameras in a stadium, just in case one’s needed. Gosh, I hope mine’s not on vibrate when the big moment comes.

Joseph Maar is an industry expert in television production and broadcast technology. You can write to him at jmaar@silverknight.com.