A Wireless IP Video Workflow on the Face of a Mountain

Bariloche, Argentina, boasts some of the finest outdoor recreation in the world. Situated in the Andes Mountains, the Bariloche region is a tourism hotspot thanks to its vibrant forests, stunning mountain peaks, and—in the winter months—its fantastic snow.

The snow also comes with an opportunity for broadcasters to bring winter-themed broadcasts to Argentinians during the ski season. And, for the past decade, Buenos Aires-based production company Alma TV has done that through Winterchannel—a 24-hour live signal for use by Argentine television stations in Bariloche, Mendoza, San Martin de los Andes, Villa Langostura and Ushiaia.

However, Alma TV wanted to branch out and provide a bit more than just the live signal. It had a vision of producing editorial content live from the ski slopes. In 2018, the local Fox station hired Alma TV to produce “WinterNews,” a live program that airs from the mountain every weekday, as well as a “Winter Magazine” that shows news highlights on Saturdays.

The magic of "WinterNews" was that it would be broadcast on site, as close to the snowy conditions as possible. The production constructed a set in the middle of the Cerro Cathedral in the city of San Carlos de Bariloche. It was a stunning look into the winter action taking place on the mountain, but it also came with a major challenge: how to link up the multiple broadcast points to the master control room on site.

The control room would need to be set up off site, some 800 meters away from the studio in Cerro Cathedral. This was a major hurdle as the production crew worried a civil project might need to be conducted—if it was even approved—to break open streets and run optical fiber lines.

However, a much easier solution was found in utilizing NewTek’s NDI and a pair of 2.5GB Metrolinq antennas to build a wireless network to send video and audio over IP. No permits. No trenching. No long wait for the production to be up and running.

Six camera signals and eight microphones on the studio set were sent over NDI to the control room, where switchers and directors utilized a NewTek TriCaster TC1 and a NewTek VMC1 IP Series, both of which work natively with NDI.

Mike Morrison, technical manager at Alma TV, said the NDI powered solution not only “solved everything” in terms of routing the signal for the broadcast, but it also opened up previously unthought of camera angles.

“Using a combination of [NDI] and LiveU, I managed to distribute mobile phones throughout the sky centers not only in Argentina, but also in Chile,” Morrison said. “We can now receive signals from those mobile devices into our production. Topography and climate can often come together to complicate the work of a TV production. Using NDI simplifies the situation.”

To ensure that the feed from the cameras on the set ran natively to NDI, the production made use of three NewTek PTZ cameras. LiveU equipment and six DAHUA IP dome cameras were located at strategic points around the mountain to provide additional camera feeds.

“In the end we managed around 16 cameras, plus all the audio, intercom and much more thanks to NDI,” Morrison said. “The VMC1 is the heart of all this because of the number of signals it handles. Maybe this can be done differently, but surely it would not be so simple.”

The move to an end-to-end, all IP video workflow isn’t unprecedented in the industry, however Alma TV is using the NDI protocol to innovate in the way it produces its shows—especially in sport. The production company is responsible for broadcasts of some of the nation’s top flights of soccer, as well as international, multisport events and eSports and video game competitions.

It is in these applications where the NDI protocol shines—especially if the signal is being broadcast wirelessly. Camera operators at a sporting event can send the signal directly to a studio for switching and directing—no need for the outside broadcast truck nor the hundreds of feet of cabling.

With eSports and video game tournaments, the monitors themselves can be NDI compatible sources, allowing for a direct feed from the competitor to the switcher.

And, as Alma TV discovered on the slopes of Barlioche, the use of cellular phones using an NDI capable camera application can quickly bring in multiple new video angles.

“There will always be a need to define priorities and establish how to best undertake a production,” Morrison said. “But there is no doubt that NewTek’s solutions are very helpful in facilitating a good part of the process, because they are designed to serve the industry from a use perspective with rational technology, with knowledge, with vision and with a future-proof perspective.”