IP newsgathering — Part 1

Editor’s note: The following story is the first of a three-part article on IP newsgathering. The article in its entirety is appearing in November edition of Broadcast Engineering.

Five years ago, CNN opened a new chapter in the use of newsgathering technology when it delivered live and recorded reports of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict using IP technology and networks.

The news network deployed journalists with a combination of portable cameras, laptop editors, IP contribution technology and advanced satellite uplinks. The setup gave CNN a new level of mobility, speed and flexibility to contribute coverage of the conflict. For these efforts, CNN was first recognized with a pair of Innovation Awards at IBC2007 in Amsterdam and in January 2008 with a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award.

Fast forward to today, and similar IP newsgathering systems are deployed around the world by television news organizations to cover everything from the aftermath of hurricanes and tsunamis to military conflicts and the election trail.

But, IP newsgathering systems aren’t limited to use by networks keen on getting to some remote corner of the planet. Local broadcasters and station groups also are deploying IP newsgathering systems to lower costs, reduce response times to breaking news and increase the number of reporters in the field.

Putting more feet on the street is exactly what local news needs, says Dave Smith, CEO and co-founder of Los Angeles-based SmithGeiger consultancy.
“Local news has become pretty generic,” Smith said. “You have to have a lot of original reporting.

“Stations have to get new, original stories on-air; they have to get back to beat stories. With MMJs (multimedia journalists), they can work beats and don’t have to have eight people on standby to race out to shoot in front of a breaking story.”

IP newsgathering technology gives them a way to contribute those beat stories without the expense of traditional electronic news gathering.

Unlike licensed Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) point-to-point ENG microwave contribution and traditional satellite newsgathering, IP newsgathering leverages the extensive, wireless, portable IP satellite transmission and wired Internet infrastructure to transport live and store-and-forward reports. While doing so offers a number of advantages, including lower cost, quicker response and greater mobility over traditional contribution approaches, IP news transport faces one challenge that ENG and SNG do not — namely bit rate, or data transfer rate. In news, where every second counts, having sufficient bit rate literally can make or break the timeliness and relevancy of a report.

The timing formula
At an IT technology summit hosted by Broadcast Engineering in 2010, Fred Fourcher, CEO of Bitcentral, laid out a simple formula that puts bit rate into perspective as it impacts newsgathering. The formula (1Mb/s Connection x Encoded Data Rate = Time to Send) elegantly sums up the challenge facing any reporter relying on an IP network for story contribution. (See Figure 1 on page 12.)

To put that challenge into perspective, consider that the encoded data rate of MPEG-4 H.264 compressed 720p HD video is 11Mb/s. (See Table 1.) Obviously, with a 1Mb/s connection, it will take 11 seconds to contribute one second of report. A two-minute report, therefore, would require 22 minutes to submit via a 1Mb/s connection (120 seconds of an encoded news report x 11 seconds). The delay grows dramatically from there as resolution increases to 1080i source footage.

A couple of solutions are obvious: Increase the data rate of the connection and employ more efficient encoders or compression algorithms. A variety of vendors offering IP newsgathering systems have addressed the former by increasing the number of IP paths, including support for multiple wireless Internet modems from different service providers, and channel bonding the connections. One, in particular, takes a slightly different approach and examines the network performance of each available wireless path. In essence, it performs a reverse stat mux to divvy up the data in a way to take advantage of the maximum data transfer rate of each wireless connection employed.

Until very recently, these types of strategies were about the only ones available to increase transfer rate. That’s because even as companies like Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T roll out their 4G wireless networks, high-data transfer rates were reserved for downloads, not uploads. But, that began to change in the spring when one vendor announced at the 2011 NAB Show that it would begin shipping later in the year a self-contained, on-camera IP newsgathering solution with full integration with the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network that takes advantage of possible upload speeds that can provide reliable delivery of broadcast video in real-time for live news.

Another solution is to take advantage of other faster wireless technologies, such as WiMAX, or tap data transfer rates available on a wired Internet connection. As for the other part of the equation — finding more efficient encoders and algorithms — price has limited deployment of more efficient encoders for IP newsgathering, and work is still under way on the successor to H.264 compression.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.