IP newsgathering — Part 3

Editor's note: The following story is the third of a three-part article on IP newsgathering. The article in its entirety is appearing in November edition of Broadcast Engineering. Part 1 and Part 2 of the story are available online.

Smartphone newsgathering
Covering a raging forest fire from a mountain near Lillooet, British Columbia, Canada, in 2004, Gary Symons, then a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), experienced firsthand another limitation of ultraportable backpack journalism.

"I was on a very steep mountain getting coverage. The trees would burn down, and roll downhill spreading the fire," he recalls. Carrying three bags of gear, including a video camera, tripod, laptop and audio equipment for both TV and radio coverage, Symons decided to evacuate his reporting position when word came that a big wind had begun spreading the fire even faster.

"I started hiking back up to the truck and caught a wire dangling from one of the bundles on a tree," he says. "That flung me down the hill sending my camera, tripod and other gear all over the place. I started picking it up and stepped in a hot spot that caught my pants on fire, which caused be to drop all of the gear again.

"That is when I figured I would do two things: Get some fireproof pants and find some more portable gear," he says.

Since that time, Symons started Vericorder, a company that at the 2011 NAB Show began offering apps and hardware that turn an Apple iPhone into a Swiss Army knife of ultraportable newsgathering and transport. Using his company's newsgathering software and hardware bundle lets Symons produce three to four finished stories in the time it used to take him to shoot, report, edit and submit one with his backpack of gear, he says. Currently, live video is not an option for the system, but may be in the future as Vericorder pursues a streaming partner from the broadcast industry, he adds.

Other alternatives for live streaming news reports from smartphone exist today, however. This month AT&T announced AT&T Video Capture, an app that lets users stream video as they record it on their smartphones. A special bundle for broadcasters includes low-latency video ingest decoder software for live on-air reports. Another is Apple's FaceTime, which adds live video streaming from the iPad 2, the iPhone 4 and iPod touch as well as a Mac.

"There are a lot of ways to stream live video that may ultimately eclipse what is being done by the industry," says Dave Smith, CEO and co-founder of Los Angeles-based SmithGeiger consultancy. "A reporter with an iPad and a mobile wireless connection is pretty much in business."

However, industry consultant and publisher of the HDTV Executive Report Tore Nordahl says not so fast. "Although helpful in the overall newsgathering environment, particularly in the area of hyperlocal reporting, the iPhone 'ENG tool' will not take market away from the professional mainstream HD ENG products required by TV stations' news operations to remain locally competitive."

Even so, equipping local journalists, news producers and others in the newsroom with a relatively low-cost smartphone should increase the opportunity to find stories when they happen upon them.

Remember the future
Several developments promise an even brighter future for IP newsgathering, including more efficient compression algorithms, new ways to access the Internet remotely with high bit rates and even more portable systems for professional cameras.

In February 2012, the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding (JCT-VC) of ISO/IEC MPEG and ITU-T VCEG is expected to release the final draft of a new standard named High Efficiency Video Coding, also known as HEVC or H.265. It is anticipated that HEVC will encode video at lower bit rates than MPEG H.264 at the same quality level.

The consequences of a more efficient compression algorithm will ripple throughout the broadcast industry and likely lead to the availability of smaller IP newsgathering wireless transport camera backs or even integration of this capability directly into ENG cameras. "I think that the emerging HEVC or H.265 compression with lower bit rate and improved 4G upload speeds may help to reduce bonding complexity, perhaps to the point that only one 4G wireless upload circuit is required," says Nordahl. "Look for this by 2015, with early cameraback attempts using bonding and H.264 possibly by next year."

While the future is bright for IP newsgathering, it isn't likely to replace traditional ENG or SNG for quite a while. "I estimate that wireless broadband HD ENG backhaul will be dominant by 2015, but microwave and satellite will still be in significant ENG backhaul use, because 4G/LTE will not have sufficient or reliable coverage in the fringe areas of many DMAs," says Nordahl.

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.