Crawley, West Sussex – Each April teams representing the two oldest universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge, meet on the Thames for one of the toughest challenges in rowing. A very popular event, this year’s race, which was covered by BBC Sport, saw Oxford claim an emphatic 11-length victory over their old rivals. Leading hire company Presteigne provided all the RF and special camera facilities, and enabled comprehensive coverage by implementing a new wireless mesh technology to route a large number of differing sources over one RF network.
The course, from Putney to Mortlake, stretches along 6.8km of the river in west London, and huge crowds pack both riverbanks to watch the action. CTV was the outside broadcast company charged with this year’s television coverage, and needed to get fixed camera positions along the length of the course, plus a number of mobile cameras, back to the production vehicles near the start at Putney.
“Using cabled cameras everywhere is impractical because of the length of the course and because of the crowds, so we had to provide eight RF cameras in three fixed locations, plus two cameras on each of the two racing boats, four cameras on three vessels following the race including the umpire’s boat, and cameras on two helicopters,” explained Martin Sexton, manager of RF and special camera services at Presteigne.
“To manage all of this we implemented a wireless mesh which effectively covered the whole of the race section of the river,” he said. “This was driven from five hubs along the bank, connected into permanent BT fibre circuits, with the signals auto-switching as they move from hub to hub.”
Using RF technology from leading companies including Cobham and the new Net Caddie IP system from Bluebell Opticom, Presteigne was able to use IP for every source. The IP mesh network also reduced the number of technical operators required, as camera parameters could be controlled remotely from the truck rather than needing engineers on the chase boats.
“When we have a requirement for wireless cameras, we know we can turn to Presteigne,” said Bill Morris, business director at outside broadcast company CTV. “They provide us with the complete package, from special cameras to secure RF connectivity, including audio, control and talkback.
“From this point of view, the Boat Race is one of the biggest jobs in the year,” Morris continued, “but Presteigne proved their skills and expertise, delivering flawless pictures and at the same time minimising their impact on the day by keeping the crew to a minimum.”
While Presteigne worked with its technology partners, it developed and proved the mesh network in-house. This is the first time the technique has been used on such a large event, and over such a big area.
“An event like the Boat Race is always going to be a huge technical challenge, but mesh networks are going to be a big game-changer in the way outdoor sports are covered,” Sexton concluded. “It streamlines the way facilities are provided, and reduces the technical crew on site. Latency is virtually zero, so the only impact on production values is a good one – the ability to get more cameras closer to the action.”