The rate of uptake of IP technology in major events – providing significant improvements in efficiency and a reduction in hardware to be shipped to a venue – has been fuelled by the constraints brought about by Covid-19. The need for social distancing at all stages of the broadcast chain further emphasised the need to reduce the crew travelling to the event, but still provide the capacity for local commentaries and programming.

The recent Grand Slam tennis events in New York and Paris saw the Eurosport Cube introduced, accompanied by major changes in the technical solutions employed. One of these was addition of auto-mixing from LAMA (Lean And Mean Audio) working with Virtual Machines that requires an ASIO driver that can synchronise all audio machines with low latency. This system depends on additional hardware and some software from Merging Technologies.

Ovation international feedsThe demands of these major events need to be understood to make sense of why moving to this workflow not only makes sense but is essential. A major driver is the need to cater for more commentators without purchasing more hardware. The first request was to produce 45 concurrent feeds during the Olympics in 21 languages, so almost 1,000 mixes are required for programme mixes for Discovery and Eurosport’s digital platform (Eurosport Player). By contrast, the week after the Olympics the daily requirement might return to only 60 different mixes. Being able to define exactly what was needed and deliver this quickly through software is crucial. Flexibility and scalability are the two key words prevailing.

The Olympics and many other major sports events were either cancelled or postponed early in 2020, but there are similar temporary peaks in demand for tennis tournaments like the recent US and French Open. With the traditional hardware set-up, Eurosport would have been faced with an extra challenge when commentators had to work remotely due to Covid. Working with a software solution was key in responding to this situation. The need to be able to increase capacity on demand, prompted the decision to start using virtual machines – VM’s are more attractive in terms of cost, because having a pool of virtual machines reduces the price. Also, they can be moved or recreate if there is a problem, and can be scaled according to need.

The Olympics require a solution with a mix minus system such as provided by LAMA, so that commentaries and virtual crowds can be added remotely – and forthcoming Covid rules may prevent several commentators working in a single booth. As it is possible to control more mixes with just one operator, the benefits extend beyond medical advice – it is a natural progression to increased efficiency without compromising the viewer experience . The key is to provide more mixes without adding more operators.

Many broadcasters are now delivering content on digital platforms, with a selection of different events available continuously. This is not just introducing immersive audio and new accessibility solutions, there is now a requirement to offer user selectable options. With sport, there is already a move to have more commentaries in one language. For example, with a football match you can have one commentary from the perspective of one team and another from the opposing team or just audio from the pitch without the commentary.

With these considerations in mind, Eurosport has invested in Merging Technologies’ Hapi and Horus networked audio converters (ST2110-30 compliant) – there are now more than 20 Hapi units deployed along with a handful of the larger Horus units. Merging+Anubis units are also being added as are an increasing number of Ovation Media Servers. The AETA ScoopTeam commentary units also share the Merging ZMan technology that is a central component of Anubis. This ensures that AES67 compatibility is guaranteed between these hardware devices.

Eurosport rackIt became clear that additional custom features would be required to realise the full potential of the system. Aneman Enterprise was tailored to suit the much larger facility but it was also necessary to develop an ASIO driver capable of working with Virtual Machines.

This driver technology is now employed in Tech-Hubs in the UK and the Netherlands, with 36 VMs in each location with plans for future expansion. The Merging units provide the ASIO clock derived from the PTP Grand Master and the audio VMs are running applications such as LAMA or Merging’s Ovation Media Server.

Merging recently introduced the Anubis SPS to add ST2022-7 to the NMOS and ST2110-30 capability shared by all Merging interfaces. These protocols are also provided by the new Merging Audio Device (MAD), when the Infrastructure Pack is added. Not only does this provide multi-ASIO capability but it also adds WDM (Windows Driver Model) to the range of options to combine different media feeds.

‘We have invested considerable time to ensure we kept abreast of the fast-moving developments of the IP world,’ says Merging President and CEO, Claude Cellier, It is really stimulating to work with companies who are pushing the boundaries and Eurosport is clearly doing this. This not only results in products that perform a function, it leads us to contribute key parts of systems that offer real benefits in cost and efficiency, resulting in a better viewer experience. Working in partnership with LAMA, we feel that the success of Roland-Garros demonstrated that particularly well. We are not done yet; there will be more products coming soon to improve the workflow and integrate more easily into the total IP infrastructure.’

See also:
Merging Audo Device


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