FutureSPORT: File Transport, Routing Technologies Adopt IT-Centric Approach

As high-profile sports productions grow into planetary-size endeavors, the need for reliable connectivity among several trucks at the broadcast compound has never been greater — not to mention connectivity back to the home broadcast facility. As a result, audio- and video-signal transport and routing have gradually moved away from copper-based tools toward an IT-centric workflow that liberally uses fiber and lends itself to these massive multi-truck productions.

“As the compounds grow, we are running out of real estate to put eight or nine trucks in one area,” CBS Sports VP of Engineering Bruce Goldfeder said last week at SVG’s FutureSPORT event in New York City. “So I think the infrastructure is going away from copper to fiber in the compound because they are spreading out and fiber lends itself to that kind of setup.”

Connecting the Truck of the Future
However, the evolving production compound will require an evolved production truck, which is where the buzz-worthy “truck of the future” comes in. The form of this next-generation truck will be largely determined by the connectivity it requires.

“I think the truck of the future is going to have a whole fiber infrastructure, meaning that there will be less and less copper in the truck,” said Goldfeder. “That will reduce the weight in the truck and also help future-proof it so that we can move higher-bitrate signals as they come into play.”

While transport and routing technologies for 1080p and 3D production have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years (although transmission to the home is still lagging), the question remains, when will they become efficient enough to deliver the massive throughputs required for 4K, 8K, and beyond. According to Evertz VP of Software Systems Vince Silvestri, much of the needed infrastructure has already hit the market.

“I think we’re there now in terms of a truly [connected truck],” he said. “For a long time, we were moving things around in data fashion as opposed to signal fashion. But I think we’ve made the shift. You’re seeing it in the infrastructure in today’s IT equipment: moving to 10 gig and 40 gig, which is there right now. And I think we’re at that precipice where we need to look at the future at things like 100 gig and how we make that play in this space.”

No Longer King, Copper Has Its Place
Although fiber is seemingly the most popular kid in school, many believe there will always be a place for copper coaxial cable in the compound, largely for communication needs.

“The copper infrastructure will always be there to get out to your sets and booths,” said Justin Paulk, broadcast fiber solutions manager for Bexel. “But the biggest thing is the truck-to-truck workflow and how that interconnects, and that is where fiber is most effective. Getting your signal back to your compound is one issue, and then how everyone talks and communications to each other is another issue altogether.”

The Education Factor
Perhaps the greatest impediment to the fiber revolution is a simple lack of education and training. While nearly all freelancers and crew members are well-equipped to deal with copper solutions, many are still ill-informed on the fiber side.

“The biggest issue right now is something that could be easily rectified: just training the personnel,” said Robert Erickson, senior systems engineerMiranda Technologies. “How many people here can strip and crimp a BNC connector [for coax] in less than 20 seconds? Plenty. Now, how many people can do the same on fiber? Not many. And that’s just a training issue, which can be very easily rectified if people just put forth the effort.”

Even when crew members are acquainted with fiber, many simply don’t trust it over the old reliable — but less efficient — copper.

“I think it’s an education issue. It is so easy for an A1 to just say, hey, let’s go run another DT-12 up to get us connected,” said Stagetec USA President Rusty Waite. “But is that really what we need to be doing in this modern generation? I think the systems are there, but people are apprehensive. I see that from operators, but, once they start working with the systems, they start moving in the right direction. But it’s still a question of time. I think we owe it to ourselves to get to that next level.”

Mad About MADI
The wide adoption of MADI (Multichannel Audio Digital Interface) audio in sports production has been a game-changer, especially on larger shows like the Masters golf tournament and X Games. This has allowed networks to focus on quality rather than quirks.

“Right now, with MADI and TDM [time-division multiplexing), audio has gotten much better for us,” said Goldfeder. “On our bigger shows, we are able to actually enhance the quality of our audio instead of troubleshooting the whole time.”

But MADI is by no means the endgame. The next generation of audio networking is already on its way.

“MADI is something we’ve been using for a long time and we’ve now adopted here in this market,” said Waite. “But MADI is still a point-to-point technology, and now were looking at point-to-network. That allows everyone to feed to a switch and I can just take whatever I want. I think that’s what we’re really seeing in the future.”