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What's Driving The Demand For DSNG Vehicles?

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Steve Burgess, CTO at Systems Integrator, Megahertz, looks at the progression of mobile broadcast units over the years and explains why most broadcasters still opt for DSNG vehicles.

There is more choice than ever when it comes to broadcast media transport technologies, so one would have thought that the market for the traditional Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) vehicles would be in decline. In fact, Megahertz Ltd. has delivered more DSNG-type vehicles in the last year than any time in its long history.

There is no doubt that more sites are being served by fibre, which can offer a much lower operating cost than satellite links; and, with bonded cellular connectivity, deployment can be faster and simpler. However, satellite links are still proven to be the most reliable mode of signal transport, either as the back up to a high profile event where the main path is via fibre, or in the case where the cellular network coverage is patchy (which could be in built up or in remote areas anywhere in the world).

The core challenges of building DSNGs have remained much the same since Megahertz started building these vehicles in the early 90s. On top of finding the best of breed solutions that meet technical, budgetary and future-proofing requirements, Megahertz has perfected the ability to fit the maximum amount of kit into relatively small spaces, to keep it cool, the operators warm and the vehicle under its gross vehicle weight limit.

COTS IT systems aren't designed for mobile broadcast
Certainly, equipment is getting physically smaller for the same processing power. The very first OB vehicle that Megahertz built, for Muslim TV, comprised of satellite equipment that occupied 46RU; the same functionality can now be achieved in just 2RU.

Technology is certainly moving away from bespoke hardware processing to IT-based workflows. However, COTS IT equipment isn't generally designed with mobile broadcast vehicles in mind, so it's up to systems integrators like Megahertz to source, test and mount securely, the most robust and most reliable solutions available; kit that can endure fluctuations in temperature, vibration and humidity levels. What's more, vehicles have acquired more safety features, lower emissions and better fuel economy, so the chassis generally become heavier with internal systems, leaving us less payload for technical equipment and further challenges when it comes to interfacing to these systems.

4K/UHD has arrived
Another emerging trend in the OB space is of course UHD/4K, which is reflective of the Cisco Visual Networking Index of June 2016, estimating that by 2020, not only will 40 percent of installed flat-panel TV sets will be UHD, up from 8 percent in 2015, but UHD (or 4K) IP VoD will account for 21 percent of global VoD traffic.

In the summer, Megahertz supplied BT Media & Broadcast with the first OB vehicle in the UK that is able to transmit multiple HD and UHD/4K visions via simultaneous fibre and satellite. TES52 primarily covers high-profile sporting events and is capable of transmitting media both through its roof-mounted, Ku-band, satellite antenna and via BT's own fibre network that connects over 150 major sports venues and news outlets across the UK. At IBC, three visions of live UHD/4K content of two rugby matches were passed through the one vehicle in three different manners over 2 days, which, we believe, was a world first.

IP is coming
TES52 is the second UHD vehicle that Megahertz has delivered to BT Media & Broadcast. These types of UHD projects however have been based on 4 x 3G-SDI interconnections. Single link UHD is possible with 12Gb/s coax or fibre, but the future is definitely IP in this scenario. Aside from queries around interoperability, it remains to be seen whether broadcasters would accept the mild compression required to pass these signals over a 10Gb/s Ethernet link. It is more likely to take off when 25Gb/s or 40Gb/s interfaces are readily available.

We've also seen increasing requests for IP-based OB vehicles, but it is still early days in terms of vendor technology interoperability. The current landscape is made up of single-manufacturer solutions who have large R&D budgets to develop IP workflow tools rather than the more flexible mix-and-match scenario that is currently the norm around HD-SDI installations. While video over IP is without a doubt the future of broadcasting, it is still a few years away from being the universal standard.

Popular DSNGs
Over the last 12 months, the team at Megahertz has seen a rise in the demand for a single operator trucks. Usually with an IP core and smart straightforward technology for easy operation, these units are deployed for live breaking news situations, one person will drive the vehicle, shoot the material, edit and send the package back to base via satellite or bonded cellular. But, traditional, mid-sized and large production DSNG vehicles are still the most popular. Mercedes Sprinter-based vehicles with on-board generator, large satellite dish, enough space for 2-3 people and a small amount of production equipment are commonplace; and those larger production units covering, say, big sporting events or high-profile music festivals are built on vehicles such as the 7,000kg Iveco Daily panel van, or the Mitsubishi Fuso with a box body to accommodate 3-6 cameras, graphics, slow-motion server and separate sound operator.

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