Extreme Broadcasting

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This past winter we were asked by a ski resort to live broadcast over the Internet a multi-camera event. We love a challenge so we said yes. The event was a national snowboarding competition the ski resort wanted us to cover from top to bottom. Literally. The concept was to have two video cameras, one at the top of the hill, one at the bottom of the hill to capture and follow each contestant as they raced down the hill. Tough terrain indeed.

Two challenges needed to be overcome. The distance between the cameras at the top and bottom of the hill was more than 4000’ and the temperatures were expected to be in the 20’s. To complicate matters, both the top and bottom of the hill cameras needed to be manned constantly for the entire eight hours each day for three days. No breaks.

First we set out to solve the distance problem between the upper mountain camera and the base. There was no existing cabling to carry a video signal. Not surprising. There are three ways to do this wirelessly. Only one works in this case. For closer distances or where there is a common Wi-Fi infrastructure, you can use the wifi infrastructure to span these distances. This did not exist on this mountain. Even if it had the latency between the remote HD camera and the switcher would likely have been enough to cause sync and timing issues, but as I said wifi was out.

The other two ways involve radios. Line of Sight radios to be exact. One type uses unregulated frequencies and is usually good up to ¼ mile without too much interference from other unregulated devices, but you never know when that might change causing a disruption in your signal. The other way to solve this is with radios in the regulated frequencies. The gear exists to span 4000’ or more and you can rent it, but that is not all you have to do. Because these radios use frequencies regulated by the FCC you have to get permission to use them for each event.

Do not fear. This is not a complicated process. The folks who rent this type of gear know who to call. It is usually someone who works full time at a TV station in your area. Very often they will want to rent you an engineer to go with the gear. In our case the engineer did not want to hang out in the cold with us. The setup and alignment for this gear is pretty straight forward you do need electricity at both ends which we had. The gear tolerates the cold well, but here is where the next challenge, cameras, comes into play.

Video cameras don’t like cold. If you read that section in the back of just about any good ENG video camera manual it will state the operating temperature for the camera. None we ever saw goes below freezing, 0 degrees centigrade. We knew this was going to be a problem for the gear, but then we remembered a little trick we learned from taking pictures of the stars on cold winter mornings.

There are two issues with the cold operation of any cameras, one is acclimation of the glass to the cold humid air without fogging, the second is mechanical operation in below freezing conditions. Both can be solved fairly simply and inexpensively. We tested this on the mountain weeks before we had to broadcast the live event. We already had weatherproof covers for our video cameras for rain. They fit snuggly and allow unimpeded operation of the camera on a tripod. The other thing we did was go to Walmart and purchase these break/shake hand warmer packs for about $0.75 a dozen. Put a couple of these in a sock, break them and wrap them around the lens of the camera and put a few in the bottom of the weatherproof camera bag and it will keep the whole camera warm for up to eight hours.

The actual event was easy by comparison to the technical challenges. Two camera operators up top (remember no breaks in the action). Two camera operators at the bottom and a Technical director to operate the switcher/encoder. The radios used to connect the camera at the top of the hill required no attention once they were set up and running. Voice communications was facilitated by hand held radios. The weather turned out to be clear, calm winds and 24 degrees for the three days. All in all a great success and great fun.

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About the Author:

George Hall Founder/President of VideoSSC. He has over 30 years’ experience as a high technology engineering executive. With significant experience in high performance computing, Military electronics, IP networks and Video Broadcasting. Board member Public Television. An author and frequent guest on technology programs and panels. He holds a BA in mathematics from Hillsdale College.
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