Smartphones, Remote Control and 360° at the Superbike World Championship in Barcelona (CCMA)
Almost euphoric balance of TV3's 5G experience with Superbikes at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
The long and exhausting weekend of September 19 and 20 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya ended with a feeling of almost euphoria of the TV3 team that tested 5G technology during the sixth round of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship (WorldSBK). The results of the experiment, in the end, were more ambitious than the initial human and technical deployment could make think.
The project was a joint initiative of the Government of Catalonia, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalonia and TV3, the TV channel of the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation (CCMA) within the consortium 5G Barcelona, with the cooperation of Centre of Telecommunications and Information Technologies, Vodafone and the Institute of Robotics and Industrial Informatics (IRI-UPC). Moreover, the participation of the Guttmann Institute in Barcelona added an interesting and infrequent human dimension to the essay.
The goal was to produce and perform the signal of a sports broadcast, the superbike races, using 5G technology for the remote connection of image and sound capture points. But it was not simply a matter of replacing the usual connections with 5G, but of adapting the technical and human equipment, and the narration of the events, to the new possibilities and benefits of the latest mobile generation.
Thus, the different actors involved took advantage of the opportunity offered by the World Superbike Championship –at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for the first time– to experience the use of 5G with "real fire". On the one hand, a mobile network by Vodafone, little occupied by the absence of the public in the circuit due to COVID-19. On the other hand, the racing speed to the limit would allow put to the test as in a laboratory, quality of sound, image, and realization, passed through the 5G sieve. Finally, the support of Dorna WorldSBK and the Circuit for everything to go well was a decisive and valuable contribution to the move.
“A superbike race –Marc Sansa, TV3 realization director, explains– is a hell of a lot at once: a hell of sound, a hell of radiofrequencies and a hell of narrative simultaneity of the image. And all with the vertigo of extreme coordination. It was the perfect place to test the project. It would only take a little rain: indeed, it rained on Saturday!“
Replacement of TV cameras by smartphones
"The first big challenge Sansa explains– was to replace the usual cameras and microphones with state-of-the-art smartphones and use 5G to transport the TV signal, adding all the associated information (commands, returns, etc.)". Indeed, the central leg of the project was producing pictures with the smartphones and sending these signals via 5G to the remote realisation system.
In the realization position, located on the circuit but not necessarily, a virtual mixing board deployed in the cloud was used to produce the TV signal, broadcasted by the CCMA's Esport3 channel. The realization got the signals from the cameras deployed for the project (four smartphones, a webcam and a GoPro), from the official signal of the races provided by Dorna, and from the different necessary elements (graphics, music and videos) also available in the cloud.
"Thanks to the 5G coverage –says Sansa– we did not put a single cable between the live points and the control of realization. Once we had all the SRT (Secure Reliable Transport) signals in the cloud, we performed the transmission with the help of a specific software, remotely managing the image and sound mixing functions, controlling the play-out of the videos, graphics, signage, overprints, etc., as well as the internal commands.”
"Despite the apparent difficulty of working with this deallocated system and without much precedent –explains Alberto Alejo, TV3 engineer–, the advantages weighed more on the scales than the disadvantages”. On the positive side of the scale, Alejo points out that the use of smartphones "allowed us a great mobility of the displaced equipment, because of the light weight and energy savings". Assembly and disassembly times of the operation could also be shortened and the number of people on the team reduced. "This speeds up orders and work", says the engineer.
Remote control of a GoPro with the pupils of the eyes
Two smartphones and the GoPro were located on the main line, which was the part of the circuit with 5G coverage, specifically deployed by Vodafone. One of the smartphones sent the signal of TV3 journalist moved on the track and in the pit area. The other one, operated by a cameraman, got the pictures of ins and outs of boxes and so on.
The GoPro, also in the pit-lane, was remotely controlled from the Guttmann Institute in Barcelona, operated by a robotic arm connected to a 5G modem. There, more than ten kilometres away from the circuit in a straight line, Armando Folgado –old patient of Guttmann, slot cars racer and a motor sports fan– drove the GoPro with the pupils of his eyes in real time, thanks to a special screen designed by the IRI-UPC. At the same time, Folgado collaborated as a commentator with the journalists in charge of the transmission and located in the circuit.
"We worked very decentralized", explains Alejo, "but with a common goal", and "the result is up to any production made with the traditional system”. According to Marc Sansa, "the combination of a multidisciplinary team and a very high professional level, in addition to individual enrichment, has greatly multiplied the quality and success of the end result."
Not everything went well
A last-leg of the project was to send via 5G the signal from a 360 degrees camera, installed in the line of arrival, to the YouTube TV3 channel, where viewers could follow events direct and change the point of view from any mobile connected device. "Our goal was that any spectator –Sansa explains– could enjoy this immersive experience, becoming a privileged observer from this unique point of the Circuit de Barcelona- Catalunya". The gap between the events and image live that arrived on YouTube was around 20 seconds or so, more immediate than the transmission by Esport3, about 30 seconds.
This part of the project suffered from various problems, the origin of which is still being investigated. The 360-camera stopped emitting for a few hours and this, among other things, put the counterpoint to the overall positive results of the project. "The ongoing risk of working with a new live technology by antenna", says Alberto Alejo, and the project planning in general, more alluvial than laboratory, was among the causes of what did not end work quite well.
"Technology is evolving at a dizzying speed in all fields", says Sansa. “Traditional TV production will necessarily change in the coming years, simplifying some parts and complicating others, while enhancing TV productions with new and attractive entertainment formats. This project is a good proof of what will come to us in the coming years.”