Media production with 5G at the Superbikes in Barcelona (CCMA)
The aim of this pilot was to customize the Superbikes broadcast from the Circuit de Catalunya, using 5G technologies for the remote image and sound contributions,
remote production and program streaming to the central studios.
While the basic idea was to “use 5G in a Live TV broadcast”, CCMA wanted to expand the concept by adding elements that made it more attractive and complex.
In addition to the main racing signal produced and provided by Dorna, CCMA deployed 6 image and sound capture points:
A - A sports commentator position, in the transmission booth
B - A stand-up position, moving around the pit-lane area, press and VIP areas.
C - A Pit-lane position, to catch any action from the teams.
A robotized camera installed near the time wall (between the main track and the pit-lane)
A 360º immersive camera, streaming directly to YouTube.
A PTZ camera in the ‘Fan-Zone’ of the Guttmann Institute, from where the robotized camera was controlled.
And all the usual elements - videos, graphics, overprints - that complement, enrich, and help the viewer to follow the story of a Superbike race. The position of realization and coordination was in the press room of the Circuit.
CCMA designed this production to combine various levels of innovation:
·No cameras. Use smartphones – a first big challenge was to replace the usual cameras and microphones with the state-of-the-art smartphones and use 5G not only for every audiovisual contribution but also for all the returning signals.
No wiring. Up to the cloud - Thanks to the 5G coverage offered by Vodafone, CCMA did not use a single cable between the live points and the performance control. Once all signals where in the cloud, CCMA perform the event with the help of vMix software also installed in a virtual cloud machine, remotely controlled from different geographical points by various professionals with the responsibilities of image and sound mixing, control of video playouts, graphics, signage, overprints, etc ... as well as internal orders, tally's, PTZ control.
Graphics ‘on air’ - Most of the graphics for additional information about drivers, circuits, news from the world of Superbikes, etc., were displayed directly by the director of the transmission, as they need it. From a tablet, just by pressing the button on the number / name of the driver they wanted to talk about, that info sheet appeared on the screen.
A little robotized camera - A prototype of a robotized camera, microrobotics based, and remotely controlled from a command point miles away from the camera, was installed on the time wall (the wall that splits the track and the pit lane), thanks to 5G Technologies.
The absolute power of a look - This little robot with a camera could have been controlled simply from a video game controller, but CCMA found it interesting to be able to grant the maneuver of this camera to a person who, due to its conditions of lack of mobility, could hardly be in the middle of the pits of a Superbike Championship. Thanks to the Guttmann Institute, CCMA contacted Armando Folgado. Armando has a severe movement disability; he could not even hold a joystick with his hands. However, only with the movement of the pupils, and with the user interface that IRI-UPC developed, Armando could control the view direction of the camera located kilometers away, with an immediate response. This video signal was offering a privileged point of view for Armando himself, and for the rest of the spectators, as it was part of the multicamera production.
An immersive Race - Also in a privileged position (on the finish line) CCMA installed a 360º camera to live stream an immersive point of view. The aim of this camera was to allow any user equipped with 360 glasses to enjoy this immersive experience, becoming a privileged observer from this unique point of view of the “Circuit de Catalunya”.
A sporting event like this Superbike would usually require capturing many signals and a mobile van to receive and perform the live content, also requiring a large human and technical deployment, with miles of wiring installation and a long-time preparation and deployment.
Today's technology makes it possible to replace television cameras with smartphones, coordinate and run programs with ubiquity from the cloud, and send wireless signals using 5G technologies. It is thanks to these technologies that greater immediacy and flexibility in the conduct of events was achieved, as well as a reduction in effort and, therefore, a potential increase in production capacity.
IP video transmission systems were used and allowed video signals to be captured
from Smartphones and other camera devices with the minimum latency and maximum security.
Journalists were equipped with a 5G-enabled smartphone-based imaging system so there were no mobility restrictions if they had 5G coverage.
The director was located at the “Circuit de Catalunya” with a laptop connected to a 5G modem from which he controlled the full production system installed in the cloud, in this case through vMix software. Thanks to the ubiquity of the system, the production assistant, the person controlling the video switcher, or the sound could be together with the producer or separated in different geographical locations.
But in this pilot the system was controlled and commanded from 4 separate locations, from the staff on the circuit and from professionals working at home which were responsible for providing pre-recorded images, replays, graphics with general information, results, and social media.
The robotic camera also sent images via 5G. These images were visible in real time in the Fan-Zone, inside the Guttmann Room, where a special control interface was
installed to allow Armando to control the position of the camera with his eyes. This
system was also possible thanks to the high bandwidth and low latency offered by 5G networks, which minimized the time between the camera's motion commands and the execution and display of images.
The Fan-Zone space was also shown in live during the event, thanks to a Sony PTZ camera installed and controlled remotely from the TV program realization control.
Although the technological scheme of signaling, coding, realization, signal outputs and command system could be considered more complicated (because of a lack of knowledge) and much less mature than traditional systems, these early events help to understand the real requirements that will define better technologies for the future.
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.
"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.”