Covering Live Events with Streaming Video at KAMU, Part 1

At public TV station KAMU at Texas A&M University, live remotes are streamed back to the control center with Streambox encoder/decoders. 1/11/2011 10:00 AM Eastern

Covering Live Events with Streaming Video at KAMU, Part 1

Jan 11, 2011 3:00 PM, With Bennett Liles

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At public TV station KAMU at Texas A&M University, live remotes are streamed back to the control center with Streambox encoder/decoders. Engineer Wayne Pecena is going to give us all the details on how they do it coming up on the SVC podcast.

Wayne, it's great to have you with me on the SVC podcast from KAMU public broadcasting at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Tell me a little about KAMU and what you do there.
Well KAMU is a public radio and a public TV station which is licensed to Texas A&M University, so in a lot of ways we are a pretty typical PBS station in terms of network programming, but because we are probably one of the smallest public TV stations in the nation but associated with one of the larger universities in the nation, we are somewhat unique that we have a lot of very close ties to the academic mission of the university. [Timestamp: 1:32]

And a lot going on at Texas A&M in the University News. I work on a university campus now, and I see a lot of news coming out of where you are. There are a lot of live events there that KAMU is involved in covering as well as providing classroom support. So what sort of live events does the station carry?
Well we try to take advantage of the localism aspect of our community. It is a fairly small community and certainly not a metropolitan area. And we try to do a lot of cultural events as well as public affairs events. Because of the university statute there is a lot of notable speakers that visit the university. A lot of those … there's a lot more demand then there are seats in the house to accommodate people, so we try to help out in areas like that and also as well as help our programming with the local standpoint. So a lot of things are somewhat mundane in that, for instance, this week or this weekend we have graduation going on, which is probably not the most compelling television event but if you have friends and family it becomes pretty, pretty popular. Some of those events have notable speakers as well and again, the university does attract a lot of speaking events and we do carry notable ones there. [Timestamp: 3:03]

And the specific methods of doing live TV coverage have evolved quite a bit over the years. When did you start using an IP network to backhaul live event coverage?
Well we have actually been using IP video for quite a few years. If you look back … really though about in 2005 began doing standard-definition broadcast type of IP video, and of course just last year or in the fall of 2009, kind of migrated into the HD capability, and that's where the Streambox came to us. [Timestamp: 3:42]

Covering Live Events with Streaming Video at KAMU, Part 1

Jan 11, 2011 3:00 PM, With Bennett Liles

Now back when all this started, you had all the IT people over on their side of things and the TV people pretty much in their area and they were clearly separate kingdoms, but of course now most of these two areas have become one in the same.
Mmm hmm.

So when it was first suggested that you go with IP video, particularly when you wanted to go with High Def, what was the reaction from your IT people on that?
Well another probably unique aspect of our relationship or our organization within the university is that the IT group and our group are really under the same umbrella of the office of information technology so we all report to the same guy, so some of the finger pointing doesn't go very far. Another aspect of … we have been involved in really IP video for classroom support since basically in the late '90s…certainly in the year 2000 and had been doing classroom IP-based video not just on the campus but throughout the A&M system. So we have numbers of years under our belts of working closely with the IT folks to basically make IP video work. Again, I think I had mentioned in 2005 we began using it for broadcast applications—higher full-frame rate and higher quality and the HD migration really wasn't that big a deal; it did take maybe a little bit more care in tending. We try and pre-test any new location that we go to, but we've been able to accommodate things pretty well both on the campus as well as we do use the IP video throughout the A&M system as well, not just the College Station campus. [Timestamp: 5:30]

And lately you're using the Streambox SBT3-9300 encoder/decoder units for HD streaming. This is a very competitive area in streaming products. Why did you decide to go with the Streambox for that?
In looking at a product that basically allowed us a HD-SDI IP transmission path, that is the product that identified that particularly had the lowest cost of ownership for us. We also have … some others have had for several years some IP gateway boxes in service in a way of accomplishing the same thing but those have to be fronted with an MPEG-2 encoder so really it takes two boxes to do what one Streambox would do and do a better job of it because of the compression algorithm and at a cheaper cost and a one-box solution. [Timestamp: 6:24]

Right, and depending on the way you have the Streambox set up you can use the same hardware on either end of the line.
That's correct, and we can instead of just having a one-way path so to speak we can … the same hardware can be just reconfigured and used in the opposite direction. [Timestamp: 6:41]

So when you're covering one of these live events, I guess it could be academic or sports or notable visiting lecturer, what sort of production setup can you do? Is it always the same thing, like a package production unit you send out, and what type of video do you tape to the Streambox?
Well, a typical, in fact the very first actual production event that we used the Streamboxes for, was when President Obama visited the A&M campus and of course made a speech from one of the venues on campus. We associated or really what I should say the Streambox is a part of our … it's the transmission aspect of our portable HD field production which is really a fly, what I refer to as a fly pack system. It is packaged in road cases so it can be rolled into different venues or we do have a remote truck that if nothing else is used to haul all the cases around, but we basically have a system that's centered around a Broadcast Pix Slate 1000 production switcher/production system. With that, we use Sony, the EX3 HD cameras with the NIPROS adapters on them so we have the triax capability and so forth. [Timestamp: 7:58]

And so at the input of the Streambox are you feeding HD SDI in there or HDMI? What's going into it?
We're feeding … taking HD SDI out of the Broadcast Pix system. We're embedding, of course, our audio, so the input of the Streambox receives an HD SDI at the other end on the corresponding decode end HD SDI with embedded audio comes out and that is basically compatible with our high-definition plant at our studio. [Timestamp: 8:29]

And when you're doing one of these live events, like you said it could be just about anything, how much set up do you have to do on those? Does it involve doing everything from the ground up or just dropping in for a PA feed on a football game or other things?
Well for the most part, it depends on the venue we're in. We've actually not done any sports events—that is probably one thing we have not done. Most of that kind of stuff is outside the realm, I guess, of public television in terms of rights and the cost in the dollars, so we really have not done any sports events. But depending upon the venue, we will do our own audio production setups or if it is in a large venue we take a house audio feed, so it really just depends on the situation. [Timestamp: 9:15]

Covering Live Events with Streaming Video at KAMU, Part 1

Jan 11, 2011 3:00 PM, With Bennett Liles

You mentioned a visit by the president to the university, and I'm sure that was well-covered by KAMU. What do you do as far the distribution end of things like that? Does it go to a campus signage system or to classrooms as well as the local broadcast?
Well we have, particularly in the case of President Obama and other notable, I guess, speakers that visit, again having enough seats in one venue is a challenge so a lot of times the video that we do becomes for overflow so it is fed to other large audience venues and basically projected on large-screen projectors. But in a case of something like the president's visit, we'll of course broadcast that to the community on our television station. We also operate a campuswide cable TV network that feeds all of our dorm rooms, and I can't say every classroom, but feeds some number of classrooms that have display capabilities. Certainly there's common areas all throughout the campus that have access to the cable TV network. Oh and we also do Internet streaming as well, so we have quite a few venues for instance. [Timestamp: 10:34]

And you provide support for the various academic courses offered by the university?
We do. That is actually a fairly large area that we operate. A lot of that is closed, I'm going to call that closed circuit or inhouse, it's generally not seen by the community although on our station we do air some for-credit Texas A&M classes, which is something probably unique to us because of the size of the community; you wouldn't necessarily find that in Houston, for instance, but in College Station, this community … pretty much the university is this community and we actually do have high-definition studio productions that are for-credit college classes. [Timestamp: 11:02]

And it looks as though wherever you're going to go to cover these live events you're always taking the Streambox with you to get the signal back. Do you have students working in the production roles on these remotes or do you have full-time staff people?
Well, we have actually a combination. We certainly have some full-time staff in the various either production roles or technical roles to support our field work, but we do employ quite a few students. In a lot of cases, our grips and all of that is certainly guaranteed to be student workers and even camera operators for events. Maybe even audio operators are students in addition to the full-time staff that is there. [Timestamp: 12:03]

Now the Streambox is so quick and easy to set up and get working it would seem to be made to order for a situation where you may have some people who are in a learning experience on the production end of things and where you may be doing things on short notice.
Well, that was one of our thoughts. If you look back a few years, we've been doing broadcast video transmission on the campus since back in the '80s, taking advantage of a fairly large-scale fiber-optic network we have using basically some Grass Valley wavelength video transmission equipment which worked really, really well for us, but it was something that had a lot of lead time in. In other words, we had to establish the right point-to-point fiber path which from major venues that was in place but the spur-of-the-moment things were a real killer for us, whereas conceptually, at least now, all we need is a Ethernet jack on the wall, and those are pretty plentiful on our campus. [Timestamp: 13:04]

Alright, it sounds like you are able to travel light and stay mobile and respond when and wherever you have to to get something on the air for the university. Thanks very much for being here. It's Wayne Pecena from public television station KAMU at Texas A&M University using the Streambox encoder/decoder for covering live events, and in part two we'll get into your studio and control center, but thanks for being here for part one.
Thank you very much.

Thanks for joining us for the SVC podcast with Wayne Pecena of Texas A&M University. Show notes can be found on the website of Sound and Video Contractor magazine at Join us for part two as Wayne gives us the details on the KAMU control center next time on the SVC podcast.

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