Video Distribution in Satellite Worship, Part 2The Unification Church decided to stream broadcast-quality video to their satellite campuses using the Internet rather than by installing expensive high-bandwidth dedicated video links. 9/15/2010 7:05 AM Eastern
Video Distribution in Satellite Worship, Part 2
Sep 15, 2010 11:05 AM, With Bennett Liles
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The Unification Church decided to stream broadcast-quality video to their satellite campuses using the Internet rather than by installing expensive high-bandwidth dedicated video links. They called LMG Systems Integration to handle the set up and Neil Morrison is here to wrap up his talk about how they got the system up and running.
Neil, thanks for being back with me on the SVC podcast for part two of the Unification Church and how they’re sending out video over the Internet to their satellite locations and that’s been a new one on me a little bit. The churches that have their facilities and resources have, in the past, been using much more expensive dedicated video links, but this is sending broadcast video out over the Internet, and it’s still amazing to me that this works as well as it seems to with the Streambox system. What kind of production system does the church have? What are they sending out on these links as far as program material?
The church is housed in a facility which is a commercial production facility in New York City. They both own and operate this facility in addition to having their services there, so they’ve got a wide array of cameras, switchers, full compliment of microphones and PA that are in place full-time for commercial use. Sundays are blocked out for them for their productions, so the production pieces are well in place as well as all the people for those productions because they carry through many of the people that are working with them on a commercial basis into the church production piece on Sundays. So it’s a very nice environment that they work from. [Timestamp: 2:01]
Yeah, it sounds like it must be a step up from your usual church situation as far as most of the churches are using volunteers; they’re training on the job; this sounds much more substantial in terms of the production quality and the equipment and the operators and so forth. So what happens at the receiving locations?
The receiving locations are quite low-tech in general; on the larger locations, we’re coming out of the Streambox decoder directly into a projector and then the audio is taken directly to a audio console—very limited because, again, these are locations that are scattered all over the country, and the folks that are there are predominantly volunteer based at their remote campuses so there’s less of that professional tech-savvy folks available there. So what we’ve did is try to make that as easy as possible for them to implement week over week. [Timestamp: 2:57]
OK and that seems like, well obviously, not as big a challenge on the receiving end, particularly if they’re not doing a lot of local production.
Right, and one things with the Streambox decoder is that because it is a unicast connection, there’s always a direct peer-to-peer relationship from the server side to the decoder so it’s possible for the folks at the head-end to absolutely know what all the diagnostics are within that decoder to be sure that it’s operating properly so they can do any and all adjustments on that piece of equipment in order to be sure that the folks that are at those remote campuses can focus on the people and not on the technology. [Timestamp: 3:38]
Yeah, that flexibility has a lot of applications, not just in this particular one. Although it would certainly be handy here, but I’ve read where these things are used more and more frequently by news operations where they’re doing ENG. Instead of sending out microwave trucks, they’re using Internet encoders and so forth to send back their news feeds.
Indeed. Again, with the ACT-L3 codec, it’s very easy to even move video across a wireless connection. It’s able to recover the proper amount of packets so that the delivery is solid, completely independent of the connection quality. [Timestamp: 4:18]
And of course you had to do a lot of installation at different places for the receiving locations even though that was probably less of a technical hurdle. How long did this whole installation take and did you have to dodge services and work in between what they were doing there?
Well, it’s interesting in that for all of the larger locations with the Streambox decoders we had preconfigured, all of the decoders IP addresses, and just invited all those folks that were from those campuses to the main campus in New York City. We trained them there; we showed them all the connectors and what not, then sent them back home to hook them up themselves, and it actually worked extremely well. We only got one or two phone calls, and it was very easy to facilitate the challenges that they had. Within the main facility, it was just a matter of connecting the encoder and the broadcast server into one of their racks, connecting up their ISP connectivity and the video and audio, and pretty much that was it; it was only about a two-day install. [Timestamp: 5:21]
It’s more of a scheduled type experience. We’ll typically do about a 30 minute preservice role so that everybody can make sure their decoders are working properly and all that; we can sort through any bugs or problems that they have. The good news about all the encoders and decoders is they all have a public-facing IP address, so that if there is a challenge, either someone at the main campus or even myself—wherever I am—can log into that specific piece of equipment and do any diagnostics that need to be done. So as long as it’s plugged in and it does have an Internet connection to it, there’s quite a bit of help that we can provide for them. [Timestamp: 6:13]
OK and at the transmission location, I guess you’ve got all the production equipment and the analog converters and streaming gear and all that all located in the same place in a rack somewhere?
Yes, the facility is an all digital facility, so we’re essentially doing SDI with embedded audio. So it’s a single cable going into the encoder on both the Streambox encoder and on the Digital Rapids touch treatment coder so that it was actually very simple, just a couple of connections and we were in and out. [Timestamp: 6:42]
And the AJA converter, which model are they using of that?
The HD10C2 AJA converter was sent out to all the decoder locations. Obviously a lot of those folks don’t have projectors that have SDI connectivity, so we were using that to go D to A so that their projectors could take an analog component signal. [Timestamp: 7:02]
Video Distribution in Satellite Worship, Part 2
Sep 15, 2010 11:05 AM, With Bennett Liles
Yeah, I figure most of them are probably running VGA cables at the low-tech receiving end.
Absolutely, that was, again, one of our challenges. With all of the locations they all had a different model projector; all of them had different inputs so going from SDI to a convertor that allowed us to do anything from composite to component RGB, [which] was very helpful and again, we sorted that out when they all came in for their training. [Timestamp: 7:27]
And I understand that they’ve added multilanguage feeds. How did that go and what did they use for that?
Well, it’s interesting. We deployed all of this stuff, and they were real happy with the results, and about four weeks into what I would of called normal operating process, they called us and said, “We need to do …”—and this was a Monday morning they called us and said, “This Sunday we need to do a broadcast to 70,000 locations around the world in three languages and we need to be ready to go right away.” Naturally that was one of those phone calls that you love to get and you hate to get at the same time. But what we did then was deploy a larger Digital Rapids box, the StreamZ 2600, which allows us to do two separate video channels simultaneously and four channels of audio per video channel so what we did was create a number of profiles that allowed us to send out the video with the video is pretty much all the same. It was their program content, but the audio changed depending on the language, and we did it in both or in English, Korean, and Japanese simultaneously. [Timestamp: 8:36]
Well, this is great that they can do that nowadays with the equipment that really figures out a lot of stuff that it used to take teams of engineers to set up back in the earlier days of live TV when maybe less than half a dozen of the absolute biggest churches with full-time people could afford to do this kind of thing and this is really empowering a lot of people to do this. It’s really fantastic the way it works.
Yeah, it makes for a very simple delivery device and [with] the Digital Rapids encoder you can add any number of profiles to do different audio sources or do Flash and Windows Media and QuickTime all simultaneously. So it’s very easy to build those profiles around different needs for the end users, and on the end user side, they just simply log in to which language they wanted; they got the video and the associated language automatically. [Timestamp: 9:27]
And with the services covering that much of the globe by video, there are obviously going to be some time coordination issues.
Obviously with having a world-wide distribution, the time zones are not conducive for a live worship for some of the folks that are either in the Far East or on the eastern side of Europe. The hours get quite a bit tangled up, so what we do is we record the service live, it immediately gets uploaded automatically to their Acme service so that it can be played out, [or] as far as the smaller campuses, be played out through any browser that supports Flash. With the Streambox device, Streambox also has a software decoder so that if that can be loaded onto any machine, they can download that content to a local machine and then play it out at will. So that’s a very effective way to deliver that very high quality, broadcast-quality, content to really any location at any time. [Timestamp: 10:24]
Well, I’m sure they’re super thrilled to have this capability. Now what was the biggest challenge you had in the installation? Was there anything that really was a formidable, like having to get it done in a hurry or having architectural situations at the receiving end?
One of the biggest challenges was [that] it’s a very old building, the New Yorker Hotel, based in mid-town Manhattan, so things tend to move slowly there as far as upgrading the bandwidth they needed. The Streambox works on a unicast topology so that every location is another. We’re doing it about a 2.5Mbps stream to each of the decoders so rather than a multicast where that’s just a single 2.5Meg stream going out, with the unicast server, every single receiving device adds another 2.5Mbps load. So we had to bring a 50Mbps circuit in right away, which took a little bit of time and was quite a bit of hoops to jump through to get that in. Also the timeline, they had a very definite time. There was a special event that they were trying to hit, and it was difficult to get all of the equipment in place—bring all of the folks in to set up the decoders and then distribute them. [Timestamp: 11:35]
Well, it sounds like you jumped through all the hoops and they didn’t have that many technical hurdles to get by. What was the reaction from the people in the church after the streaming was started and they had a chance to see the results?
When we first brought everybody to their main campus from the remote sites, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth for the folks there; they’d had a bad experience there for a while and they sort of looked at us as just another solution that they were going to have to sell to people on Sunday morning and say, “Well, yeah I know it was great last week, but this week it was rough.” And I’ve got a number of calls since saying, “Gosh, this is just such a breath of fresh air that we’re able to enjoy the service and enjoy all of the aspects of it without worrying about the screen going black all of the sudden.” [Timestamp: 12:18]
So once you had it in there and they started using it, did you have to go back and make any tweaks or changes in the original installation or maybe do a little re-training or anything?
We have because they added the multilanguage component. The TouchStream device is a great device, but taps out with a limited amount of inputs. The larger StreamZ Box is more effective for them in the long term as they’ve added multiple languages. We’ve also increased their bandwidth because the quality has gotten very good; they’re seeing a lot of growth within their world-wide congregation of people that want to watch, so we’ve had to move them up a tier as far as their weekly usage for bandwidth and just looking at adding more decoders as the campuses grow from the small 40- to 70-person congregations. When they go over 100 or 150, they’re then asking us to add additional encoders. So obviously we’re adding more bandwidth at the head-end looking at a gigabyte pipe coming in so that there’s a very, very high cap on their amount of encoders and decoders to add and then also with the multilanguage component as well. [Timestamp: 13:32]
Well, I know this is especially great for churches, and the technical part of it’s getting simpler and cheaper to do all the time. Do you see a lot of other churches expressing an interest in doing this?
I’ve been involved in multisite churches for a good number of years; my home church, Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., was one of the first to adopt this live multisite topology, and there’s literally hundreds and thousands of churches throughout the world now that are doing, at the very least, live streaming, but quite often they are gathering different subsets of people all over the country for worship, and I think it’s a great trend; it’s very effective. One of the big barriers for a lot of churches is that cost of that point-to-point connectivity; many of them can’t afford that high cost of building a large wide-area network. Through the streaming devices from Digital Rapids or from Streambox being able to push that through the public Internet, [those products] make that much more accessible for a smaller or midsize church to be able to get into this sort of application for them. And I think it’s a very effective way for them to grow. [Timestamp: 14:40]
Yeah, with a lot of them using volunteer tech people and just one or two local gurus to teach everybody, but the equipment has gotten where it’s very easy to train people on it and get good results. I think this is really empowering a lot of churches. Neil Morrison, director of Systems Integrations with LMG Systems Integration, and it’s certainly been great having you here Neil to tell us about it.
My pleasure Bennett and likewise for me; it’s an exciting new world as these technologies grow and grow and become more effective and easier to get at. I love that a lot of these [churches are] able to use the public Internet and that being such a barrier for many churches, and I work with lots and lots of churches that they’ll look at some of these high-end churches and think “That’s great; we’d love to do that, but we can’t afford this $6-7,000 a month fee for a wide-area network,” and this just allows them to be able to jump into this multisite game without the extreme investment.