Providing live broadcast feeds to racetracks around the world requires the same technology as a TV station, but without the transmitter. Live feeds and interstitials play on the monitors above the casino floor.
The broadcast engineering world tends to think of broadcast as being sent only to the home. However, there are many other applications that use the same technology to broadcast audio and video to other venues. Horse racing has done this for years, and there is an extensive network between racetracks and off-track betting locations around the world.
Magna Entertainment recently introduced a new way for fans to enjoy horse races. The system, the Horse Wizard, is a simplified wagering machine that allows the beginning horseplayer to wager on races from multiple venues around the world on Vegas-style gaming consoles. The selection of races is handled by the system's network operations center (NOC).
The NOC consists of a multichannel master control and wagering control terminal (i.e., a gaming console). For each program stream, the master control operator monitors multiple available tracks, selects wagering information for the game console and switches audio and video for the associated track. To keep the action moving, specially produced race packages are inserted into programs when the timing between races allows.
In late July 2004, representatives of Magna's broadcasting division met with Distinctive Video Engineering to discuss the feasibility of the planned betting system to be on-air Sept. 3. Originally, it was planned that switching program material between venues could be achieved through remote channel selection of the horseplayer's console. However, it was determined that the associated break-up glitch would not be the professional look that was desired. Distinctive Video Engineering presented the concept of a multichannel NOC using Quartz master control switchers and an Omneon video server for interstitial content.
The NOC was built at the Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA, which is also home to HRTV, Magna's in-house horse racing channel, because most of the required signals already existed there. A small storage room under the grandstand and adjacent to the broadcast center was selected. During the first week of August, it was cleaned out, the old floor was jack hammered, a new concrete floor was poured and the walls were painted. Equipment was ordered on Aug. 4. High Tech Furnishing quickly built and installed the NOC's 11-bay-wide console in time for installation of the system on Aug. 16, concurrent with the installation of the sprinkler system and air conditioning. The system came online on time on Sept. 3.
Signal flow and challenges
The NOC is designed for up to three operators to work together, each handling two program streams. Each operator is seated in front of three bays. The left bay is one program stream, the center bay is for server control and the third bay is the other program stream. Between each set of three bays is a shared quality control station. As budget was a concern, it was decided to go with 9in black-and-white monitors for track previewing. Each operator has six routable monitors across the top row of his set of three bays. The lower row has a pair of 9in color monitors for preview and program for stream one, two black-and-white monitors for the server channels and a pair of 9in color monitors for preview and program for stream two. The four monitors located in the bays between operators have four fixed IRD feeds, as these are shared.
The operators each handle two live program streams sourced from the Omneon servers and real-time races.
The NOC needed to be able to generate multiple programming streams due to variations in gaming regulations at the different wagering sites throughout the world that preclude some sites from receiving some tracks. The design was for up to six program streams, with three being implemented in 2004. Those three feeds currently go to Santa Anita Park; Golden Gate Fields in Albany, CA; Laurel Park in Laurel, MD; and Magna Racino in Ebreichsdorf, Austria.
Showing a new race every five minutes is not always possible, so to keep the action moving, Magna wanted the capability to add interstitial content. Another requirement of this system was to supply clean, professional transitions between the various venues.
The video signal flow starts with the IRD to import the program material from a racing venue. The output is an analog signal that feeds into the existing HRTV analog satellite router. This Grass Valley Venus router needed to be increased in size from 48×32 to 64×64 to accommodate the additional requirements. For each program stream, two outputs from the satellite router feed into a pair of Leitch DPS-575 frame syncs that not only synchronize the incoming feed but also convert it to embedded SD-SDI.
The outputs from the frame syncs feed into a Quartz 32×32 Topaz SD router, which functions as the crosspoint matrix for the designed six channels of Quartz master control processors. Other SDI devices, including the Omneon server, are also connected to the Topaz router. Outputs from the router feed the master control switchers, the server-ingest channels and the two quality control stations.
One of the racks during construction with the router control interfaces and video over IP encoders above the Quartz equipment.
One challenge was the two-stage routing required. This routing process needed to be totally transparent to the operator. The control system performs this function flawlessly. When the operator selects a particular satellite feed on preset, the control system first determines which of the two frame syncs for that channel is not on-air. It then controls the Venus router to route the associated IRD's analog signal to the correct frame sync. The control system then switches the selected frame sync through the Topaz router to the preset input on the master control switcher. When it is time for that signal to be used, the operator triggers the switcher and it performs the transition to put the new racetrack on air.
One other positive feature of the switcher is its ability to assign any of the sources on either the 64×64 Venus and/or the 32×32 Topaz router to any of the input selection buttons on the QMC control panel. The electronic legend pushbuttons automatically update to keep the operator informed as to what sources are assigned to that button. Reassignment of any button is a simple and intuitive matter of just a few key strokes.
The Omneon server has 78 hours of storage at 10Mb/s. It is configured with two MIP 1003a MediaPorts for ingest and one MIP 3006 MultiPort, with six channel playout. Inputs to the MIP 1003a are both routable. The MIP 3006 was chosen to allow for the designed six channels of programming. The system uses three of these channels, allowing spare capacity for HRTV to experiment with. The horse racing channel is currently using this spare capacity for inserting commercials into its own program stream.
One of the Omneon server's many strong points is its ability to be expanded while in service. There are ongoing discussions to take advantage of this feature and to enlarge the server as HRTV grows.
Another challenge in the project was creating a cost-effective method of distributing the different program streams to the venues. At first, satellite distribution was used, but a lower-cost solution was needed.
Currently, both Golden Gate Field and Laurel Park are receiving MPEG-2 compressed video. As these races are fast moving, live sporting events, latency was an issue. It was determined that at least a 2.5Mb/s data rate was required, which is why dual T1 lines were chosen. Each T1 line can carry up to a 1.544Mb/s data stream. The two T1 line are switched together and connected to the encoding and decoding equipment over an ethernet connection. Another advantage of the T1 lines are their bidirectional nature. The company is looking into using the return bandwidth to get clean feeds from these tracks for HRTV.
As with all television facilities, the only constant is change. In the past 12 years, Magna's broadcast center has grown from a leased seasonal facility to a permanent, year-round, daily broadcast operation with multiple program streams for on-track, off-track and in-home viewing.
Dwight Crumb is the systems engineer for Distinctive Video Engineering.