The end of the summer means powerboat racing at the Lake of the Ozarks. This year’s Shootout race speed record was 224mph, and we were there with the production technology “rooster-tail” to match. This time, “we” were KRMS Radio; Charter Cable in Osage Beach, MO; FOX 49 KRBK-TV in Springfield, MO; and KQFX FOX 22 in Columbia, MO.
It was a unique opportunity to live and learn. Let’s start with the learning.
Cellular bonding tactics
The Lake Shootout is a mile-long powerboat race course on a 90mi lake designed for top speed at the end of the measured mile. To say it is in a geographically remote location would be an understatement.
For the past couple of years, we’ve used bonded cellular products to bring three SD camera signals to a control room across the lake. This was the first year we have done the live production in HD. In our SD days, we could use the Wi-Fi mode, minimizing delay.
Weather conditions couldn’t have been better, which made the crowds even larger than expected. As a consequence, there was more IP and Wi-Fi traffic in the area than ever. Cell traffic was similarly congested as all available cellular service in most of the area emanated from a single tower. Large crowds devoured spectrum, including us.
At this year’s Shootout, the good people at LiveU graciously volunteered to help us with their gear. They loaned us five LU70s, an LU-Xtender external antenna for signal boost and six additional modems for the LU70. They also sent an engineer to help.
LiveU was a particularly interesting partner because KRBK and KQFX already had LiveU servers we could use for program backhaul via IP. Because the stations were both FOX, we produced and backhauled everything in 720p with an LU70.
Our start-line camera was on a boat with a LiveU LU70 and the Xtender containing a total of 12 cell cards. It performed flawlessly, never pixelated and showed an average bit rate of 3.5Kb/s. Our two finish-line cameras were about 1.5mi further from the cell tower, contained fewer cell cards and occasionally pixelated. We dialed in a 10-second delay to help compensate for the pixilation. According to one LiveU engineer, the pixelization was also the result of cable modem fluctuations at the studio.
We had similar experiences with a fourth LiveU unit we used for “walking-around” hand-held shots such as our world famous Hottiecam, Babycam, Doggiecam and Dockcam shots. Problems with signals from this camera were aggravated by the terrain and multiple physical barriers between the unit and the towers, and electrically well-grounded large metal docks with metal roofs. To compensate, the camera operator found some sweet spots to feed content ahead of time from. Those clips were captured on a NewTek 3Play 4800 for later near-live playout. More about NewTek’s 3Play later.