Monday, April 29, 2013

A new approach to ENG field transmission

There are two approaches that most local television stations use to get audio and video from their news gathering trucks to their studios:
  1. For decades, ENG trucks have been equipped with microwave transmitters and antennas mounted on masts that range from 14 to 42 feet high when fully extended. These systems provide very reliable transmission, but they require that the ENG truck be parked, the mast be extended and the antenna be aimed at one of the station's receivers. Extension and retraction of the mast takes time.
  2. In the last few years, companies such as LiveU, Dejero, TVU, Streambox and Teradek have offered Wi-Fi- and 3G/4G/LTE-based broadband transmitters, all of which are small enough to be carried in a backpack, and some of which are small enough to be mounted on top of or behind a camcorder. These systems are light, portable and can go live very quickly. They also operate from moving vehicles. On the other hand, these broadband transmitters are at the mercy of available mobile phone bandwidth. In a situation such as the recent bombing in Boston, mobile phone networks may become gridlocked, resulting in blocky video as the system is forced to use less bandwidth, or the connection may be completely dropped.
TVNewsCheck reports that Gray Television has developed its own approach to ENG transmission that combines many of the benefits of the microwave and broadband approaches. Its new system, called GrayMax, uses a single steerable antenna in a dome on top of a SUV, which connects to base stations with 18-inch antennas located around the city. Gray says that four base stations should be sufficient to cover a medium-sized city. The operator in the truck can use GPS to steer the antenna to align with one of the base stations with a single button push, but the antenna can also be manually steered. Gray will use the 2 GHz Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) to send audio and video to the studio, and to receive audio instructions from the studio. The antenna can dynamically track the base stations while the vehicle is moving, so it can continue to feed content back to the studio.

A fully-equipped system, including the transmitter, base stations and vehicle, could cost as little as $80,000. Gray believes that it can eventually reduce the size of GrayMax so that it will fit into a backpack. In short, the system should offer the reliability of microwave systems with broadband's much faster set-up and ability to operate while in motion. In addition, by using the BAS band, it's not impacted by mobile phone congestion.

GrayMax won't replace broadband systems, because they're much less expensive and more flexible, albeit at the cost of lower reliability. However, for stations that want to replace existing microwave systems, GrayMax is likely to be less expensive to acquire, easier to use and more flexible than simply upgrading what they already have.

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