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Cobham Broadcast: Going the wireless way

The deployment of wireless camera systems was once a questionable option for high profile, ‘catch-it-or-miss-it-forever’, live events. Not any more.

When COFDM was introduced into mobile wireless applications over a decade ago, it revolutionised event coverage. It meant that digital wireless camera systems could transmit non-line-of-sight signals, which gave producers complete freedom to go live from locations that were previously out of the question. Along with MPEG encoding, wireless was well on the way to success.

MPEG-2 was in my opinion the most successful compression with the introduction of wireless camera systems. It performed well in SD but HD brought a whole new challenge.

H.264 encoding has recently been a breakthrough in HD and SD wireless applications. With approximately twice the compression, the user is afforded far better picture quality (MB/s) without any sacrifice in reliability.
An early reservation in H.264 encoding was latency, which was initially in excess of 500m/s. Our R&D team made some incredible advances on the algorithm, giving us the ability to offer a latency as low as 15m/s, which not only made H.264 encoding viable for wireless communication, but a preferred option.

Our wireless systems are now being used worldwide to bring live events to viewers from angles and perspectives never before possible – many of which were patently impossible with wired systems. Cobham’s wireless technology is being used for everything from camel and dhow racing in the Middle East, to surfing, cricket and rugby in Australia, horse racing in the UK and baseball in the US – almost all from new perspectives that are delivering new levels of exciting and engaging content.

At IBC2014 we are demonstrating the virtues of Globecam’s Refcam, which enables viewers to see sports action from the viewpoint of those on the actual field of play, live and in high definition, using Cobham’s Nano HD TX, the world’s smallest HD digital video transmitter.

Images captured by a Refcam, worn by an on-field official, are transmitted by the camera-mounted Nano HD TX to Cobham’s receive system, which provides seamless integration with any broadcast production facility.

We are also demonstrating what UK-based company BroadcastRF has done with the Nano HD TX, mounting mini-camera/transmitter systems right in the starting stalls of prestigious UK horse racing events such as the Epson Derby and Royal Ascot.

These systems are durable too, as evidenced by their use in the television coverage of the Abu Dhabi Yacht Club’s Ghanada Dhow Sailing Championship. To provide this in a way that had never been done before, we had to ensure that all of our onboard transmitters were able to work inside specially designed splash-proof housings at an ambient temperature of at least 50C. We tested the systems rigorously beforehand and they all performed flawlessly during the event, which is a significant source of pride for us, and front-line proof of the technology’s robust and dependable nature.

So, are wireless systems still a question mark in the minds of production teams? Not if they talk to us or, even better, our customers.