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Towards hybrid production

Journal Article from Intinor

Wed 30, 06 2021

Daniel Lundstedt


We have all seen the way that producers have been forced into creating new solutions over the last year or so. If you are like me, you will have cringed at some of them!

It used to be easy. You got your contributors into a studio, or onto the platform of a conference hall; they did their piece; they interacted with each other.

Covid meant that became completely impossible. We got used to seeing people on screen coming from their own homes. Sometimes it was on Zoom, sometimes – usually when it was going to be a long term situation – then something rather more sophisticated (and high quality) was assembled.

If we now turn around and look forward, we can take what we have learnt over the past year and see how it will apply in future. I think it will fundamentally change production of both television programmes and live events like conferences or commercial presentations.

Contributors have got used to the idea that they are still valued for their expert opinion, but they do not need to waste a lot of time travelling to deliver it.

Imagine you are trying to get the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to deliver a keynote speech at your conference. In the past you had to persuade them to give up three or four days of their time, travel to your location (and maybe you had to pay the first class fares), look after them while they were there, just for that 30 minutes on stage.

Everyone is going to be happier if the CEO’s 30 minute presentation takes 30 minutes. The organiser is happy because it saves the travel and hotel costs; the CEO is happy because it takes much less time out from the real job; the planet is happier because of the eliminated carbon emissions in travel.

This will not work for everyone and every situation. I think we will find ourselves with some people in the studio or on the platform; others contributing remotely. We can call this hybrid production.

But to make this work, we have to have the right technology. Going back to our imagined conference, if you have a host and two subsidiary speakers on the platform or in the studio, but the keynote address from the CEO is on Zoom with its low resolution video, very poor audio quality and blocking, and unpredictable latency, then it is easy to guess who is not going to be happy.

For those prestigious guests, for whom Zoom will definitely not do, then you can ship a kit to them. Even if you send a technician too, their expenses will be significantly less than the CEO’s!

A simple kit might include a tripod and camera, a clip-on microphone, and maybe some flat panel lights. All you need then is some means of getting the sound and pictures to wherever they need to go.

That is where Intinor comes in. We provide bonded network services to carry signals direct point-to-point. Where we stand out is that we have developed our own protocol, BRT for Bifrost Reliable Transport. Bifrost is the burning rainbow bridge between the earth and the gods – we love our Scandinavian heritage.

We developed Bifrost to give secure and fast contribution from anywhere, over broadband or multiple cellular links. It includes a lot of technology to include that, which our competitors do not, like forward error correction which hugely reduces the need for retransmission of data packets.

With our latest version we have end-to-end latency below 0.5 seconds. Which makes for virtually seamless remote contributions.

So, at the simplest level, you pack a camera, tripod, microphone, lights and Intinor Direkt router into a flight case. All the recipient has to do is unpack it, plug in power and an ethernet cable and it is ready to go.

But you can be more sophisticated than that. Management of the bandwidth allows Intinor to partition off part of the signal for a VPN. That allows a remote PTZ camera to be operated from master control. Or multiple cameras to be switched at the location, again from the master control desk.

It also allows return video to be sent to the contributor, as a confidence monitor or to watch the rest of the proceedings. Return video is hard to do properly over an internet connection, as it normally requires ports to be open in the firewall. That is beyond plug and play understanding and, is not a good practice anyway.

The Direkt series allows the user to pull the return video into the location, eliminating the need to fiddle with firewall settings. So, it performs very much as people are used to on Zoom, but in much higher quality.

These set-ups can be quickly established in a home or an office. But we also see a growing business in local hubs: studios in towns and cities that can be rented by the hour and connected over the public internet to whichever broadcaster or production company needs them.

This is real, and available today. One company using this set-up is Zest4TV, a UK-based production companies.

Tom Herrington of Zest4TV said “What is great about the Intinor Direkt is that it is software controlled. So, we started with a basic SDI I/O, then added other functions like talkback, VPN and SRT as we needed them. No two jobs are the same.

“it has the features that we really need, like easy return video, or mix minus audio to each remote user,” Herrington added. “It also gives us control, over the VPN. The director is in charge of framing on a PTZ camera or switching between remote sources; the engineer can analyse connections and troubleshoot, relying on 4G to get the main link up.

“Hybrid events have been forced on us,” he admitted. “In the future, clients will be looking for it. Quality is the first concern; latency number two. Intinor gives us these, with very little trouble.”

The future of discussion and debate, whether on television or in conferences, will be hybrid. The key will be getting it right – stable, secure and fast.

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