COUNTDOWN TO NAB-2011 — Issue 1

NEW Live HD ENG backhaul technology as early as 2011?

Will bonding of multiple 4G broadband wireless connections soon replace BAS microwave?

Live HD ENG makes you highly competitive

Local, national, and worldwide television news must have the capability to go live on the air with late-breaking news, with live pictures from the remote site, and, when appropriate, live interviews between the news anchors and the field talent, and between the field talent and the on-location news-worthy subjects. Whether from the ENG van, the ENG helicopter, fixed-mounted POV locations, handheld or shoulder-carried camcorders, instant wired or wireless delivery of news to the TV station with real HD quality on-air is an absolute necessity for local TV news market leadership and profitability in 2011.

It’s all about ratings . . . in HD

The Author of this Report resides in Los Angeles (Nielsen DMA #2 – 5.67 million TV Households – Population covered is about 17 million – about 5% of the total U.S. TV households) and the Author is a “news nut”. Needless to say that all major TV stations are HD, and the leading news stations are equipped to do HD ENG. Dividing 17 million population by 5.67 million TV households gives 3 persons per TV household, however, actual late evening potential TV viewing is more like 2 persons per LA TV households after deducting children and older demographics. Total potential viewership of late evening TV viewing (10PM—11:30PM) is on the order of 11 million. Late evening viewing of newscasts in LA add up to around:

After Prime Time viewing comes the News . . . with live HD ENG

Don’t disappoint the “captive viewers” with mediocre HD ENG material, Don’t encourage the “captive viewers” to find another local HD news channel with live HD ENG content, because your live ENG is not real HD or perhaps not comparable with your station’s news studio HD quality. In Los Angeles, it appears that about 13% of all potential viewers watch the late evening news, either at 10PM or at 11PM. But if we agree that the maximum U.S. TV audience at any one time is 81 million TV HHs watching during prime time, then the total available viewers in the LA market is about 5% of 81 million x 2 persons (at 10/11PM) per TV household = 8 million viewers. We just stated that 1.4 million viewers are actually watching the LA late evening TV newscasts, which now computes to 18% of the potential viewers covered by the 70% of all LA TV HHs. In here lies a very interesting observation: The large majority of viewers watching TV station programs (as opposed to cable programs) from 10PM to 11:30PM are watching late evening newscasts. Besides showing top rated network or syndication programs, HD news studio and live HD ENG operation is the only way to higher local audience share and local market dominance.

Live HD ENG is a competitive necessity

Hundreds of TV stations around the US are already doing HD news from a new HD news set, many equipped with HD studio cameras, switchers and support equipment at investment level of millions of dollars per TV station. But HD studio news by itself, without live HD ENG, is no longer a major competitive edge in many Top-100 Markets. Live HD ENG is now a competitive necessity. It’s all about the ratings and audience share, which in turn is about attracting more and more local eyeballs, as an ever increasing HD viewer base watches television on HDTVs. One of the most important tools in 2011 to increase overall audience share is live HD ENG, reasonably matching the picture quality of your HD news studio. And to establish such live HD ENG capabilities with the most cost effective operations. So where does BONDING of multiple 4G uplink streams fit in? Are we still doing broadcast microwave? What is the story?

The story is all about the latest broadband wireless services called 4G or in some cases LTE or HSDPA+ and when this service comes to your metropolitan area. Probably later this year if not already there.

Bonding multiple 4G uplink connections

Let’s call them all 4G for simplicity, whether its Verizon’s LTE, AT&T’s LTE, Sprint’s 4G or T-Mobile’s HSDPA+. We refer to the fast wireless broadband services now being promoted by nearly all of the wireless providers. The issues are sustained downlink speed (DL) and sustained uplink speed (UL) between the various providers, as they vary somewhat. Verizon Wireless has indicated that “Consumer 4G Service” will deliver DL in the range 5 – 12 Mbps with UL in the range 2 – 5 Mbps. We expect that “Premium 4G Service” (or perhaps “Business 4G”) will be offered by all of the four major providers, and such must be competitive and be faster than the “consumer service”. But let’s “standardize” the “Business 4G data-speed” available for these discussion purposes. We set DL at an average of 12 Mbps and the UL at an average of 5 Mbps, both sustained, a fair expectation for 2012 in many major markets (if the Big Four service providers see profit opportunities at sustained 5 Mbps UL), but sustained UL at 5 Mbps is a real stretch for 2011!

As you want to transport compressed HD (live or real-time) from the field back to the TV station, you’ll be utilizing the uplink path (UL) at a sustained 5 Mbps. Thus, if you had a laptop in your ENG Van with a 4G USB wireless broadband stick, you may be able to send sustained 5 Mbps compressed live video back to your TV stations sometime by 2012, perhaps even in this year of 2011. (Presuming you’re in a 4G coverage area!)

But the potential problem is that you want to reasonably match the HD ENG live video quality with the HD studio quality. Your DTV transmitted OTA video is compressed by a $100,000 ATSC encoder system, perhaps outputting 16 Mbps if you’re 1080i, or perhaps at 12 Mbps if you’re 720p. It is not difficult to realize that live/real-time compressed HD to fit into the UL of 5 Mbps will fall substantially short of broadcast quality video, even with the latest technology H.264 (very expensive) real-time encoder. Enter 4G BONDING.

Let’s assume we’re working with a HD ENG format of 720p60, assuming a live compressed (local TV broadcast quality) stream at 19 Mbps supplied from the HD ENG camcorder. We obviously need 4x 5 Mbps circuits to transport live 720p60 at 19 Mbps, so if you sign up for four (4) separate 4G USB wireless sticks, and, if you are able to “BOND” those 4 each 4G UL channels together (or we may call it to “SLICE & SYNCHRONIZE & COMBINE”) to carry four slices of the 19 Mbps 720p60 live HD back to your TV station, each slice being about 5 Mbps, then reconstitute the video by a combining process back at the TV news studio.

Unless your HD camcorder provides a TS (compressed transport stream) output at somewhat less than 20 Mbps to be supplied to the 4G Bonding IP Processor, you’ll need an expensive real-time HD encoder between the HD camcorder and the 4G Bonding IP Processor, or, alternatively, a much more expensive 4G Bonding IP Processor to include a built-in broadcast quality HD compressing encoder.


Operational Preservation OR Future Innovation?

We’re talking local news, primarily, by major TV stations relying on news for DMA market leadership. Those kind of TV stations would currently operate a fleet of ENG Vans which need to be fitted for live HD operations. Those TV stations may take the opportunity (or may need) to modernize their ENG operations, and make it more cost effective, by reducing field staff while employing innovative strategies with new HD camcorders and support equipment, converting many of the 2-man ENG Vans to “lone ranger” operated highly cost effective “live capable” HD ENG Cars. Subject to establishing the viability of emerging broadband wireless technologies, your strategy may be:

  • Greatly reduce reliance on microwave backhaul (reduce future capex/opex costs as live HD ENG employs innovative new and cost effective technologies)
  • Establish wired internet connectivity points at often-used field locations (public internet or private network)
  • Employ BONDED 4G wireless live HD backhaul when and where reliably available,
    subject to acceptable costs
  • Eliminate need for complex and expensive support equipment (one such example being one or more broadcast quality HD encoder units required between HD camcorder and 4G Bonding Processor, or between HD camcorder and microwave unit)
  • Target a limited amount of HD ENG electronics equipment in the HD ENG car, sufficient for reliable live field reporting: HD camcorder with lowest bit-rate broadcast quality compressed HD live output, to feed into the 4G Bonding Processor (with remote 4G Head Unit), and editing laptop for field editing prior to backhaul transmission.

DWI = Driving While Innovating !

Many of today’s HD ENG Vans are highly capable remote broadcast vehicles, once set up at the remote location with the microwave antenna mast cranked up and directed. This “on site enabling and disabling” takes time, and, particularly, any directive to quickly move from one location to the next requires lowering the mast prior to moving, even moving just a very short distance. And then cranking the mast back up at the new location and establish the microwave link. Not so with the new innovative HD ENG Car with Bonded 4G Wireless connection.

As soon as the “lone ranger” HD ENG journalist turns on the Bonded 4G Wireless Backhaul circuits as he/she leaves the TV studios for the remote assignment, the HD ENG Car is in “live contact” with the TV studio for the duration of the assignment even while driving (no 25-foot mast concern), except (of course) in any 4G problem coverage areas. There is no need to hoist and lower any microwave mast! And for “delayed live”, the HD clips may be transmitted back to the TV studio while the HD ENG Car drives from one location to the next!

Cost Effective Live HD ENG Backhaul?

The basics don’t change much. The key issue is the compressed bitrate of the live real-time HD signal to be (a) near instantly edited in the HD ENG Van/Car, and/or (b) transported back to the TV station to go on-air, live or delayed. As “live” is the primary requirement, the “delayed” capability becomes secondary. If “live” is performed well, then “delayed” should be no problem. The quality of the compressed HD ENG video is very important, as the live field originated HD is intercut with the pristine HD video from the live HD news set. It is interesting to note that, as a larger portion of the local TV news hour is live (or delayed) footage from the field, it becomes more important that the field-originated HD reasonably matches the studio news set live HD picture quality. The compressed bitrates out of some typical HD ENG camcorders are as follows:

Note the 19 Mbps compressed full bandwidth 720p60 (59.94) transport stream (TS) available out of the JVC ProHD series of professional HD ENG camcorders, which broadcast quality stream (once decompressed) can easily be format converted to 1920x1080i60 (59.94) prior to going on air at the TV station.

BUT is the 4G Bonded Backhaul really cost effective? That’s really what we try to establish in this Report. There are several operational advantages, but are there also other efficiencies to encourage phasing out BAS microwave?

Note the 19 Mbps compressed full bandwidth 720p60 (59.94) transport stream (TS) available out of the JVC ProHD series of professional HD ENG camcorders, which broadcast quality stream (once decompressed) can easily be format converted to 1920x1080i60 (59.94) prior to going on air at the TV station. It is a fact that progressive HD video (i.e. 720p60) can be compressed with greater efficiency than interlaced video (i.e. 1080i60), meaning that it is not possible to compress the 1080i60 down to a 19 Mbps TS in the same compression domain (in this case MPEG-2) with the same subjective decoded average local broadcast picture quality obtained by compressing 720p60 to the 19 Mbps TS, in an encoder built into a cost effective professional HD ENG camcorder as in JVC’s ProHD range. Or a competitor would have done it already!

The message here is to save about $10,000 (perhaps as much as $30,000) by NOT needing to invest in a separate and expensive Real-time HD Encoder Unit for each HD ENG vehicle. Use the “local TV broadcast quality” 19 Mbps TS/ASI output from the JVC ProHD camcorders to feed live into the 4G Bonding IP Processor to accomplish 4G bonded backhaul (or into your existing microwave modulator).

The COST-side of 4G Bonded Backhaul

We presume a requirement of four (4) bonded 4G 5 Mbps UL connections for a total backhaul bandwidth of 20 Mbps over broadband wireless, capable of returning live (or real-time) HD ENG local TV broadcast quality video at 19 Mbps out of any ProHD camcorder.

Each HD ENG vehicle needs to “subscribe” to four (4) “premium 4G wireless USB sticks”. Assuming that unlimited bandwidth use subscription costs $150 per month for each of the four circuits, the total cost for the 4G Bonded Backhaul will be $600 per HD ENG vehicle per month. Sounds reasonable. If your TV station operates six (6) such HD ENG vehicles, monthly 4G cost will be $3,600 for all six vehicles. Still sounds reasonable. Note that these costs are speculative at this time.

BUT will 4G Bonded Backhaul actually work? Remember, with your dedicated BAS microwave link, once the mast is up and link is established, your reliability is 99%+. There are several variables before 4G bonded backhaul can work (for live local broadcast quality HD ENG video), the most critical being the availability of sustained UL at 5 Mbps in many markets around the U.S.

What about working with a sustained (half) UL of 2.5 Mbps? You simply need eight (8) bonded 4G circuits rather than four. It becomes a “technology sophistication/hardware issue” in the 4G Bonding IP Processor (and receiver/processor) but it is technologically available.

Data transfer bandwidth usage for live HD ENG news clips

Some “unlimited” data plans are not really unlimited, but may kick in data rate slowdown after usage reaches a certain level during the monthly billing cycle. Such threshold may be 5GB, or, in the future with “premium/business 4G” at $150 per month, perhaps a lot higher. Remember that we put each 4G circuit at 5 Mbps and that four (4) such 4G bonded connections are required for live HD ENG using 19 Mbps TS out of ProHD camcorder. Let us look at live HD ENG bandwidth usage:

It’s interesting to note that the cost of transferring a HD ENG news clip live or delayed real-time or delayed slower-than-real-time is the same over the same circuit connection, although the much higher sustained data-rate transfer capability of a specific “fast subscription” may carry a higher monthly base price.

We see from the table above that 30 minutes a day of live HD ENG transfers at 20 Mbps add up to about 112 GB per month per HD ENG vehicle OR nearly 30 GB per month for each of four 4G circuits. Computing the monetary worth of 112 GB per month in terms of consumer subscriptions would be interesting. AT&T Mobility quotes 5 GB per month for $60, where 5 GB presumably is the total of DL plus UL. 4G HD ENG is nearly all UL, which may be advantageous to AT&T as UL is generally not used by far as much as DL. We take 112 GB divided by 5 = 22 multiplied by $60 = ~$1,400 per month. Significantly MORE than the $600 earlier estimated. With six (6) HD ENG 4G cars, the total monthly backhaul transmission cost is approaching $10,000. Your current BAS microwave backhaul is now looking more attractive.

Bonding with different service providers

There are four major 4G service providers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Your DMA area may cover a large geographically area, where each service provider may have areas with both good and poor coverage, requiring you to contract with two or more service providers, rather than just one, to get sufficient coverage. The poor coverage may be “bandwidth speed related” where bonding two 4G circuits work well but bonding four does not. This may encourage the bonding of four 4G circuits, of which two are from one service provider and two more from a second service provider.

Seeing is believing

The viability for 4G Bonded HD ENG Backhaul in your DMA can only be established by field testing, particularly as relates to your important requirement that live HD ENG picture quality shall substantially match your HD news studio picture quality. 4G Bonded HD ENG Backhaul is an interesting emerging technology requiring serious reviews by the TV broadcasting industry. But don’t remove your BAS microwave systems quite yet!

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