Early Days of Beijing Games an HD, Online Technical Success

By Ken Kerschbaumer

While Michael Phelps is smashing records in the pool and NBC Olympics is smashing Olympic viewership records the technical team behind the scenes is smashing records of its own in terms of sheer tonnage of material being pushed through massive EVS, Omneon and Isilon storage systems between Beijing and New York City. “This was our most intense set-up ever but it’s actually been calmer since we’ve gone on air than it was in Athens,” says Dave Mazza, NBC Olympics SVP, Engineering. “Because so much is happening at 30 Rock in terms of support there is less mayhem in the IBC.”

While things have calmed down a bit Mazza says it was an exhausting run the last couple of weeks as the team dealt with putting in new workflows to deliver the first all-HD games as well as a massive online effort. “In Torino we chased interoperability problems between the HD gear while here we chased a lot of compression issues that smoothed out two days before we went to air,” says Mazza.

Coordinating the vast amount of traffic between Beijing and New York has been a challenge as it involves some unique workflows. For example, instead of having one-to-one redundancy for the 16 HD production circuits between Beijing and New York EVS servers are recording feeds. In the event something needs to be retransmitted those recorded feeds are available for quick turnaround.

Along with the live HD feeds being pumped to New York and then out to viewers there is also a wealth of low-resolution proxy video being sent to New York. Editors in New York take the proxy video and, with the help of a light-touch editing system within the Blue Order asset management system, select the highlight clips. ProCast technology from Omneon Video Networks is then used to transfer the high-resolution clips from Omneon Media Grids in Beijing to an Omneon Media Grid in New York City. Once there an Avid editing system is used for final clip assembly before Anystream pumps out the clip in dozens of formats for delivery via online, mobile devices, or VOD.

“They’re pushing through about 200 clips a day and an untold number of live streams plus the Rewind service when the live stream is finished and encore versions of the content shown on the various networks,” says Mazza. “The amount of raw processing power is amazing.”

Since getting on air Mazza says everyone is settling in and he expects the staff of more than 1,200 to find its groove in the next day or two. And the ratings success is keeping energy levels high. “The executives are much happier when ratings are good and we’re getting inspirational emails from [NBC Universal Sports & Olympics Chairman] Dick Ebersol,” adds M

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