It’s Official: MPEG-4 Is More Than Good Enough for World Cup Needs

MPEG-4 encoding technologies are a consistent theme here at the World Cup as broadcasters around the world are beginning to take advantage of commitments by transmission-encoder manufacturers to continually improve MPEG-4–related products.

“We’re using MPEG-4 for the main 3D broadcasts and 3D content,” says Emory Strilkauskas, lead engineer, transport and special projects, for ESPN. “We’re using the Ericsson EN8090 and CE-xH42 encoders, and some of our MPEG-2 gear is now up to 10 years old. But the MPEG-4 picture quality is better with the newer algorithms. It’s not about saving bandwidth anymore.”

ESPN's Emory Strilkauskas (left) and Barry Remnick are making sure HD and 3D signals from the World Cup reach viewers properly.

In South Africa, however, those bandwidth savings do make a difference since the country’s infrastructure is still not up to standards found in the U.S. or Europe. So keeping the signal bandwidth-efficient is a solid step in ensuring proper delivery.

ESPN has two transmission XDM4, OC12 fiber paths heading back to its Bristol, CT, headquarters: one travelling across the Atlantic and another across the Pacific with 622 Mbps of throughput. Eleven signals are going back to Bristol: five for domestic games and news, two for non-rightsholders, two HD feeds for ESPN Brazil, and two news and information feeds.

“This is also the first time we have used Telkom for those services, and things are going well,” adds Strilkauskas.

One of the great changes in recent years has been the ability to have much more two-way traffic and monitoring of signals. For example, there is now enough bandwidth that the ESPN team in Johannesburg can see a return feed of all 11 feeds being sent to Bristol, and they can watch them all at once via a multiviewer or go full-screen on one channel.

Other gear used in transmission includes Snell Alchemist standards converters and networking gear from NetInsight. Cisco Telepresence technology is being used to deliver signals from Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, with signals clocking in at less than 6 Mbps.

“The picture quality is okay as long as you don’t go full-screen,” says Strilkauskas.

And then there are the people: the ESPN transmission team in South Africa includes Barry Remnick and Josh Hill while Declan Howlin, Melissa Meek, and Dave Sirous hold down the fort in Bristol.

Says Strilkauskas, “You really need high-quality teams on both side of the lake.”

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