London, UK, 11/7/2017: IVC Technologies has provided TV distribution support services to the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) since 1995 and was asked to supply an upgrade for its systems which provided standard definition delivery of analogue television to around 2,000 displays around the grounds, as part of the Club’s 2020 Vision project.
Ultra-low-latency was the prime requirement of an eyebrow-raising technical brief written by the All England Lawn Tennis Club for longtime supplier IVC Technologies, writes Clive Couldwell.
The challenge was to update the systems to a single platform capable of delivering high-definition digital television and managed signage to multiple display types and sizes of both domestic and professional grade. The system would need to operate over the AELTC’s existing IT network infrastructure – around 6,000 endpoints delivering a variety of voice-over-IP and data services.
“The requirements presented several unique challenges, the greatest of which was to achieve ultra-low latency for the commentary positions in such a way that the feeds would appear to be in realtime,” says Kevin Quick, IVC’s technical lead to the AELTC. “The equipment for the commentary positions also had to operate silently so they wouldn‘t interfere with broadcast microphones and sound equipment. And due to the overall number of connected displays the system needed to be cost effective with built-in redundancy to avoid single points of failure.”
“To achieve the ultra-low latency, Haivision Makito X broadcast quality encoders and decoders were used for all commentary positions. The fanless model intended for harsh environments was selected to provide fully silent operation. As the decoders were originally designed broadcast links with constant feeds, no suitable remote controls for these units were available off the shelf providing another challenge to solve,” adds Quick. Amino IPTV decoders were selected for the remainder of the screens. As well as being competitively priced their useful capabilities include the ability to be powered via Power over Ethernet (PoE), another of the AELTC’s specific requirements. They could also be used to provide digital signage.
The management software for the system was provided by IPTV apps specialist, Tripleplay. In conjunction with IVC it developed customised software to provide a centralised platform for the different delivery technologies and to manage control of the broadcast quality decoders. The solution used a clustered pair of servers with full redundancy and automatic failover. IVC’s third partner was Unique Automation which developed IP-based touch control panels to operate and select channels on the Haivision broadcast decoders used in the commentary positions. “These were created as entirely solid state units with no moving parts for durability and reliability and included a touch button panel with alpha numeric graphics and an LCD display to provide graphical feedback,” says Quick.
Touch button events on the panels were received by the customised Tripleplay software and relayed to the decoders to provide several alternative methods for channel selection. These included numeric entry, scrolling through a list of services, shortcut buttons for the main show courts and scores and a jump-back-to-last-channel capability.
Channel selection for the Amino decoders was managed via a customised on-screen menu developed specifically for the AELTC. The menus were driven by a combination of infrared and wireless RF remote controls, the latter allowing many controllers to operate in close proximity without interference.
The signage functionality was also tailored specifically for the AELTC and included informational signage, live feeds, statistics and scores. Several of the scheduled displays were also set up to allow the service selections to be overridden locally. The feeds for the system were provided from multiple sources and included live court action from both the broadcast team on site and static cameras, live score data and statistics from the Referee’s Office and IBM, live television services from various terrestrial and satellite feeds as well as private feeds for the broadcasters which use the systems during The Championships.
A total of 117 video streams are delivered from source via fibre optic links in high definition SDI. As the line-up and services vary from year to year all incoming feeds were fed to a patch-bay to allow complete flexibility of use. From there the signals were routed to the high definition encoders which in turn were managed by a dual-redundant Tripleplay server cluster array designed to provide automatic switchover in the event of hardware or circuit failure.
The picture quality spoke for itself with the high-resolution images offering superb clarity and showing every blade of the famous Wimbledon grass. The latency achieved (sub 200 milliseconds) was low enough for the commentary positions to use the sound from the television displays in conjunction with the live view of the courts through the soundproof windows.
Seeing in realtime
It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the science behind this as no IPTV system can truly run in realtime. Effectively the illusion of realtime is achieved due to human perceptions. As light travels faster than sound, the human brain is pre-wired to expect a very short delay time between what the eye sees and what the ear hears and it will compensate for this without any conscious intervention.
This is particularly true for a fast-moving sport like tennis where the sounds of rackets striking balls can be so clearly linked to the actions on court. Effectively what IVC has achieved is that the latency is low enough to fool the brain into being unable to distinguish the time delay due to the encoding, transport and decoding chain. Andreas Chrysanthou, the AELTC’s IT service delivery manager adds: “Writing the brief alone raised several concerns and eyebrows as to how big this project was going to be. Yet, should it be successful, the idea of a simplified outcome and unparalleled viewing experience for our users was exciting.
“Numerous challenges came to light throughout the first phase, including challenges on hardware, PoE specifications and price. However, through open, honest and transparent discussions throughout the challenges, we worked through each in detail and established the most desirable outcome for us both. What has been delivered since the project landed has exceeded expectation, and through IVC’s technical lead to the AELTC, the company continues to offer the highest level of service which we’re proud to be associated with.”
Ray Harding, managing director, at IVC, added: “This is the perfect example of what can be achieved through careful collaboration, made possible of course through the vision of the AELTC’s technical team who have embraced the exciting technologies to deliver this latest, state-of-the-art IPTV/digital signage solution.”
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