Case Study: Inventing the future of live sports broadcasting with ultra-dense IP gateways at Game Creek Video

By Keith Martin, Game Creek Video

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At Game Creek Video, our focus has always been on excellence in remote production. From our humble beginnings with two trucks and six employees, we now operate 30 mobile unit systems and another 30 production support units, and we have over 175 full-time employees who provide the engineering and logistical expertise behind many of the world’s largest events.

Like many other key players in the broadcast industry, we are actively migrating our facilities to IP-based operations. The current health crisis has accelerated that effort by creating a sudden need to embrace remote production models. But the benefits of IP-based remote production were already well-documented before the pandemic: greater agility and scalability, simplified operations, improved monitoring, and reductions in space, power, and cabling requirements. At Game Creek, we’ve been ahead of the curve in deploying IP-based solutions because we see the benefits that IP-based infrastructure and workflows can offer not only for our own teams, but for our broadcast partners.

Over the past couple of years at Game Creek Video, we have completed builds on several 4K/HDR-capable IP mobile units. Here’s the rundown, together with clients and applications:

  • Bravo (2019): FOX Sports – NFL
  • Columbia (2019): CBS Sports – NFL and college basketball
  • Gridiron (2019): FOX Sports – college football and XFL
  • Celtic (2020): CBS Sports – NFL
  • Gotham (2020): MSG Network – New York Rangers and New York Knicks

Bridging the SDI-IP Gap   

For remote broadcasting, one key aspect of any IP migration is the need for an IP core that can connect with legacy SDI sources and systems. To meet this requirement, we have adopted Riedel’s MediorNet FusioN ultra-dense IP gateway solutions – compact SFP-based devices that are software-defined, lightweight, and high-density. By bringing field-updatable signal processing into IP switch ports, the FusioN devices can be used in the near term to enable convergence of SDI sources into the IP network. As the migration to full IP continues, they also can support IP-to-IP processing functions within an all-IP environment.

All Game Creek trucks built since 2012 are equipped with a custom truck-to-truck interface, dubbed “T2T,” that supports 32×32 video paths on a single cable.  For all of our IP-capable mobile units, we have incorporated Riedel’s SFP-based IP gateways as the primary building block in a pair of T2T interfaces. With 16 miniaturized IP gateways installed across two 2-RU rack-mount brackets and four CWDM wavelength SFPs in each of the 16 gateways, each T2T has a pair of 16-channel muxes and a pair of 16-channel demuxes as part of the system.

The interface allows Game Creek crews to interconnect any of our SMPTE ST 2110-based facilities (trucks) with one another or with any of our traditional baseband-based facilities. We typically use the setup to ship all video from the host facility to another facility — most often a “B” unit, where replay operators, a graphics team, and other personnel need to be able to work with video as if they were located in the host “A” unit along with the rest of the crew.

Prior to creating and deploying this ST 2110-based version of T2T, the Game Creek production team needed to convert SDI video on copper to SDI as optical at a CWDM wavelength, and then move it through a mux and across fiber to another truck, where the process is reversed to convert from optical back to electrical to feed a monitor, router, switcher, etc. We found that this model was no longer necessary in an IP-based design, allowing us to reduce the cost per path significantly by eliminating the E/O and O/E conversions.

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With its deployment of high-density IP gateways in T2T, though, we have adopted a much more efficient and cost-effective approach — and a complete solution, too. Engineers on our mobile units now can take a signal that is already on the network as an ST 2110 stream, move it via the 25-gig interface on the miniaturized rack-mount UHD SDI-IP gateways, output the video signal as CWDM wavelength SDI right on that box, perform muxing, and send the signal across.

Realizing IP’s Potential

With T2T and its high-density IP gateways, we’re able to roll any Game Creek truck — baseband SDI-based or ST 2110-based — up next to Bravo, Columbia, Gridiron, Celtic, or Gotham; run a single cable; and get video flowing back and forth. In addition to simplifying interconnections and significantly reducing the weight and space associated with cabling, this approach accelerates deployment.

By maintaining compatibility between the very different worlds of SDI and IP, the T2T strategy has helped Game Creek Video realize another major promise of ST 2110 IP: the opportunity to use COTS hardware. With the ability to bridge the SDI and IP realms smoothly, we’re able to work with our preferred best-of-breed solutions rather than be locked into a single-vendor ecosystem.

Whether for all-IP workflows or for hybrid SDI/IP workflows, high-density IP gateways deliver essential functionality along with space, weight, and time savings that contribute to more efficient mobile and remote productions for live sports. Production teams enjoy greater flexibility in handling sources and signals, more physical space and creative freedom, and future-proof processing capabilities that will continue to support the latest production techniques and formats.