The technology behind the Beijing Winter Olympics

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BEIJING“When the 2022 Winter Olympics kick off in Beijing next month (February 4-20), many of the challenges broadcasters faced while covering the Tokyo Summer Olympics will persist, as Covid continues to have an impact on daily life. However, there are a number of lessons learned that Olympic Broadcast Services will put in place to ensure a safe and smooth two-week event.

CIO

(Image credit: CIO)

When the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed from 2020 to summer 2021, broadcasters no longer had the luxury of having a year and a half between the Winter and Summer Games. With the 2022 Games only taking place six months after the Tokyo Gathering, this created a whole new set of challenges for OBS.

“The pandemic has created a very, very complex situation where the two games have come close to each other,” said Sotiris Salamouris, technical director of Olympic Broadcast Services. “It was totally unexpected and I wouldn’t say it was easy to manage.”

When the Tokyo Games were postponed to March 2020, the Tokyo International Broadcasting Center (IBC), home to thousands of broadcasters covering the Games, was weeks away from commissioning. With the event postponed, the OBS had to freeze its plans, send its staff home and organize a plan to maintain operations until the Games were held.

As if managing such logistics in the midst of a pandemic with the safety precautions and associated travel restrictions was not enough, the postponement also forced OBS to focus on the planning, construction and maintenance of two operational centers in that time.

The Summer Games, however, were and were successful, said Salamouris. “Tokyo has proven that you can still have a very successful major event like the Olympics, even under such conditions, and we are confident that will continue in Beijing.”

OBS

PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games Hockey Competition Coverage (Image credit: Olympic Broadcasting Services)

The importance of Cloud and IP
The key to providing the most comprehensive source of live programming to broadcasters around the world while covering the Games is IP and the cloud, which characterize much of how media companies have managed to maintain TV coverage. live around the world to meet the challenges of the past two years. .

Salamouris says the use of IP and cloud tools played an important role in the planning and design of the IBC and its workflows.

Salamouris describes the cloud as “an essential facilitator because it allows us to build a virtual infrastructure to be set up well before even going there. We have no limits. It can be pre-tested months, or even years, before you actually reach the installation with your partners. Then you spin it around and relaunch it as needed.

For games in Tokyo as well as Beijing, OBS has partnered with the Alibaba group to create OBS Cloud, a suite of bespoke cloud solutions specifically adapted to extremely demanding and data-rich broadcast workflows. OBS says its cloud service provides the high-performance connectivity, processing and storage capabilities required to deliver the Games. Not only can rights-holder broadcasters remotely access all OBS content, but they are also now able to set up their own content creation, management and distribution systems within the platform.

OBS

Cameraman covers freestyle skiing competition at PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games (Image credit: Olympic Broadcasting Services)

UHD, immersive audio and 5G
The Tokyo Summer Games represented the first Olympic Games for which the OBS provided UHD / HDR coverage and the 2022 Winter Games will mark the first such 4K UHD / HDR coverage of the event. ‘winter. Although various broadcasters have recently embarked on UHD coverage of the Games, OBS has developed an infrastructure that allows them to sync content whether it is 1080i HD or 4K UHD, allowing rights-holder broadcasters to manage and stream content. ” Easier access to ultra high resolution content.

This setup was rolled out in Tokyo and is quite unique, according to Salamouris. “We have a unified production unit,” he said. “All of our coverage is exactly the same in HD and UHD. ”

For audio, OBS has extended its options to go beyond the 5.1-channel audio that was the norm until Tokyo. For Beijing, OBS will provide immersive sound.

“It is an emerging standard that gives you an extra high level of audio that allows broadcasters to use it because it is discrete and uncompressed so that it can meet the distribution standard according to their needs,” said Salamouris. And with a unified HD / UHD production infrastructure, “whether broadcasters pick up HD or UHD, they can still receive immersive sound.”

Another innovation that will be an important part of OBS’s coverage is the growing use of 5G wireless.

The use of 5G “is even more important because at the Games we have a serious problem with the lack of frequencies, because we need a lot of RF teams just to do our coverage,” said Salamouris. “And 5G is useful because you can rely on an established network to do our wireless transmissions instead of relying on dedicated technology that we don’t have enough of.”

Facilities and equipment
Since the Winter Games have always been smaller than the summer version, the Beijing IBC will also be smaller than the one in Tokyo. And as has been the case over the past decades, Panasonic will serve as the official supplier of much of the broadcast production material to cover the Games.

Speed ​​skating

The Beijing Olympics Speed ​​Skating Oval (Image credit: Inside the Games)

“They support us with many systems, not just cameras, and in fact they provide us with most of our camera systems that we use because we have a large number of ENG teams that travel to different sites and even in the city where they shoot stories, all of these cameras are Panasonic, ”Salamouris said.

Since the Summer Games were held in Beijing in 2008, the city already had an IBC building, but for the Winter Games a new facility of over 419,000 square feet was built, with more than 220,000 square feet dedicated to broadcast studios and production. A smaller broadcast center of over 129,000 square feet is strategically located in the mountains.

With over 6,000 hours of content expected to be produced, and an increasing share of it being delivered to non-traditional streaming providers, the focus on producing content for the variety of digital platforms has taken hold. increased importance, according to Salamouris.

“Our support [for the right-holding broadcasters] has to be on two fronts: first, give them more content because they have more distribution channels, ”said Salamouris,“ And the second is to give them technology that makes it easier for them. So much of our joint delivery is now taking place digitally. IP delivery is very important so that broadcasters can easily convert the content we give them into formats that are used by the devices they upload.

China, and the city of Beijing in particular, has seen rapid technological transformation, especially since the last Games were held in the city in 2008, of which Salamouris was also a part and he marvels at the ubiquity of digital technology, especially the popularity of mobile devices. He also notes that this element offers advantages to find a large number of local technology companies and experts to support its production.

“I think the Chinese people, especially here in Beijing that I see, are probably the most digitally-ready people in the world,” he said. “They really use cell phones for everything, including transactions, collaboration for communication, for really everything. It helps a lot when you’re in contact with people in terms of planning, in terms of finding all the skills that we need from the local staff to be able to work with. You are in an environment where technology is no stranger.


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