PCAs – Technical Innovation

Demon TV

On November 17th 2018 Demon TV set out to complete a six hour live stream, in order to raise money for Children in Need. Over the six hours that Demon TV were live for we raised over £250 for the charity. We also wanted to give new members the chance to learn how we set up our live streaming equipment and how to maintain a steady stream. The team included over 20 members of crew.
This was to be an ambitious project that saw us streaming to four different places at once, this included our main media platforms on Facebook and YouTube and the University’s large screen as well at the 100’s of TV’s around campus. Each of these had different screen ratios, meaning we had to do a lot of scaling before the stream was sent to its different outputs. This was done by using multiple stream PC’s connected to our own nginx server to stream online and across campus.

One of the hurdles we had to deal with is that as well as our streaming audience we also had a live audience, so we had to make sure that it sounded as good to the audience as to the listeners on the stream. We achieved this by having two different mixes, one that focused on the stream that had a reduced bass level and the other that took advantage of the full dynamic range that the speakers could cope with. We also set up multiple monitor mixes meaning that different members of the band could hear what they wanted to hear. In total we were running 6 different mixes through one audio desk. To make things easier we programmed the desk ahead of the event using the desks portable pc programmer.

Another challenge we faced was having to change the miking techniques and set ups because we had different bands, artists and dance groups performing. Our biggest challenge then was when we had to set up the drum kit and moved the microphones and the DI boxes that we previously pre-set on the side of the stage ready for us to use. We used different miking techniques because the bands and artists were using different instruments and had different requirements. We went from having only two microphones for an acoustic performance to a set up for a full band and back to striking everything off the stage for a dance performance. We also used two microphones to capture some of the ambient noise throughout the full stream. We made sure to sound check before we went live but that meant that we had to do all the above plus the sound check within 10 minutes.

Overall we had a steady stream over the four platforms and managed to be ready on time for the stream to go live, we raised money for the charity, trained our new members and we all had fun.

GUST

GUST is the oldest student-run television station in the UK, and much of the time, our technology reflects this. During NaSTA submissions last year, technical failures resulted in our inability to submit to a number of categories. This made us revise our technical set-up, and so we tasked ourselves with improving transparency, efficiency, and usability. 

The technical problems we experienced during submissions were related to GUST’s Networked Attached Storage (NAS) drive, which suffered unexpected critical failures. This rendered all data stored on it, and on the built-in back-up drives, inaccessible, corrupting project files in the process.

Because the university provides no tech support to GUST, our executive officers worked incredibly hard to fix this issue as quickly as possible. Whilst we did manage to resolve the issue, a number of entries remained affected. To prevent such issues arising again, an alert system was added to the NAS drive that sends weekly emails to the station’s Head of Technical explaining if any issues have been detected, as well as monthly emails summarising the drive’s performance.

A task was also set up on the NAS to monitor any garbage files and perform regular cleanups to prevent pile-ups that could cause a similar system failure. Since these precautions have been put in place, no major issues have arisen with the NAS. In addition, we also enabled remote access to the NAS, allowing any required maintenance to be done without using an office computer. This means that issues can be resolved quicker and producers can continue their work while maintenance is carried out.

Entering the new academic year, changes were also made to help executive officers monitor the work done by their producers. To do this, we started using Trello, a digital kanban board.

With Trello, projects can be split into categories depending on their level of completion, deadlines for individual projects can be set, and additional explanatory notes can be included. The relevant exec will also be emailed any time a project card is moved from one list to another, meaning they have a much better understanding of how programmes are progressing.

We also improved the way we schedule broadcasts. Whereas the Broadcast Coordinator used to store the schedule locally, we recently moved this to Google Calendar, accessible by the whole exec. This, in conjunction with Trello, has given the exec a much clearer view of what is coming out when, and which producers need the most support. TeamViewer was also set up to give our Broadcast Coordinator more freedom, allowing them to remotely broadcast videos away from our office. We are thus consistently broadcasting three times a week, a positive for both our producers and our audience.

GUST prides itself on our ability to creatively solve problems; we work hard to improve our existing systems and integrate new technologies to enhance our ability to produce and broadcast great content.

YSTV

What is Anser?
Anser is an all-in-one, open-source, live video production pipeline – designed to beuser-friendly, highly customisable, and reliable.MotivationAnser was created by YSTV to replace our previous live video production system. This old system had several issues, including:
●Requiring a lot of technical knowledge to operate.
●Being unreliable.
●Having no way to recover from failures.

This meant that for a live production to go ahead, a member of the YSTV technical teamwould need to be on-site at all times to ensure that any errors or network dropouts wererectified. This meant that all live productions required a full day commitment from a memberof the tech team.To both save members of tech team time, and to relieve some of the stress associated withlive broadcasts, we set about building Anser with these issues in mind.

Key Features

Reliability
Anser can recover from server dropouts and reallocate jobs to other servers with at most a 5second delay between dropout and recovery, a vast improvement over the manual method previously used.

User-Friendly
We wanted going live to be as simple as selecting where to go live from, and where to golive to. And that’s exactly what we achieved. Now, members of YSTV who want to go live can do so any time, without needing a member of tech team present!

Mixing RTMP Sources
As some of our larger productions require running multiple live streams at once, we wanted a way to mix between RTMP streams, so that for events such as Roses we could have a “highlights” stream that displays the best of what’s being broadcast right now. In conjunction with our RTMP multiviewer, we are able to mix RTMP streams as though they were cameras plugged into our studio, with no added delay to the video pipeline.

Extendable
Anser is built around a central API which we have ​carefully documented​, even including guides on how to make your own Anser client.

Built With the Needs of Student TV in Mind
We worked with members of YSTV to find out what they would want from a new livestreaming system, and we have talked to other student TV stations about their live setups.We designed and built Anser not only with the needs of YSTV in mind, but also other stations who are taking their first steps in live video production.

Real World Applications
With the advent of SMPTE 2110 and 2210, it is becoming more and more evident that IP-based video production is going to be the future of live broadcasting. For now, 2110 and 2210 systems are out of the reach of student TV stations, however, broadcasters are also incorporating other web-based video systems such as RTMP and UDP, which Anser is built for.

Conclusion
Whether you’re a student TV station that’s just starting out with live video production, or an expert, we have the Anser to reliable, web-based video pipeline management.