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The Superbowl and the medianet

March 2, 2010 - 0 Comments

It’s always exciting to be a part of a string of important video technology trends. It’s even more exciting to be a part of a string of important video technology trends that happen at the Super Bowl.

The February 7th matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts included three technology twists. On the surface, and to the (record-setting) 106 million television viewers, they combined to create a replay so flawless in video detail, a call was overturned – putting the Saints in the lead by two points.

But underlying that was an earlier series of decisions: A 10-camera array, transmitted in uncompressed digital, over IP.

Published reports about the setup reveal some initial internal concerns about technical overkill. But over and over throughout the game, the additional cameras, edited in uncompressed form, yielded an unprecedented level of visual precision – which resulted in overwhelmingly positive professional and public reviews. (See “CBS Sports Delivers Winning Telecast as Production Team Excels,” 2010-FEB-9roadcasting & Cable Magazine)

Behind the scenes, two other important things were going on. One was the decision to use uncompressed digital camera outputs, rather than MPEG-compressed versions. Compression is an unparalleled way to conserve bandwidth, but it works by throwing away duplicative bits, from one frame of video to the next – a technique that is inherently “lossy.”

By contrast, uncompressed video is “lossless.” Nothing is lost, no bits are thrown away. Uncompressed, “lossless” transmission of the camera outputs is what gave CBS Sports editors the raw video bit strength to broadcast hyper-accurate slow motion, for the overturn call, and multiple camera angles, to deal with the no-huddle strategies of both teams.

When you’re in video production, it’s fairly simple: You want as much detail as possible. You want lossless. You want uncompressed.

Technology twist number three is where we come in. Our partner, Level 3, stepped up with the fiber resources to enable a clean, wide, 1.5 Gbps passageway between Florida and New York – a distance of more than 1,200 route miles and placed our Digital Content Manager Gateways (DCMs) at both ends of the fiber, to encapsulate the uncompressed HD video streams into IP for transmission.

For us, this was all another exciting validation of our video strategy around medianets – which isn’t always easy to explain. Here’s one way to look at it: If medianets are about an all IP network optimized for rich media, then, chalk one up for medianets.

In the language of broadcast-quality video, “contribution-grade” is at the top of the food chain. The uncompressed video that was sent from Miami to New York with the DCM Gateway was inherently contribution-grade. And, it moved over a media optimized IP infrastructure.

This was a medianet in action, and that truly is exciting for me, and for all of us at Cisco.

Again. We were a participant in a much larger thing. We participated as a partner and equipment vendor to Level 3, who contributed the glass and the 1.5 Gbps connectivity. CBS Sports is who made it compelling and unprecedented and fantastic – for 106 million loyal football fans.

Here’s hoping this trend toward unsurpassed, lossless video quality is a trend that sustains.

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