Behind The Stream: The Little 500

DP Chet Strange gets in close on the Cutters pit. 

DP Chet Strange gets in close on the Cutters pit. 

Last May, the Hardpin Team journeyed to Bloomington, Indiana to live stream the Little 500, the race featured in One Day In April. Having shot the race for the film I had a sense of the logistical challenges, but doing the broadcast live introduced a handful of fresh obstacles. The biggest hurdle for the live broadcast was getting the signal from the cameras around the track back to the control room. The riders maintain an average pace of 20 mph on a quarter mile cinder track - meaning that you can't move camera positions to follow the race. That meant we had to lock cameras down at various points throughout the track and connect them either through cabling or via a wireless connection. 

Tom, Saimon and technical director Jake Paque man the live edit station. 

Tom, Saimon and technical director Jake Paque man the live edit station. 

Even the closest turns were over 300 feet away from the control deck, that meant that a standard 3G-SDI connection was not going to work without signal degradation. We considered connecting all four remote cameras via Teradek Bolt 2000's and beaming them back to the top of the press box, but decided instead to use Black Magic SDI to Fiber converters to connect the cables via fiber optic cable. Fiber opitc cable uses light pulses to transmit information, because the connection is based on light traveling from point to point it doesn't have degradation over long distances. With the Bolt we knew we'd be battling heat, distance, and a long run time - all of which can cause signal breakdown. The race would last nearly 3 hours, in hot sun, in a stadium crowded with cell phones and radios - fiber was the most reliable route. 

For the infield we simply didn't have that option. Our dashing infield correspondents would be darting across the track to catch interviews throughout the race and that meant trailing cords and wires wouldn't be just an inconvenience, they'd be dangerous. With that in mind the Teradek Bolt was only the option, even with our concerns. We use Teradek products on a near daily basis and have come to love their ease of use and rock solid connections. For the majority of the race, the Bolt performed true to form. We we're able to broadcast HD video from nearly a thousand feet away with little delay and no quality loss. During the stream there was no quality difference between the cameras connected by 3G-SDI, Fiber, or the Bolt. It wasn't until our Bolt had been in direct sunlight for nearly 5 hours that the we started noticing the footage breaking up or dropping out. 20 minutes in the cool shade and  the Bolt was back up running without interruption. 

Chet Strange films in field reporter Pam Loebig. 

Chet Strange films in field reporter Pam Loebig. 

In 2012, we were on the cutting edge of light foot print live streams and the Little 500 stream felt like a throwback to those days on the campaign. Largely as a direct result of the innovative work going on at Teradek, live streaming is rapidly becoming more affordable, easier to do and more reliable. Amazingly, the actual connection to IU's master control was handled by a Teradek cube. Who knows, maybe next year we'll stream the Little 500 with a fleet of drones on Facebook Live.