Revolutionizing ENG - Sony's Attractive LocationPorter Rental Service

2007.11.9 UP

An attractive new system has been released by Sony.

Dubbed "LocationPorter", it enables you to deliver ENG reports from anywhere as long as there is FOMA (W-CDMA 3G mobile phone service) coverage or broadband access. It's my hunch that within a few years this new system will become indispensible for TV stations.

In a nutshell, with this system you can use a FOMA link or LAN (either wired or wireless) connection to send video and audio of unparalleled quality direct from a location. And what makes it an even more attractive proposition is how easy it is to carry. With just a laptop computer and a camera, you can soon be transmitting video and audio back to the TV station.

It's common to see location reports during TV news programs, but the truth is that these can be a real headache for the station staff. When you need to arrange for location coverage, what normally happens is that first an ENG vehicle has to be driven to the spot. You then need to send a signal from the vehicle to wherever the receiving equipment is located (FPU), or to a satellite (SNG).

The real problem is human resources.

However small you try to keep the team for such jobs, a minimum of 6 or 7 is needed, including the reporter and cameraman. For large-scale events like sports, you may have to think in the hundreds. And when it comes to covering disaster sites, in many cases the roads leading there are impassable, and all the equipment, weighing almost 100kg, has to be carried in by hand. It may be quick to set up everything if it's for something happening in a city, but for sparsely populated areas or when lifeline services have been disrupted - as in the case of the Great Hanshin earthquake (1995) or the Chuetsu earthquake (2004) - for the first few hours there is typically no choice but to depend on aerial pictures taken from a helicopter. (Of course, there is a lot to be said for aerial coverage but...)

Those of us working in the broadcasting industry are always thinking about "How fast can we get there and provide our viewers with up-to-date information on what is actually happening?" And LocationPorter looks like becoming a key solution.

What really stands out with LocationPorter is the design: so much thought has been put into making it mobile. All you have to carry to the location is a DV camera, a laptop computer loaded with special software for processing the video signal for transmission, and a LAN cable or a pair of FOMA cards. That's everything you need for sending pictures and sound back to the station. In fact, it's not impossible for a reporter to go alone to the location and file a report all by himself.

Also, the beauty of this system is that you can connect two FOMA cards. Even if the connection is not very good, you can effectively work with a backup, using two lines simultaneously. And equipped with Sony's own QoS (Quality of Service) control, the system employs a proprietary algorithm to automatically select the optimum transfer rate.

Even if the data stream is interrupted, the system is designed so that the lost data can be restored using parity data. This incorporation of error correction makes it a very practical solution.

Of particular concern is video resolution, but the H.264/AVC engine developed by Sony has made it possible to transmit high-quality video at a transfer rate less than half of that for MPEG-2.

At present, FOMA-based setups used by the broadcasting industry have a resolution that cannot be called "good" by any stretch of the imagination. The video is broadcast at less than a quarter of screen size, but even then it is only just possible to make out people and buildings. And if an attempt is made to move the camera, the effect is like that of strobe-action video. It's tiring to look at for more than a minute. In contrast, this new Sony technology is in a completely different class. Even if the picture is stretched to fill the screen, there is hardly any sign of stress. I'd really like Inter BEE visitors to experience this amazing clarity firsthand.

Of course, you can transmit natural, clear sound because the system is equipped with ATRAC3plus - featured on Sony's audio equipment - which splits the audio signal into 16 sub-bands for separate optimization.

With these features, the system is suited not only for covering concerts and events, but probably also for educational and surveillance applications.

An added bonus: the system has a "chat" function. With this, a reporter can check the script or describe the situation in more detail, allowing for smoother operations. For example, when a reporter is filing a location report for a news program, there are times when, although he has finished talking, there's a long pause before the station staff switch back to the studio cameras. This is because it can be difficult for them to decide whether the report ends there or continues. But a reporter can use this new chat function to warn the studio what his final comment will be so they can be ready for it. Thus forewarned, the staff can switch over to the studio cameras with perfect timing. It's a simple function, but all the same, it's impressive evidence of Sony's intimate knowledge of the industry.

In recent years the rapid progress of hardware technologies in the broadcasting industry has been mindboggling. And as if that wasn't enough, in preparation for the final switchover to terrestrial digital broadcasting in 2011, regional TV stations as well as the major ones in Tokyo have been making huge investments in new equipment.

Presumably Sony is aware of the financial burden facing the industry, and the company has come up with a very welcome support system.

This system is a rental service for their new products. Needless to say, deep pockets are needed to purchase professional equipment. It's all very well to use FOMA or LAN links for inexpensive transmission, but if we had to commit to a sizeable investment in order to obtain the necessary gear, then it wouldn't be easy to make any decisions. And these days, when new products and systems appear before the current ones are fully depreciated, management has no choice but to be cautious. LocationPorter has changed that: seeing that one can rent a package for two weeks for 149,800 yen (over 12 months the rental fee is 83,000 yen per month), there shouldn't be much reason to hesitate. At this cost, it even becomes possible for post-production to have access to the latest technologies.

This rental system is a service provided by Sony; the actual rental agreements are handled by Sony Finance International (SFI). If there should be any problem with the equipment, they immediately provide a replacement, so you can use the service with absolute confidence.

What's more, SFI also leases out ENG vehicles fitted with power supplies, etc. to further support LocationPorter mobility. Of course it costs money just to maintain a vehicle, but they've thought of everything: the service covers not only maintenance and compulsory car inspections, but also winter tires and generator leasing, so you can always enjoy peace of mind.

At the Inter BEE booth run jointly by SFI and Sony Pro Techno Support, in addition to LocationPorter and the ENG vehicle, you'll find LED exhibits and a variety of financial solutions on offer to facilitate procurement. You can also experience 4K video thanks to the SXRD projector, which has a resolution 4 times that of full HD.
(TV director)