Hammond Communications Selects Monarch HD H.264 Encoders for NCAA's Webcasts
Monarch HD Transforms Production Company's Workflow and Increases Quality and Reliability of Press Conference Webcasts & Recordings
Hammond Communications Group, a production company in Lexington, KY, US, carries out live, multi-camera productions of varying sizes and scopes, specifically press conferences for sporting events. Whether covering “the most exciting two minutes in sports” at the famed Kentucky Derby, or men’s and women’s basketball tournaments for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the Big 10 and Southeastern Conference, Hammond is equipped to handle everything from lighting, audio and video production to distribution.
To cover all the pre- and post- game press conferences (pressers) of the NCAA’s basketball tournaments—from first round to Final Fours—Hammond has eight two-camera flypack units that travel all over the country.
Hammond considered streaming as the best solution for its client to reach the greatest audience, given their scheduling commitments. Moreover, the NCAA wanted to start webcasting all of their March Madness 2016 tournament pressers as its audience predominantly viewed content over the Internet. For this, Hammond needed to incorporate the functionality across eight flypack units.
Not satisfied with software-based solutions they used in the past, Hammond sought to implement a solution that was hardware-based—something that could be installed in a rack so that on-the-road engineers wouldn't have to deal with setting up another piece of equipment. They also wanted to add recordings of the pressers, ideally straight to H.264, to have a manageable file size for FTP upload that could be easily accessed by off-site news stations, in lieu of a satellite down-link, and by on-site media.
Lee Clements, video engineer at Hammond Communications, says “When looking for streaming hardware solutions, the Monarch HD™ appliance popped up. After a demo and further research, I realized there was no other product that offered the same amount of features in such a small package. Fitting flush in a 1RU rack, this professional video appliance performs H.264 encoding on a wide selection of HDMI feeds for simultaneous streaming and broadcast-quality recording, at high bit rates and resolutions, supporting popular protocols and file formats.”
Set up and Fluid Action
Hammond’s flypacks are equipped to sustain a full press conference setup. The control centers are either double-wide or two single-wide 24RU racks, with everything needed for production inside, and a smaller rack for audio mixer. Each system has cable trunks, 42" LCD/LED televisions, PAR can lights, custom 16-output HD mult boxes and Sony cameras. The most constant addition is fiber, which changes from venue to venue, anywhere from 250 to 2,000 feet of single-mode tactical fiber. Since Hammond deals with broadcast-level productions and all signals are HD-SDI, an SDI-HDMI converter feeds HDMI signals to Monarch HD. (In the future, Hammond will consider the Monarch HDX as it supports SDI sources.)
The NCAA, Hammond’s biggest streaming client, has its own YouTube channels. As it was important to have consistency among all of its kits, Hammond set up a customized profile (5 Mbps, RTMP protocol, 720p stream), based on YouTube's recommendations, and loaded the profile in every Monarch HD. So, on arrival at the event venue, all they need to do is push a button for the Monarch HD to start streaming and recording at the exact preselected quality.
Needing only 5 Mbps for the stream, Hammond could set a considerably higher target bit rate for recording at 10 Mbps, in full input resolution of 1080i60, which helped the quality immensely. The Monarch HD produces very manageable sizes of recorded files that are saved to a 32GB SD card.
When recording without streaming, the on-device button is handy for the video engineer to start and stop the recording from his seat, whereas the browser control is more convenient when streaming, since the user is already on the laptop to start/stop the event on YouTube.
Previous switcher-streaming as well as software solutions required external devices to convert video, but they still used up almost all of the computer's processing power to encode, preventing the computer being used for any other task during the streaming. Monarch HD takes the processing away from the computer, and because it has a simple browser control, anyone can plug into the network switch and have access, making the physical configuration considerably more flexible.
In the past, recording for FTP upload was done with a consumer-grade capture device not designed for any kind of professional recording. By moving to Monarch HD, Hammond not only increased the available capture bit rate, but also drastically changed the reliability. Clements remarked, “The Matrox Monarch HD appliance is a reliable solution for streaming and recording, in a compact package. It gives Hammond the edge in bringing our broadcast-level productions to an increasingly online viewership.”