VRT is Belgium’s largest Dutch language public broadcaster serving the Flemish community. The company operates three TV stations and five radio stations broadcasting a variety of programming. As an innovation leader, VRT is always seeking ways to streamline and simplify its TV production process. When it became time to replace ageing equipment in one of the studios, the opportunity to adopt an all-software production platform presented itself. Having watched the evolution of software-based IP (SMPTE 2110) video production, the engineering team at VRT wrote up an ‘invitation to tender’ for vendors to present their prospective systems for evaluation.
Under the guidance of systems engineer Arnoud Delporte, the VRT team evaluated multiple systems against their short and longer-term requirements. One of the key goals was to find a software-only platform that was simple, flexible, and customizable for specific tasks and operator experience. “We wanted to simplify the user interface so that more mundane tasks could be easily accomplished by production assistants without the need for a specialist or vision mixer,” said Delporte. “We wanted a task-based system, where only the controls necessary to do a particular task are presented.” VRT also wanted a system that they could easily build out without requiring a huge up-front investment.
LiveOS Wins the Bid
After a thorough vetting of systems, the winner of the tender competition was NetOn.Live. VRT was impressed with the powerful automation framework of LiveOS which allowed the team to build from a large library of specialized media applications and only present UI elements the user needed to see.
“At VRT we primarily produce news and sports programming. LiveOS was the winner of the competition because we saw it could bring things to the table that other manufacturers could not,” said Delporte. “The LiveOS platform allowed us to greatly reduce the complexity of the user interface, simplifying it to only what is needed for each operator position.”
Another key consideration was regarding latency. Many software-only IP video production systems have been plagued with delays compared to traditional hardware systems and this has been a barrier to entry for some vision mixers. “Even though latency was not critical for our initial deployment of LiveOS, we want to do other productions with it and any switching delays would not be acceptable,” said Delporte. “Other manufacturers had significantly larger glass to glass latency, from lens to actual screen to pass-through. This was a massive plus for LiveOS since it exhibited none of the latency we had witnessed with other systems.”
Learning the new system was relatively easy for the production assistants and operators compared to the dedicated hardware systems they’d used in the past. “LiveOS was quite simple to learn” says Kirsten Van Gorp, production assistant at VRT. “We also got the chance to make improvements and fine tune the software before we started using it. It is much easier to use than the system we had before.”
demonstrating the 2 frames of always constant end to end latency of LiveOS
(ST2110 IN – Videomixer + keyers – ST2110 OUT = 80ms in 1080i, 40ms in 1080p)
Automation and efficiency
Because VRT is a public broadcaster and partially government funded, they are always looking for methods to reduce costs and increase efficiency. “We’re looking to slim down production in the smartest ways possible. We don’t mind putting extra manpower into a gallery if someone really shines in the role and can exploit their talent,” said Delporte. “But if you have someone sitting in a gallery waiting for a queue to press a button, that’s not good for the business.”
Thanks to the flexible LiveOS user interface, VRT engineering can build different kinds of interfaces for different kinds of events. The team deconstructs a workflow and isolates the various tasks for operators and assistants. This enables a seamless, templatized production style that is easily reproducible at the touch of a button.
Being able to share production resources has unlocked an entirely new way of thinking at VRT. Since LiveOS consists of centralized servers and switchers, it is much more flexible than traditional hardware-based systems. “When we first started using LiveOS in the sign language studio, for the 7 PM news broadcasts, it was easy to see we had this pool of resources that weren’t being used until later in the afternoon,” said Delporte. “The realization by the team that we could deploy those same system resources for other productions in the morning without disturbing any existing configurations was very well received.”
Sign Language Interpreter and Teleprompter operator at work in the VGT LiveOS Studio
Looking to the future
As VRT contemplates a very busy sports season in 2024, they are turning their attention to the need for more commentary booths. “Currently we are doing replays from an expensive and complex system built to perform slow-motion replays at the fastest pace, at the highest level of sports production,” says Delporte. “That’s beyond what we need in a commentator booth, and it requires a trained expert to work with such a highly specialized tool to perform an otherwise mundane playback task. The playback needs in the commentator booth can easily be performed by an assistant if they have the right tools.” VRT’s ambition is to support more streaming channels for smaller sporting events during the summer games and the Tour de France. “In the past it was quite difficult and expensive to build out additional production systems for additional commentary booths. Our goal is to utilize LiveOS to expand our commentary booths and support all the events we’d like to produce with full replay, graphics and other bells and whistles without significant additional effort and expense.”
The interaction and support VRT received from NetOn.Live was part of the additional appeal for LiveOS. “It’s a nice thing work with a smaller company, to have direct lines to developers, especially when they speak the same language and you’re literally close to each other geographically,” said Delporte. “The people behind NetOn.Live have been around for a while. In Dutch we say, ‘they have swum through some waters’, so we know and trust them. We’re very happy with LiveOS and are looking forward to deploying it for additional production needs in the future.”