What is our definition of “Simulcast” you may ask? Well, it is a “Live” remote viewing of our center and side screens. I put “Live” in quotes because we time-slip the service on some DVR’s first to give us some flexibility on playback. Usually it runs 2 to 10 minutes behind live.
So, here is the list of equipment involved in capturing, encoding, sending, receiving, decoding, and playing back our Simulcast feed.
- Capture – Cameras are Sony PMW-EX3
- Encode/Decode - HaiVision Hai1060 chassis with two MAKO-HD cards
- Transport - All Cisco brand switches and routers over a 25 Mb Opt-E-Man circuit from AT&T
- Record – 360Systems for the Center HD center feed and Sony DSR-1000 for the SD side
Before we get into more technical stuff, let me explain why we do Simulcast. Shortly after moving into our new building in 2004, we started having talks about “Phase 2” of expansion to fit all the new people who were coming to The Chapel. This is a great problem to have but we hadn’t expected to have it so soon and didn’t have the money to expand quite yet. We also didn’t like the idea of more and more people driving farther and farther to go to church each week.
About that time our Sr. Pastors started having some talks with some struggling churches in the area. Two had approached us and wanted to join what God was doing through The Chapel. At that time, we also receive a large donation specifically for our multi-site campaign. A church in Barrington had built a new campus and had their old building up for sale. So, the march was on and we went from one church in one location, to one church in 4 locations in one year!
The first year we did a tape/dvd delay for one of our campuses and did “sneaker net” transport. This worked alright but the quality just wasn’t there. Also, our Sr. Pastors were getting worn out running between the 3 other campuses each weekend. Three of our campuses were also running a week delay in service but this caused other problems for our tech teams and our church members as well.
So, that is what lead up to us going to a live video simulcast on the weekends. Our pastors still preach 4 times a weekend (Twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday) but with our 4 campuses, that comes out to 10 services! Our pastor’s alternate teaching from our two large campuses which are Grayslake and Libertyville. One week, it will be live at Grayslake at the 9:00 am and simulcast everywhere else, and then it will be live at Libertyville for the 11:00 am and simulcast everywhere else. Then we switch the next weekend. Still crazy but much better than the alternatives!
So, onto the tech details that you all want to know. For cameras we use two Sony PMW-EX3 for the side iMag shots and one Sony PMW-EX3 with a different lens for the fixed center shot. All three of these cameras are HD, but we only project HD 1080i on the center screen at Libertyville and Grayslake. The screens are just so large we had to go HD to get the picture quality. The sides are Sanyo projectors that shoot 720p at Grayslake and Libertyville, and center and sides at Barrington and Mundelein.
Once the cameras capture the live service, it gets piped though what seems like an endless sea of cables and devices and then gets encoded and sent out to our other campuses. The gear we use for encoding and decoding our video is from HaiVision. At each campus we have a HaiVision 1060 chassis with two of their MAKO-HD cards. This system lets us do two simultaneous HD video streams which come out to about 15 Mbps total. Currently we send 1080i and it gets scaled at the decode sites to match the projectors.
This signal then gets sent out onto the network to our other sites on multicast addresses to reduce network traffic. We have a 25 Mb Metro-Ethernet link from AT&T between each site which has worked well for us so far. We did have to make sure our internal network was rock solid and properly configured, and work out some issues with AT&T before we were able to get a video to stay stable for up to an hour.
At the receive sites, we have two DVR’s that capture the service. We use a unit from 360Systems to capture the center HD signal and a Sony DSR-1000 that records the scaled down SD side feed. There is a DNF that is used to manually synchronize the two feeds for playback. Synchronizing the feeds is one of the hardest parts of the whole process because if you are off by even a few frames, people can tell.
For our backup, we capture the sides of the Saturday service at Grayslake or Libertyville on a Mac Pro with an HD capture card. Once the service is over on Saturday night, the video file of the side screens gets sent over the network to the other sites for a backup just in case.
So that’s it. That is how we roll. I’ll have a post coming shortly about some Cisco IOS magic we had to work to make sure our network was up to the challenge of multicast video, voice, and data. If you have any questions or comments I would love to hear them. Our simulcast solution is constantly being improved and I’ll post any new developments when they happen.