What if PTV could send video
as easily as e-mail on Internet?
Originally published in Current, Dec. 4, 2000
By Steve Behrens
Just to see how it would work, the two universities sent broadcast-quality live coverage of the Seawolves-Badgers hockey match over the high-speed Internet2 on Saturday, Nov. 11 .
The results would encourage public TV folk who are dreaming of using high-capacity landlines like the inter-university Internet2 to interconnect the public TV stationsnationally, regionally, and one to another.
It worked just fine. Fred Pearce, a University of Alaska telecom professor who worked on the experiment, says the image froze and pixelated for a split second a few times because of delays at busy Internet2 junctions midway. But to viewers on the university's cable channel in Anchorage the remote from the University of Wisconsin hockey rink looked so much like the satellite feed of the game that the technicians could switch back and forth between land and space feeds without viewers' knowledge.
Dennis Haarsager, new chairman of the PBS Interconnection Committee, wants public TV to look into Internet2-like fiber options to supplement or even replace satellites in its next-generation interconnection.
"If I were building it today," Haarsager says, "I would build it with a hybrid technology." He'd use fiber optic circuits for many purposes, but still send out most national feeds by satellite, which is cheaper when you're beaming the same program to hundreds of stations. In the Northwest, where he manages the public TV and radio stations at Washington State University, Haarsager is leading a study for landline interconnection among the region's public TV stations. (In a commentary, he sketches what an Internet2-style network could do for public TV.)
Advocates demonstrated video transmission over Internet2 for public TV managers during the PBS Fall Planning Meeting, Oct. 23, and repeated the demo at the Internet2 conference in Atlanta the following week. Steve Vedro, a Madison-based consultant who worked on the CPB-backed exhibit, recalls especially the Aggie marching band, streaming in across the fiber vastness from Texas A&M.
"We're trying to raise the consciousness of managers that this kind of interconnection is going to change the way public television does business," says Vedro. In one demo, a producer taps into a NewsHour video database, previews a sample via streaming video, and has the footage downloaded for insertion in a program, he recalls. Vedro imagines radical changes in responsiveness and power relationships within public TV. "What happens when you can create a network of four stations by pushing three buttons, and the extra cost to do it is zero?"
The potential of collaborative production will drive the shift to fiber landlines, Vedro predicts. "A consortium of producing stations can shoot in one place, edit the audio in another place and edit the video in another. This opens the door for second-tier stations to . . . aggregate their talent."
Neither Internet2 nor the plain old Internet is built for live streaming, Vedro acknowledges. Audio or video streams can be interrupted or delayed at any bottleneck. To overcome the problem on Internet2, a user must map out an "overprovisioned" route with more than enough capacity, he says. But Internet2 universities are developing protocols (and premium prices) to give priority to uninterrupted video streams, Vedro reports.
With far more capacity than users at the moment, the Internet2 universities temporarily gave public TV a laboratory that Vedro compares to the early satellite hookups that NASA provided to educators in the 1970s.
Though many public TV stations are licensed to Internet2 universities, Haarsager doesn't expect universities to permit routine PBS interconnection on their fast Internet. But he believes public TV could put together a similar terrestrial network.
The time is right to consider this option, Haarsager says, because PBS's satellite contract is up for renewal in 2006. Digital landline transmission costs are dropping rapidly, he adds. Bids for the proposed Northwest network have dropped 50 percent since last year.
Not long ago, fiber transmission cost more than satellite if you were sending the same program to three or more downlinks, says former Milwaukee pubcaster Bryce Combs. Then it was 10 or more, then 60 or more. Soon, fiber will be "extremely competitive" for bigger networks like PBS, says Combs, who now represents GeoVideo Networks, a fiber-transmission provider that is working with major public TV stations [earlier article].
And when that happens, Combs says, fiber will still allow the sender to customize the feed for every recipient, opening the possibility of regional and national origination centers.
. To Current's home page . Earlier news: PBS rushes to regain interconnection as AT&T satellite fails, 1997. . Earlier news: Major public TV stations join with Lucent and investors to announce GeoVideo Networks, April 2000. . Related commentary: Dennis Haarsager, chairman of the PBS Board's Interconnection Committee, pictures how public TV operations could be improved with an inter-station hookup similar to Internet2. . Outside link: The Internet2 organization.
Web page posted Dec. 14, 2000
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