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ENG Technology: Portable Transmission Systems

What is and how does a flyaway transmission system work and what are the main advantages it offers for ENG (Electronic News Gathering) news operations.

TV&Video had the opportunity to speak with Javier Olave, News Engineer of the Caracol Channel in Colombia, who spoke to us about the subject.

TV&Video: What is a flyaway?

Javier Olave: A flyaway is a system composed of an antenna similar to the satellite dishes we know but smaller. Its diameter is 1.10 meters and it is used to transmit satellite signals. It is composed of two electronic cases and five briefcases for antenna transport. The latter has a base, four blades that form the dish and a feed or unit dedicated to transmission.

In one of the electronic cases, the encoder is stored, which is the equipment in charge of compressing the signal and encoding it, whether you choose it or not, according to how the transmission service is done. If you do not want another system to be able to see the signal, by means of a encryption and decryption code, it is encoded and only with this code is it possible to see it again.

- Publicidad -

In the second case, an HPA power unit is transported. This part of the equipment is responsible for giving gain to the signal to transmit it with the help of a 1.10-meter antenna. From the satellite you can "download" the signal anywhere from where the antenna is pointed and that is covered by the Foot Step or "footprint" of it. This term defines the area of coverage of the satellite above the earth.

TV&V: How are encryption codes configured and for what purpose?

JO: The transmission that is done today, through the encoder, is for the transmission of digital signals. This carries a series of data that can be encrypted as an email message on the Internet so that it can be seen only by the recipient.

Data packets carry the encryption component with them and if the recipient does not have the same component for decryption, the message data may be lost or it is simply not possible to read it.

Encryption is done to protect information since satellite systems, INTELSAT or PANAMSAT which are the satellites used in Latin America, offer slots for rent for public use. Satellite slots have the up-link and down-link frequencies set and almost anyone can have those frequencies.

That is, if a competitor is sending an exclusive material and a third party knows the respective frequencies could also obtain that signal. This is avoided with the use of encryption codes.

TV&V: What compression format does this system use?

- Publicidad -

JO: Flyaway systems use MPEG2. Although there are similar equipment from other manufacturers such as General Instruments that have their own encoder and decoder , and a compression system different from their property. That depends on the type of antenna. In general, NDS and PowerVU systems are used.

TV&V: How does the transmission system work?

JO: The system accepts analog or digital video and audio signals that can be configured from the unit's interface. If analog signals are delivered, the flyaway converts them to digital and if it receives digital signals it maintains its characteristics. The system forms with the two signals a single stream, a single chain of data and that is what it transmits. It uses one frequency for the uplink and a parallel frequency for the downlink. In this way it prevents the information from being confused. This process includes the audio components within the video components and audio, video, synchronism and timecode information can be sent together over a cable.

TV&V: What are the time and personnel requirements to operate a flyaway system?

JO: In our case, three people are employed to operate the system. At the reception only the decoder is used and the down-link frequency is programmed. The signal is then routed through an array to any part of the news station. During a common transmission, these three people, from the initial moment of installation of the system, take 12 minutes to have a signal ready on the satellite for down-link.

TV&V: What kind of frequencies does the system use and what degree of stability do they offer?

- Publicidad -

JO: We broadcast in linear C-Band, before we transmitted in linear KU Band as well. The KU Band offers a more faithful signal but requires greater aiming and precision in the direction of the antenna. While the C Band does not require as much precision and the difference in signal quality with respect to the KU Band is minimal.

TV&V: What are the parameters for determining the antenna orientation?

JO: The position of the satellite is geostationary and therefore always at the same point. The location process is done at the transmission site with the help of a GPS (Geographic Positioning System) to determine the latitude and longitude coordinates. By using an application, the antenna elevation and specific orientation conditions are determined.

TV&V: What are the main advantages of a flyaway system?

JO: The advantage of such a system is that it has the ability to broadcast from anywhere in the country. When there is no microwave network it is the system that should be used. It is a functional equipment but represents an additional work of logistics and production for its transport because it weighs around 700 kilos. You must always pay excess baggage in air transport and in the places of transmission it is necessary to get the services of small cargo transport that imply additional costs.

When failures occur, they are usually due to temperature, because in some places it is extremely high and causes overheating in the HPA power unit. This makes the unit require some help that maintains a normal operating temperature.

TV&V: What is the fundamental difference with a microwave system?

JO: A microwave system requires eye contact. That is, a point-to-point transmission must be made to the receiving site. This does not mean that if I don't see it I can't do it. The important thing is that there is no object in between. When there is, for example when you have a mountain in the middle of the two points, it is necessary to locate a system on the mountain or resort to microwave "mirrors" to get from there to specific points. It is a system that has limitations for the transmission process.

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