Ground Zero camera run by remote control

Mar 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

From Sept. 11 through the end of the year, NBC stationed a camera operator at New York City’s Ground Zero. It was expensive, but something NBC and MSNBC thought was necessary-just in case something happened.
But in January, NBC began experimenting with a different solution. The camera it now employs to do the job is hanging out a window on the 34th floor of a building at 120 Broadway. The camera has a good view of the area and, best of all, with the right password it can be controlled from any computer anywhere-no on-site cameraperson required.
The technology comes from Boston-based LiveWave, which specializes in remote-control video techniques. Many but not all of its customers are media organizations, including the Discovery Channel, USA Today TV, Fox Sports and New England Cable News.
Jack Bennett, technical manager at NBC, oversees the network’s video coverage at Ground Zero, including the operation of the LiveWave camera. “The quality may be a hair less than it would be if we had somebody there, but if we had this system on Sept. 11, we probably could have gotten as good a picture as anybody has gotten out of there for a lot less money,” he said.
The LiveWave/NBC setup includes a Panasonic AW-E600 broadcast convertible camera and a Fujinon 20x zoom lens with a 2x extender. The equipment is installed in a Panasonic PH-600 all-weather housing. It is connected via fiber to Waterfront Communications Television Control Center, which remotely routes television signals via sophisticated switching software. NBC and most New York City networks are Waterfront customers.
Basic control of the camera is handled by MSNBC producers at that network’s “Superdesk” in Secaucus, N.J. If producers at NBC or CNBC want to control the stream themselves, they can alert MSNBC and then take over. From their desktops, production personnel can access all the higher-level camera functions, including white balance, RGB, iris, pan/tilt limits and presets.
Jamie Edgar, senior VP of LiveWave, said the LiveWave PRO system can be used to control almost any CCTV, industrial or broadcast camera and can support SDI, MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 video at various resolutions and frame rates.
In a number of LiveWave installations, control of the camera is available to any computer user who has an Internet connection and who would like to give it a try. For instance, WJAR-TV, an NBC-affiliate in Providence, R.I., has been featuring a live, steerable polar bear cam on its Web site, offering a window to the polar bear exhibit at the local Roger Williams Park Zoo. Bear lovers can log on and scan the habitat at any time.
Mr. Edgar said LiveWave’s PRO supports up to 200 simultaneous users – and up to 2,000 users with the LiveWave Slave Server.
The cameras aren’t cheap. The licensing cost for a camera is $1,000 to $5,000 per month, and the purchase price is $6,000 to $30,000. Mr. Bennett said NBC is contemplating a half-dozen installations, though he’s not free to say where they’ll be. But the plans do include some sites where viewers will be able to go to their computers and play with the camera angles-possibly for a fee. “It’s certainly a value-added [feature], and the novelty factor could make it marketable to outside people,” he said.