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A Multi-Site Simulcast Solution

I’ve had a lot of folks ask how we handle simulcasting to our six campuses at The Chapel. Because this is all magic to me, Jeremy Good has written today’s post. Jeremy is the Network Admin for The Chapel, and a tech extraordinaire. He’s got a great blog for anyone interested in church tech. Check it out: http://jeremygood.net.

Here’s how we do simulcast, Chapel style.

What is our definition of simulcast? 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 DVR’s first to give us flexibility on playback — Usually 2 to 10 minutes behind live.

Equipment Specs

Here’s 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
  • Record360Systems for the Center HD center feed and Sony DSR-1000 for the SD side

Why we simulcast?

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 didn’t expect to have it so soon, and didn’t have the money to expand 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 senior pastors started having talks with a few 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 received a large donation specifically for our multi-site campaign. In addition, another church built a new campus and had their old building up for sale.

In short, 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 senior pastors were getting worn out running between the 3 other campuses each weekend.

That’s the journey leading up to us going to a live video simulcast on the weekends. Our pastors still preach 3 times a weekend (once on Saturday and twice on Sunday), but with 6 campuses, that comes out to 14 services! Our pastors 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.

The Tech Details

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 so large that 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 the other campuses.

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 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.

Side note - for temporary venues without internet access…

We are currently renting space at a high school with our newest campus. We got a 3G wireless router and Cricket wireless card for the time being. We are working on buying wireless AP’s (they don’t have wireless) because our childrens check-in is with FellowshipOne.

So that’s it. If you have any questions or comments I would love to hear them. Please comment below or email jgood@chapel.org. Our simulcast solution is constantly being improved, so check out http://jeremygood.net as I post any new developments when they happen.

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  4. Ian Beyer (Reply) on January 4th, 2012

    One thing to watch out for when renting facilities like schools for worship – we encountered this at our west campus – the wifi system at the school may actively try to thwart any portable wifi systems that you bring in, treating them as rogue APs (especially if the school is using Cisco). Check with the school IT staff, and try and get your device’s MAC address whitelisted.

    Meanwhile, I’m working on a similar solution that involves server-based DVR using Wowza v3, and Roku or Flash players at the client end.


  5. Robert Boley (Reply) on January 13th, 2012

    Can you go more into using a DNF to sync the two players. What is DNF. We are about to start a simulcast service and we need it to be delayed a few for the band to finish. Is this possible?

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