Located at the heart of downtown Toronto, Ryerson University is one of the largest media universities in North America. With a mandate for hands-on experience, it is a leader in career-focused education with a commitment to community engagement.
Webcasting is important at Ryerson. Every day at noon, journalism students turn into budding news reporters and put together a webcast that covers current affairs on campus and around the city. The university’s athletic club, the Ryerson Rams, webcasts all of their sports games, such as hockey and basketball, from the Mattamy Athletic Centre (the former Maple Leaf Gardens). The games draw online viewers on and off campus.
As webcasting needs expanded, the university chose Matrox Monarch HD to provide a simpler, more efficient setup.
Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication Arts and Design (FCAD) is composed of multiple disciplines with nine schools including the RTA School of Media, the School of Journalism and others. Systems designer Many Ayromlou is a member of the FCAD Operations Technology Support (OTS) group responsible for setting up equipment and providing technical support to the entire faculty.
As part of their studies, students from the School of Journalism contribute to Ryersonian TV, a one-hour daily news webcast. Ayromlou needed to find a way for students to easily record and webcast news segments live and to switch between segments without interruption. The technical team was also tasked to help the newly introduced sports webcasting program live stream Ryerson Rams events from the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
The computer - based system then in place did not provide the desired ease-of-use and stability. Someone had to configure the settings on the computer just before going live and the technical team had to constantly train new students to do this. Issues such as forgetting the password would cause panic, creating a stressful situation for everyone involved. If the problem required reconfiguration, the technical team had to initiate a tedious remote desktop session to find out which settings needed adjustment. To complicate matters further, the live stream would sometimes fail if several programs were running on the computer. For Ayromlou, this was unacceptable, “In a webcasting environment you can’t afford to have encoder issues or dead time.”
Finding the solution
The stability and straight-forward design of the Matrox Monarch HD H.264 encoder proved to the Ryerson technical team that it was the ideal solution. Other devices they looked at required extensive configuration at webcast time because the settings could not be locked in. Since the studios at Ryerson University are a learning environment and students need to start live streaming at a predetermined time, everything needs to be set up in advance.
Monarch HD’s pre-configurable settings let the technical team create profiles for different needs far in advance, eliminating the stress of last minute adjustments. They simply log into the Monarch HD Command Center webpage, select a profile and the unit is ready to go. The fact that the Monarch HD appliance is a hardware device solely dedicated to recording and streaming and cannot run additional programs means that it is, in Ayromlou’s words, “bulletproof”.
According to Ayromlou, he no longer has to spend his time training students and solving technical problems, “The main thing we like about the Monarch HD is the fact that it’s easy and can be operated by just about anybody.”
Setting up the webcast
The main production facility houses the IT infrastructure and the news station while the sports studio is located up the street at the Mattamy Centre. All are connected through fiber optics. Each facility has a 72x72 video router and a large DANTE audio-over-IP network. These facilities are interconnected so the feeds can be mixed and matched as needed.
In the new setups, a camera and microphone produce an HD-SDI output with embedded audio, which goes through an SDI-to-HDMI converter to the Monarch HD. The setup is similar for both the news and sports studios; only the delivery destinations differ, either a Wowza server or CDN. In both environments, the HDMI output from the Monarch HD is fed to a 24-inch standard flat panel to monitor the feed and make sure it is working. Monarch HD provides the option to save files to a variety of recording media types including a shared network drive, USB drive or SD card; so it is easy to store recordings in a way that works for everyone.
News webcasts are done at 4Mbps and routinely recorded on SD cards with an average file size less than 4GB for the one-hour show. Professors can revisit their journalism students’ news segments at the end of the semester for grading purposes.
The Ryerson Rams Athletic Club uses Monarch HD to provide live streams of sporting events to Stretch Internet, a CDN platform for athletic webcasts from universities across Canada. The live webcasts are also available from the Ryerson Rams web page. Coaches use Monarch HD’s high quality MP4 recordings to review performance post-game.
Seeing the results
Monarch HD is the H.264 encoder of choice for Ryerson’s webcasting requirements now because of its operator-friendliness and consistent high quality stream. Ayromlou’s biggest benefit has been peace of mind.
For the technical team, simplicity is key. “We can just log in from a web interface, configure the device for whatever output, be it a CDN or a Wowza server on campus, and basically tell the student or faculty member to ‘push this button, wait for the blue light’ and off you go,” says Ayromlou. By saving the Monarch HD preconfigured settings as profiles, they simply switch between them depending on the need – streaming, streaming and recoding or testing. The reliability of the Monarch HD means students can now focus on their webcast, and not on technical details.
“In webcasting you need something solid and that has been our experience with the Monarch HD,” he affirms. “Because the Monarch HD is hardware, it really has not had any hiccups. It guarantees that the stream will continually webcast in the same quality.”
For the technical team at FCAD, plans to purchase the recently introduced Monarch HDX steaming and recording device are already in the works. Monarch HDX provides even more workflow flexibility featuring 3G-SDI and HDMI inputs with frame synchronization to compensate for unstable sources. Two independent H.264 encoders provide redundancy or can be set to stream and/or record using individual settings, plus an additional, dedicated H.264 encoder provides remote preview of the input.
The Slaight Radio Institute, which is currently under construction, will be the future home of the SpiritLive radio station with two simultaneous 24/7 student-produced channels broadcasting audio and video streams. Matrox Monarch HDX units will produce the media streams for the stations and simultaneous record broadcasts to a network so students will have easy and immediate access to archival versions of their productions. With webcasting becoming more and more a part of everyday university life, anything seems possible now that Ryerson has the right devices for the job.
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