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2022 Winter Olympics Video Streaming Powered by Intel® Tofino™ Intelligent Fabric Processors

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Intel, as the Official Processor Partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) conducted a proof of concept (PoC) of an IP-based open reference architecture for an outside broadcast van that broadcast a curling competition. This model has the potential to reduce costs and complexity for live event video production while also improving flexibility and scalability.

While most of the attendees at the 2022 Winter Olympics were focused on gold, Intel was focused on copper.

That is to say, we were focused on the copper wires, the fiber optic cables, and the rest of the networking infrastructure needed to bring the action of the Olympics to TVs, tablets, phones and other screens around the world. The Olympic broadcasting infrastructure is being revolutionized and Intel is helping to lead the way.

The Olympics is the biggest and most influential sporting event in the world and Intel has had a long-standing partnership. Together, we’re committed to creating a new era in the professional sports and entertainment industries. At Intel, we believe digitization and connectivity are critical elements of technology and we are honored to create a thrilling experience for millions of Olympic viewers and fans.

In 2022, the goal was to live broadcast an event using the new infrastructure building on our proofs of concept from the 2018 Winter Olympics. In 2018, the network was set up to record the action, but the results weren’t part of the live coverage. At the 2022 Olympics we successfully had the first live broadcast using an IP-based, virtualized broadcast infrastructure.

Broadcasting needs high-bandwidth networks, especially for high-definition sports broadcasts. To get the necessary performance, broadcasters used dedicated broadcast systems that are a mix of proprietary hardware, software, network protocols and systems. Using an IP-based system is attractive because it reduces the costs and can also lead to moving some of the functionality into the cloud.

Curling is First Sport for New Broadcast Network

Intel and the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS) defined and implemented a reference architecture for live video production based on IP services. OBS worked with Intel teams to design a virtualized Outside Broadcasting (OB) van that can support agile production to provide best-in-class streaming services. Curling was identified as preferred event for the pilot broadcast production which was made available to several broadcasters.   

Creating Cloud and IP-based Broadcast Infrastructure

This effort utilized a cloud-hosted and software-based infrastructure that replicates the functionality of a regular OB van. Broadcast technicians in the van work with the broadcast team within the venue where a high-bandwidth network based on the Intel® Tofino™ 2 programmable Ethernet switch ASIC was installed powered by Arista 7170 series. The Intel Tofino-based switch was selected because it supports a unified and programmable architecture that is able to connect all the venues of the event. Software defined networking (SDN) was used to orchestrate the network data flows. 

This switch and the Commercial off-the-shelf ( COTS) servers that were used to run the broadcasting software, comprised an architecture that brought together all the facets of the curling event broadcast infrastructure including security, compliance and on-demand videos and other operations. 

The use of a COTS platform enables software applications from a variety of vendors to be deployed on the same physical platform allowing easy scaling up and down of physical hardware resources to reduce the complexity and match compute requirements for different broadcast events.  

The success of the pilot broadcast proved that this approach could redefine and simplify traditional broadcast production services. IP-based broadcasting also enables the broadcast production environment to dynamically scale and cater to changes in on-demand workloads in just a matter of seconds. Furthermore, the production set-up time can be reduced to its minimum, given that all the production systems can be configured remotely before moving to the host event location. 

Also, the use of IP-based broadcast infrastructure enables flexible production crew scheduling and location. Now the broadcast engineering can be done from a remote location reducing the need to rent or ship expensive equipment and feed and house production workers.

The Role of 5G

To capture and stream the curling, OBS used more than 30 5G-enabled cameras. Before the live streaming, several field tests were conducted to measure the network performance and quality from the end-user perspective on 5G networks at Tokyo 2020 and at PyeongChang 2018 while demonstrating excellent picture quality. Intel worked to help with the selection of the proper 5G transmit and receive technology that goes with those cameras.

Overall, leveraging 5G resulted in great capacity to support low latency and high bandwidth for live broadcasting over a public network infrastructure. This is a key for field production considering the limitations of the legacy broadcast solutions that depend on dedicated radio frequencies and can cause latency and result in congestion. In the future, OBS plans to expand broadcasting services to other events such as skiing, marathons, etc.

Through Intel’s partnership with the Olympic organizing committee, a new high-performance IP-based broadcast network using virtualized COTS servers and cloud computing has been proven through the broadcast of curling events. Going forward, Intel will work with Olympic organizers to make this the default network for the Olympics and further transform the fan experience.

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