Broadcasting Yale University’s Philharmonia is No Easy Task. Here’s How They Make It Work with the Teradek T-Rax

Wed, May 16, 2018

Yale School of Music live streaming

One of the many beauties of live streaming is that it’s given individuals and organizations a way to reach their audiences without traditional and expensive TV avenues. Anyone at home, or on the go, can experience previously unavailable content with just a few clicks or taps on their computers, tablets, and mobile phones. At the Yale School of Music, this means family, friends, and the general public all around the world can watch performances while they happen. In the words of one viewer, “Bravo!! A wonderful experience. It was better than being there. These streams allow us to watch our grandson play with the Philharmonia without traveling 1000 miles.”

Yale School of Music is a graduate school within Yale University where some of the world’s finest professional musicians learn their craft. The school started live streaming video in 2010 (audio-only streams began earlier than that). Beginning with select concerts and student recitals, the school now streams every concert and recital given by students and faculty, as well as several special events throughout the year.

In 2017, the school produced 243 different live streams to viewers in 37 countries over the span of just 9 months, with 158 days of total viewing time. During the spring student recital season, it’s not uncommon for 3 live streams to be happening simultaneously.

Some of the most highly produced live streams are that of the school’s monthly Yale Philharmonia orchestra concerts.

Coming from a background in concert and event video productions, Travis Wurges, Yale School of Music’s lead video producer, directs the live broadcasts, and manages the tech behind the live streams along with the lead audio engineer Matt LeFevre.

“Our goal as the Media Production team is to provide a high quality, engaging experience that rivals actually being here in the hall,” says Wurges. “Top quality, amazing audio is actually the most important part of what we do,” he adds. “As the video guy it pains me to say that. But, with Classical music especially, the visuals must enhance the sound, not detract from it. Here, sound is not just ‘the noise with the picture,’ as it’s often treated in the production world.”

Why Do They Stream?

“Live streaming began as an outgrowth of the vision set forth by Dean Robert Blocker, who believes that music should be shared with the world, not kept to ourselves,” Wurges explains. “We recognize that live streaming is the best, and most effective method to do that.”

How Do They Do It?

Providing an engaging, technically solid live experience isn’t easy, especially when the Media Production team handles multiple concert halls and cameras all feeding into the master control room. But they devised an intricate system that allows for live switching of every camera in every hall. Here’s what they use:

  • 10 Panasonic HE130 PTZ cameras
  • AJA Kumo 64x64 3G-SDI router
  • Blackmagic 2 ME switcher
  • Teradek T-Rax with 4 encoders cards
  • AJA KiPro Rack file-based recorders
  • Wowza Streaming Cloud

Depending on the performance and the venue, the team utilize between 1 to 7 PTZ cameras.

The signals first pass through the AJA Kumo 64x64 router, of which most of the 64 SDI inputs and 64 SDI outputs are actually used up for whole operation. From the router, they get redistributed to the Blackmagic switcher for switching between the different cameras. The final program output is then sent to 1 of the 4 Teradek T-Rax encoders, which streams a 1080p30 (256kbps audio) 8Mbps video feed to the Wowza Streaming Cloud.

Wowza’s cloud-based platform transcodes the signal and generates 5 different HLS renditions. The appropriate one is automatically delivered to each viewer depending on their streaming device/connection.

  • 4000Mbps: 1920x1080, 256k audio, high h264 profile
  • 2600Mbps: 1280x720, 256k audio, high h264 profile
  • 1600Mbps: 896x504, 256k audio, main h264 profile
  • 1024Mbps: 640x360, 128k audio, main h264 profile
  • 512Kbps: 512x288, 128k audio, baseline h264 profile

Old Roots, New Technology

It’s almost ironic to think that the the United State’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded 317 years ago (and 75 years before the country was) can be so adaptive. But the vision that their School of Music champions is a testament to what makes Yale the international leader that it is today.

“As one of the world’s top conservatories for classical music, students come here to learn from, and be mentored by, artists and faculty who are the leaders in their field. The school had the foresight to create an audio recording studio almost 60 years ago, and building on that legacy, we work to continuously enhance our audio and video production capabilities to serve the our phenomenal students, faculty, and alumni.”

According to Wurges, one of the most essential parts of Yale’s setup is the Teradek T-Rax encoder. “With the intensity of our streaming schedule, and the high expectations of our audience, major stability issues with previous encoders from several different brands were unacceptable.“

Designed for enterprise broadcast professionals, the T-Rax is a rack-mounted, high-performance streaming encoder that delivers video over IP to either online destinations or decoders. The school chose the T-Rax for its reliability and robust performance in broadcast workflows. Wurges said, “I sometimes even forget it’s there, because it has streamed hundreds of concerts flawlessly since installing it 2 years ago. Which is a wonderful thing when it comes to such a critical piece of the operation.”

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