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Up Helly Aa Broadcast Live

by Deborah Leggate -

The Up Helly Aa Fire Festival will once again be broadcast live from Lerwick, Shetland over the Internet on Tuesday 25th January 2011.

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Last year the lid was blown on what was expected to be a 'very low key test webcast' which was to act as a trial for this year however local media discovered the plot and word-of-mouth, together with social media networks, provided just over 2000 interested people with the first ever live webcast of this event.  Feedback was good but internally we only gave a 2/5 rating - hard as we are on ourselves!

The conditions for last year's broadcast were less than optimal with poor weather and limited internet connectivity placing significant demands on the broadcast equipment.  We were extremely grateful to UK2 Ltd in providing additional network capacity when we realised that word had spread and the demand was way beyond our wildest expectations for the 'trial'.  As many of last year's viewers realised we had to provide sound to compliment the video (not planned as part of the trial) and at short notice....approx 30 minutes before the start a Tascam DR-1 voice recorder was wrapped in a plastic bag with a few holes strategically placed and then lowered out of the window of the 'control room'.  What followed could only be described as a chaotic shambles as a spare PC was quickly commissioned to transmit the sound to the media server and then attempt to overlay it with the video sort of worked...and then the phone rang and the world heard it.

The Up Helly Aa Committee have kindly agreed to another attempt and hopefully we can learn from the 2010 experience and provide viewers from all over the world with another chance to see this fantastic local event here in Shetland.

This year we are going to use professional grade cameras for the broadcast and these will have real people behind them but we (and the equipment) will be entirely at the mercy of the elements - it certainly will be authentic.

Courtesy of Shetland Broadband we will have a dedicated wireless link to their Lerwick communications centre with a 10Mbps SDSL connection - just installed last week. This will allow us to stream up to 3  concurrent video streams from approx 300kbps to 1.5Mbps.  The latter will be the first to be dropped if we have problems but we will be very interested to know how many people can receive a reliable broadcast from the high bandwidth service; your location and your ISP.  Actually we would like to hear from as many of our viewers as possible so please fill in the contact form to help us provide an even better service in future years.

We have provided media server capacity in many different locations around the world based on the statistics from last year so those in New Zealand, Australia, Asia, Canada and the USA will have your own dedicated media servers.  The majority of the network capacity will be focused on Europe and we will operate complex load-sharing systems so please wait up to 30 seconds for your stream to be allocated across our pool of European servers.

We are filming in complete darkness so smoke, flames, moisture and movement will cause significant stress on the encoders so you will see picture distortion on all our streams and it will be a far cry from what you are used to seeing on digital or satellite TV.  Almost every pixel in every frame will be changing almost continuously.

For those interested we will be using Canon XH A1, Canon XL H1 and JVC HD100 cameras together with real-time video mixing on an Apple MacBook Pro. Cameras will be in DV mode to allow better low-light performance but 16:9 formatted.  Our webcast will stream at 640x360 - the SD stream will be lower resolution and up-scaled as the best compromise quality/bandwidth.

Audio will be provided from remote located Rode NTG-2 and NTG-3 microphones.

TWITTER: @PromoteShetland

We look forward to hearing from you - I just hope it all works :-)

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