Originally conceived as strategic military tools, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become useful for scientific data collection and agricultural applications, as well as a recreational hobby.
Originally conceived as strategic military tools, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become useful for scientific data collection and agricultural applications, as well as a recreational hobby. More recently, news agencies have begun to embrace UAVs, more commonly known as drones, for aerial newsgathering. In early October, drone footage became an integral part of the coverage of many media outlets to show the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew.
For example, in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration no doubt helped the potential use of drones by broadcasters in August, when it enacted new rules loosening regulations for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds (approximately 24kg). There are still regulations visual line of sight between the drone and its pilot is required, plus the drone may fly no higher than 400 feet (approximately 121m) above ground level and can fly only during local daylight hours. However, the new rules are far less burdensome, and some restrictions (such as flying at night or over people) can even be waived by the FAA. Plus, there is no need for an advanced flight plan or pilots licence for operators.
While there are plenty of restrictions, drones offer broadcasters an enticing option for live coverage of sports, weather events, natural disasters and hazardous areas of interest. Drones literally deliver a new angle on the Big Story. Yes, there are equipment and training costs, but a drone has a significantly smaller price tag than a news helicopter. Thats not to say drones will suddenly replace news industrys helicopters but they do offer aerial coverage options for stations that cannot afford a chopper.
Of course, for any drone to be an effective option for aerial ENG, it needs to be able to transmit footage back to the broadcaster in real time. Some recreational drones record HD footage to an on-board media card while transmitting a low-res version of the footage to a mobile device for live monitoring. Thats fine for a hobbyist, but broadcasters need a system that provides live and reliable HD transmission.
Generally, there are two approaches to producing drone-based live video transmissions. The first features on-board hardware systems integrated into the drone itself, for an all-in-one solution. An on-board solution can be more expensive because of the customised hardware, and it locks the station into using that particular drone.
The second approach connects external hardware to the drones remote control. While not as neat and tidy as the integrated approach, some solutions require as little as one HDMI connection to enable transmission. The use of external hardware provides the same video transmission capabilities, but users are not locked in to a particular drone. Plus, once the transmission is complete, the external hardware can be used for other assignments using other video cameras.
In 2015, video transmission companies began announcing aerial ENG solutions tailored for the drone market, often in cooperation with drone manufacturers.
Broadcasters have a choice of methods for drone footage transmission, including cellular, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, microwave and satellite. Video-over-IP technology has become a popular choice for early adopters, because it allows broadcasters to transmit live HD video with minimal latency and easily insert drones into existing workflows.
With readily available technology and the loosening of FAA restrictions, many industry experts believe drones will quickly become an essential part of the newsgathering process, not just a technological novelty.
Eric Chang is Vice President of Marketing at TVU Networks.
TVU Networks has been working with DJI to develop its Aerial Newsgathering Pack, which can deliver full HD videos from a drone to any broadcast facility, with less than one second of latency.