NHL goes all in on UHD with help from AWS

Fans can now get a clearer, real-time view of what’s happening on the ice through the NHL’s new UHD-enhanced video production pipeline. NHL’s recent technology infrastructure update, which includes the addition of several AWS Elemental Link UHD cloud contribution encoders across 32 NHL arenas, provides innovative viewer experiences. 

The NHL’s new Link UHDs make it possible to quickly get multiple live UHD camera angles shot from the ice into the cloud, helping to streamline high-quality, live content delivery to media partners and accelerate the creation of video-on-demand (VOD) programming. The upgrade also opens new doors to more data-driven fan experiences, as the NHL can now more easily combine live UHD footage with real-time data and stats from its Puck and Player Tracking system, which also runs on AWS.

Considering the League hosts 190 different video channels and each NHL season (regular season and Playoffs) includes upwards of 1,400 games, establishing a fixed UHD infrastructure that could provide consistent video quality across productions was a crucial consideration for NHL SVP of Technology Grant Nodine in approaching the upgrade. Ultimately opting to install six Link UHD devices per arena, he shared, “Getting high quality UHD video from hundreds of cameras across dozens of disparate arenas via traditional hardware is neither practical, nor cost-efficient. The plug and play nature of Link UHD, its affordable price point, and the way it allows us to use APIs to remotely control the devices without manual intervention or having to write new code offer a better alternative and have been game changing in that respect.”  

The Link UHDs arrived at every venue pre-configured to the NHL’s AWS account, and once installed, the team could instantly access live feeds from each camera from a centralized control panel in the cloud. Anchoring NHL’s video production infrastructure, the devices have since facilitated redundant cloud native video distribution for three new 4K in-venue cameras at each arena. The NHL can stop and start encodes on a per-game basis using the devices alongside a proprietary workflow automation and management system. Encodes feed into AWS Elemental MediaConnect, a cloud-based live video transport service, and through video management software, simplifying the transmission of signals to a range of streaming platforms and devices. Using AWS Elemental MediaLive, the NHL can then easily produce HD and UHD HLS outputs without custom hardware and adapt to delivery standards and codecs as needed. 

Nodine explained, “With the Link UHDs, we now click a button and start multiple, redundant multi-regional encodes in every arena for every game, and it’s easy to determine the associated costs of increasing a stream bit rate or producing multiple stream renditions.”  

Four Link HD devices in each arena further support the pipeline, providing encoding and decoding for program feeds and helping to stream an output from an in-venue replay system. In the case of system failure during a goal review, this ensures that all camera angles are still accessible. AWS Elemental Live is also used to support additional encoding needs for NHL’s archive and to distribute feeds via HLS directly to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3).

Across game productions, footage captured with the updated pipeline is used for a wide range of applications including Video Cast–the NHL’s web-based video player platform with logging capabilities and statistics integration that it provides to internal stakeholders, rights holders, TV networks, and radio stations. NHL also makes the content accessible through video management software for broadcast rights holders looking to distribute these live video angles or obtain a tertiary path for a program feed. Hockey operations and player safety teams can access close-up camera angles of every event that happens on the ice, with plans to make recorded UHD footage available to referees, coaches, and players for post-game review and performance analysis. 

“In years of collaborating with coaches and scouts we understand the value of having a tactical view of what’s happening on the ice for post-game analysis. This is just one of many reasons UHD is important to us, and Link UHD made it an affordable and possible option to deploy,” said Nodine. “Now we can distribute live UHD video in a less geographically restricted way, and build tools that benefit coaches, teams and referees. AWS and the cloud have given us a confidence and scalability that hardware just can’t provide, and we’re just getting started.” 

Alluding to an enterprise video platform that the NHL is building on AWS to aggregate video, data, and related applications into one central repository, Nodine added, “As we continue to build out the pipeline, the goal is to spin out an archival-quality UHD file that’s a simple stream to store. We want to make search and retrieval of archived footage simpler, give broadcasters instant access to NHL content for syndication and licensing, and facilitate the delivery of new in-game analyses, predictions, and video highlights to enhance fan experiences.” 

With an eye toward innovation, Nodine also plans to incorporate more artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and computer vision technologies into its pipeline in the future. “Ultimately, we want to be able to feed our UHD video to computer vision applications to derive additional insights about the game, which will ensure more data-driven video content that benefits hockey fans, referees, players and coaches,” he concluded.