John Brown University goes with Matrox

January 25, 2019

John Brown University (JBU) celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019, which will mark the start of a unique season of special live on-campus events. JBU is a leader in Christian higher education, providing academic, spiritual, and professional training for world-impacting careers. As part of their well-rounded scholastic experience, the university offers more than 40 areas of study along with a wide variety of athletic, cultural, and spiritual activities and events.

JBU’s audio, visual, and lighting (AVL) support team, a division within the university’s Information Technology Services (ITS), is typically involved in producing and live streaming over 650 live events on campus each year. This year that number is expected to grow considerably. The AVL department mentors more than 30 work-study students in producing seamless and subtle technical support for full-scale events from soccer, basketball, and volleyball games, to worship services and special events such as convocation ceremonies, to musical performances, plays, seminars, and guest speaking engagements. Challenge

Darren Gould, AVL specialist at JBU, who primarily handles the system design, purchasing, and installation of most of the video infrastructure used on campus, had been experiencing a series of computer-based glitches when trying to stream—these included Windows® updates that would restart the computer during events, PCs logging users out, and even going to sleep while in use. “At the time we were using encoding software installed on desktop PCs with third-party I/O cards. It was not an elegant solution; it was inconsistent, and frankly…terrible!” said Gould. “Then, we had a dead computer CMOS battery cause our graduation ceremony stream to fail. At that point, we’d had enough!”

There had to be a better solution that would allow JBU to stream campus events for family, friends, and alumni to enjoy when they could not attend in person. “Having only a single device to stream from—one that relied so heavily on a PC operating system—was something we were determined to avoid. We needed a more reliable system that would give us much better quality.”

Solution

Already familiar with Matrox, Gould began his research by comparing several hardware encoders with the Matrox® Monarch HDX dual-channel encoder. The Monarch HDX appliance offered the most beneficial features at the most reasonable price-point.

JBU purchased three Monarch HDX encoders. One unit is part of a flypack used to stream various events across campus. The flypack is equipped with everything the AVL team needs to produce and stream high-quality video, in a convenient and portable system.

The other two Monarch HDX appliances are mounted in a fixed rack in a server room, along with a video router connected via fiber-optic cable to three of the most-used venues on campus and to JBU’s TV Studio. These fixed installations—The Bill George Arena, The Cathedral of the Ozarks, and The Berry Performing Arts Center—are each equipped with multiple HD-SDI cameras, video switchers, and audio consoles. The exact setup and equipment differ slightly depending on the venue.

For live-streaming events, JBU uses Monarch HDX’s two encoding channels to simultaneously stream in RTMP to different destinations, providing viewers with a variety of viewing options. For example, a basketball game would be sent to two main destinations, one of which is the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ (NAIA) content delivery network (CDN) Stretch® Internet, and the other to a Wowza Media Server™ that is locally installed on the network. For the latter, once the stream is delivered to Wowza, the streaming engine then distributes the games with a live graphic overlay to a series of campus-wide digital signage displays and to other destinations such as Facebook Live.

Athletic games are streamed off-campus most frequently, while chapel services are streamed on-campus three times a week; other events—such as educational conferences, musical performances, and plays—occur regularly, but not on a fixed schedule. Since the university is equipped with multiple Monarch HDX encoders, there is no issue if two out of the three fixed venues have overlapping events.

The AVL team uses Monarch HDX’s profile and presets to configure all encoding parameters, including resolution and bitrate for each destination. These settings are saved on all the Monarch HDX devices for redundancy if ever one of the units is needed to be used as a backup. Depending on the venue, streaming parameters vary between 1280x720p, 59.94 fps or 1920x1080i, 29.97 fps to best suit the requirements of the event.

Since streams are sent to specific destinations with a unique purpose in mind, the ability to easily change and save settings is very important. Operations for all fixed installations are controlled through the Monarch HDX Command Center, whereas for their flypack setup, Monarch HDX’s on-device buttons are used to start and stop video streams.

Results

Online traffic for all events has increased dramatically across platforms, with one event receiving upwards of 70,000 views on Facebook Live.

“We’re no longer wary of live streaming—a good thing as our campus ramps up for a big year of extra events,” Gould explained. “We made a wise decision by going with Matrox. As hardware encoders go, we could have spent a lot more for far less capability. We bought a single Monarch HDX to see how well it would work for our application. It was fantastic, so we immediately made plans to purchase two more so we could really stream video the way we envisioned. Now we have the capability to send multiple video streams from anywhere on or off campus,” says Gould. “I can manage them remotely, I can send different video formats, I can instantly recall different setups and send to multiple destinations at the same time, and they are small enough to be installed in a portable video system. The Matrox Monarch HDX is really the perfect hardware video encoder!”

With plans to add a fourth fixed venue to their fiber-optic network, the AVL team will purchase another Monarch HDX unit, allowing them to stream up to four separate events simultaneously, or use the units to record events to a network-attached storage device. Monarch HDX also has the ability to save files locally to an SD card or a USB drive.

Recently, the AVL team has also been experimenting with NewTek’s NDI standard. Appliances with an NDI output are still relatively hard to come by, and although not tested by Matrox, it was a pleasant surprise when the team was able to configure Monarch HDX to send a non-NDI stream to NewTek™ Connect Pro, an NDI-enabled receiver.

“Monarch HDX gives us a rock-solid, dedicated streaming solution that provides our viewers with top-quality streaming reliability,” Gould concludes. “Occasionally we hear from other coaches in the NAIA that our small school is a leader in offering quality video coverage of our events. True, we put in a lot of effort and training to teach our students to provide viewers with a great experience, but I know that no one would be congratulating us if our video streams were bad. Matrox shares a huge role in the success of our program!”

About Matrox Video

Matrox Video is a technology and market leader in the field of 4K and HD digital video hardware and software for accelerated H.264 encoding, streaming, A/V signal conversion, capture/playout servers, channel-in-a-box systems, and CGs. Matrox’s Emmy award-winning technology powers a full range of multi-screen content creation and delivery platforms used by broadcasters, telcos, cable operators, post-production facilities, live event producers, videographers, and A/V professionals worldwide. Founded in 1976, Matrox is a privately held company headquartered in Montreal, Canada. For more information, visit www.matrox.com/video.

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