HDTV from Aircraft


This Saturday I awoke to the sound of a helicopter with a huge camera mount hanging off its snout. It was Pictorvision movie mount. Wescam created the the gyro-stabilized industry in 1969 and sold it to military contractor L3 a few years back. Now Wescam does wireless video for the military while Pictorvision concentrates on the film industry.

It got me wondering about wireless HDTV from helicopters and UAVs. Digital Content Producer’s HD ENG Takes Flight and Cutting the Cord provide a brief overview on the state of the art.

WNYW FOX5 was the first station in the New York City market to offer airborne HD breaking news coverage. WNYW, KUSA in Denver and KABC in Los Angeles are now using helicopters equipped with the Cineflex HiDef HD system.

The Cineflex V14 Magnum LE was the first gyro-stabilized, aerial camera system to combine a 1920 x 1080 high definition camera with an infrared sensor in a single package.

Cineflex’s partner company Helinet Aviation Services, offers turnkey solutions to movie, law enforcement and homeland security organizations.

A Sony HDW-F950 optical system (outfitted with Fujinon ultra-long zoom lenses with motorized 2X extenders) permits aerial capture of uncompressed 4:4:4 RGB 1080i footage. Sony’s new HDC-1500 HD camera will eventually be incorporated into future versions of the Cineflex for 1080p imagery. FLIR Systems’ UltraMedia HD uses Sony’s 950 coupled with a Fujinon 42X lens that zooms to 1140 mm.

The WNYW SkyFox helicopter also includes a SkyLink HD transmission antenna system from Troll Systems. That controls the antenna and the onboard ENG transmitter and keeps the HD signal locked as the helicopter is moving. On the receiver side, auto-tracking software operates a NSI Superquad 2/7 receive antenna mounted on the tv station’s tower.

The Los Angeles Police Department has deployed a Cineflex high-definition aerial imaging system. Pictures can be delivered to either a mobile or fixed command center using GPS-guided antenna tracking for virtually uninterrupted live HD feeds.

It has a range of over 100 miles, even further on fixed wing aircraft, UAVs and blimps. An HD “eye in the sky” can read license plates from 7,000 feet.

News-truck builder Wolf Coach of Auburn, Mass., has built more than 20 HD-capable SNG trucks, most of them “Sprinter” models based on a small, light Dodge van and costing about $600,000.

For wireless HD camcorders, Link Research has designed LinkHD, The full resolution of the original signal HD signal is transmitted without conversion to SD. They teamed with Aerial Video Systems (AVS) to beat out the competition to deliver HD RF for Super Bowl XL for ABC Sports. The system transmits an HD signal with 16-QAM modulation with a 9.4MHz wide COFDM spectrum. A comparable SD wireless system, running through an upconversion process, adds significant signal delays, which cause lip-synch issues when cutting between cameras.

An Autonomous Helicopter with high definition capability is manufactured by Global Microwave Systems. It uses a High Definition Messenger Transmitter made by RF Extreme from RF Central and its sister company, Total RF. The Flying-Cam UAV helicopter has a small 2dBi omnidirectional antenna mounted near the landing skid. The HD video stream is provided to the transmitter through an HD-SDI interface from a Canon XH-L1 HD camera mounted in the Flying- Cam gyro-stabilized gimbaled platform.

The 1080i, 30 frames per second video is downlinking with the GMS solution that includes a 6-antenna diversity “Messenger Smart Receiver” (MSR) and an optional “Messenger Antenna Array” (MAA) for exceptional long-distance omni-directional coverage (with a range of up to 80 miles). Here’s a WM9 video from Global Microwave Systems’ website.

Rotomotion has small gas operated helicopters for aerial photography costing some $16K – $35K, with over 20 deployed UAV systems.

Wireless video from helicopters is getting smaller and cheaper. A $2500 DragonFly battery operated helicopter (right) has a built-in video camera and wireless link.

Swarming UAVs using DragonFly’s RC helicopters start at $750. Run their video through 2D3’s Steadymove software plug-in ($500) to eliminate the shake.

VeraTech Aero “Phantom Sentinel” is thrown like a boomarang. The single blade rotorcraft has the ability to deliver close up, real time video intelligence within 75 feet of nearly any event and remain virtually undetectable to the human eye. Microsoft’s Photosynth might combine images into a 3D panorama.

Of course autonomous airplanes (below) may make more sense for some applications — they’re generally faster, cheaper and use less gas. UAVs will soon be drafted for border patrol in the United States.

The Global Hawk has been approved for flying inside U.S. airspace. They’re getting smaller every year. The One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT) below is a small, portable receiver and display system integrating live video and telemetry data from an array of manned and unmanned aircraft systems, including Shadow, Predator, I- GNAT, Raven, Pioneer, and Hunter.

The system can receive and display video, data, and annotated maps improving the field commander’s situational understanding and decision making process. Video data is received with geo-location information. It uses both analog L and C bands as well ad digital C band data-links.

Breeze Systems has remote capture software for Canon cameras (right). SanDisk’s 16-gigabyte CompactFlash might be handy for on-board still-store (or HD Video).

Sony’s HVR-V1U HDV Camcorder ($4800) delivers 1080/24P and 1080/60i with three CMOS chips. The Streambox HD encoder and Envivio’s real-time HD3 encode 720p/1080i with MPEG4 AVC for bit rates between 2 and 20 Mbps. Of course it’s hard to beat The Red Camera with a 4520 (h) x 2540 (v) pixel array. Cisco’s Digital Media Encoder 1000 is a portable encoder that supports live video and might be used for distribution.

Fujitsu’s H.264 LSI is capable of real-time compression and decompression of 1080×1440 HD. The Fujitsu’s MB86H50 chip will launch in March, 2007.

Live HDTV was delivered over mobile WiMAX by MobiTV. They used a Grass Valley Argos H.264 real-time encoder, NDS WiMAX TV software and Navini’s Mobile WiMAX. An Intel Centrino Duo laptop received the HD WiMAX signal.

Sony’s HDR-UX1 ($1,400) records high definition on a 3″ DVD at 12 Mbps. It has four AVCHD quality settings; 12Mbps, 9Mbps, 7Mbps and 5Mbps. AVCHD has a maximum bit rate of 24Mbps which similar to the HDV (tape) bit rate of 25 Mbps.

The solid state Sanyo HD1a can record 84 minutes minutes of 720p HD video on a 4-Gigabyte SDHC card. Panasonic’s tiny 3CCD sensor HD camera records 85 minutes of 6Mbps video or 55 minutes of 9Mbps video on a 4 Gig card. The AVCHD codec uses MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression for bit rates that are within the payload of Mobile WiMAX – even a Ruckus WiFi Bridge. Getting AVCHD data into an Ethernet jack may be the tricky bit.

Sony’s UltraPortable runs on 32GB flash memory. The Switchback is a mil spec UltraMobile. Sony laptops with EVDO Rev A might even be drafted. For HDTV reception OnAir HDTV-GT has a USB HDTV tuner that delivers over-the-air HDTV to laptops. It incorporates LG Electronics’ 5th generation “miracle chip” with a ATSC/NTSC tuner and nVidia PureVideo Decoder.

Be your own NRO.

The Silver Fox UAV uses both 900 Mhz and 1.7 GHz (pdf specs).

  • Command and Control Radio: Up to 2 Watt, Discrete/Frequency Agile, Military Band / ISM Band Radio Modem (900mhz)
  • Command and Control Radio Range: 20 nm, Line of Sight (LOS)
  • Video Transmitter: 2 Watt (Optional 5W), S-Band FM Video TX With Optional 19.2 kbps Data Carrier
  • Video Transmission Frequency Range: 1.7 GHz, S-Band, L-Band
  • Video System Range: 20 nm
  • Payload Capacity: 5 lbs 2.27 kg

The autotracking antenna is way cool. Just imagine what they could do with 802.16e.

Insitu’s SeaScan is designed for commercial UAV applications which includes shipboard imaging reconnaissance, corporate security on land or at sea, and other commercial missions. A digital video camera is integrated into an inertially-stabilized pan / tilt nose turret. It uses 2.4 GHz video & 900 MHz for command/telemetry using commercial off the shelf gear (COTS).

Equipped with Lidar, 3D collaboration might even be possible using SGI’s OpenGL Vizserver that enables the interactive sharing of large 3D models.

A Software Defined Radio GNU software), can integrate many different telemetry bands using software. The Portland State Aerospace Society (below and right) was at OSCON this summer, demonstrating their open source software defined radio for telemetry (DailyWireless MP3 interview).


They decided that the first step towards orbiting nanosatellites is to develop an inexpensive, highly modular and actively guided sounding rocket.

Their Avionics Team used the following RF telemetry gear:

  • WiFi (ARRL 802.11b telemetry): 2.412 GHz +/- 15 MHz
  • GPS: 1.57542 GHz +/- 5 MHz, 1.575 GHz Preamp
  • ATV (Amateur TV downlink): 1.25325 GHz +/- 15 MHz with a 1.25325 GHz ATV exciter (“transmitter”)
  • A 2 meter Ham 146.43 MHz uplink radio receiver

Sounding rockets are small to medium-sized rockets that are “suborbital” – meaning they can reach extreme altitudes, but then fall down back to the Earth.

Which their LV2.2 rocket did last summer in Brothers, Oregon.

A Canadian RC airplane enthusiast put a wirelessly controlled pan-and-tilt camera on a model plane with the video viewable through virtual reality goggles. He used a KX 131 camera with an Airwave 612 RF 2.4 GHz transmitter.

The video goggles have a gyroscope built in to sense the movement of the head. When the wearer moves his head — up & down or side to side — the camera moves and looks in that direction.

The Airborne Law Enforcement Association, Advanced Imaging Pro and Airbeat Magazine have the latest gadgets. Watch the skies.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .