F1 television camera, 2017

The technology powering F1’s next broadcasting breakthroughs


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The long-awaited F1 streaming service is just the first of many breakthroughs in broadcasting which motor sport fans will soon benefit from. But how long will innovations like 360-degree viewing and augmented reality take to become part of how we watch the sport? @DieterRencken spoke to the company in charge of satisfying our craving for real-time F1 content.

That Liberty Media, owner of the now-NASDAQ-listed Formula One Group (FWONK), intends dragging motor racing’s premier category into the digital age is well-documented, and about time too. Somehow it seems strange – to all but its former tsar, octogenarian Bernie Ecclestone – that this high-tech sport stayed stuck in the analogue era while global sports embraced 4K, Netflix and Over-The-Top broadcasting.

Give or take a fortnight, it was a year ago that Liberty completed the purchase of the controlling rights to F1, then simultaneously relaxed previously stringent restrictions on usage of footage on social media platforms by teams. Think about that for a moment: Until February last year, teams were not permitted to upload video of their own cars and drivers on their own Twitter feeds – the word ‘incredible’ springs to mind.

360-degree camera, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2016
360-degree cameras have already appeared on cars
Twelve months on the buzz-phrases in the paddock are no longer Facebook or Instagram but 360, Over-The-Top, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, which shows how far F1 has come in a year. But the bigger Liberty’s plans the more F1 will be reliant upon infrastructure. To understand this, rewind 30 or so years to times when TV signals were analogue and feeds carried by satellites.

For countries to broadcast F1 they needed, first and foremost, a national TV broadcaster. Don’t laugh: such institutions were in short supply in developing countries. Second on the ‘must’ list were dual (or more) stream satellite receiving facilities – during live grand prix transmissions one channel was fully occupied, leaving no bandwidth for news feeds, etc. Next, broadcasters needed multi-channel, or were forced to face the wrath of non-F1 viewers.

Hence, until the advent of (relatively cheap) digital technology, live F1 broadcasts were restricted mainly to developed nations with access to multi-channels. Still, broadcasts were carried by ‘signals’ – analogue or digital as each case may be – with all the resultant risks of interference due to weather, satellite interruptions, and latency (the delay between a live event and its on-screen appearance).

The advent of cable TV reduced some inherent risks, but the nature of the technology meant cables were restricted mainly to urban areas in developed countries, leaving vast swathes of fans dependant on airborne signals. As F1 moved from standard definition to HD, so bandwidth requirements multiplied, with increasingly sophisticated graphics and sound channels requiring ever more bits and bytes.

Tata has worked with F1 since 2012
That is where F1 was stuck last year: restricted social media channels and HD in selected territories serviced mainly by satellites carrying signals generated under challenging conditions. That it worked as well as it did is a tribute to the ‘show-must-go-on’ attitude of the grey-clothed men and women in F1’s broadcast village.

None of this is, though, conducive to 360, 4K, OTT, VR or AR – certainly not at the speed and reliability demanded by modern consumers – many of whom have become known as ‘cord cutters’ after ditching cable in favour of streaming. So, out with satellites, out with cables and in with Netflix-type viewing. Enter Tata Communications.

A subsidiary of the giant India conglomerate that produces cars, trucks and buses, owns Jaguar-Land Rover, manufactures Tetley tea, has interests in steel, chemicals and hotels, and operates one of the world’s foremost consultancy services, active mainly in mobile communications, Tata Communications first entered into its “Transformation of the sport through technology” partnership with F1 six years ago.

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During the Tata Innovation Awards ceremony held during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend (below), the company’s global marketing vice president Mehul Kapadia spoke not only about their present activities but provided F1 Fanatic with an exclusive insight into the crucial role Tata’s technologies will play as Liberty ups F1’s digital game.

We open with the 360-degree camera trialled both on-track and within the Singapore Grand Prix paddock last September. One of the ball-like devices was camouflaged by a bush at the paddock entrance, another mounted atop Anderson Bridge out on the circuit, as they unobtrusively recorded 360-degree views via three 120° lenses, the visuals of which were then “stitched” to provide the full spectrum after being streamed from Tata’s computer cloud.

Mehul Kapadia
Kapadia says 360-degree coverage is ready to deploy
“There are multiple components,” Kapadia explained. “One component is the camera infrastructure itself, which we do not play a role in. But the key role that we play is that once [visuals] are shot at a race track, [they] can it be delivered to any part of the world in a way that people using different devices, whether a second screen or a large screen.”

“The technology is there. It’s available now to deploy as and when commercially it becomes logical to do [so].” If the technology is ready for immediate use, why aren’t we watching F1 this way already? Mehul believes this where commercial considerations come into play given that Liberty, as a listed company, needs to make the technology pay.

“It could be brought by the people who own the rights [Formula One Management] to the broadcasters [directly] who will then take it to fans, or it could be [taken to] other OTT players, who may want to take it to fans. I think the ecosystem needs to develop the commercial mechanism in the way they would like to do it. But we would be very happy to support that evolution.”

The definition of the three lenses (a move to four 90-degree lenses is likely eventually) is to 4K standard but F1 broadcast technology is not yet at that level. However Tata, which operates massive optical fibre cables that transmit signals to broadcasters across the globe, is confident it has the bandwidth to carry F1’s future requirements, including live data streams.

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“You can do things on satellite as well, but fibre is better because you don’t want the latencies of satellite to come in. So we’ve tested it on fibre, and I would mostly say it should be done on fibre,” he says.

If you’re talking fibre, does it not make more sense to have some form of live streaming? “Yes, and that’s the beauty of 360, as we tested, that it was live. 360 just shot, then shown to you later is one way to do it. But the joy of it I would feel is that you can actually live-look at it.”

FOM’s on-site coverage can be directed from its Biggin Hill base
The next step is obviously OTT. Some fans have been clamouring for this, particularly younger viewers who are accustomed to music and video streaming and are delighted F1 is at last embracing the 21st century. But others are concerned it might spell the end of free-to-air broadcasts as FOM takes up the opportunity to broadcast direct to fans’ devices – at a fee, of course.

OTT F1-style is likely to be a hybrid product – certainly in the early stages – in that streaming will complement traditional footage. Thus broadcasters will transmit race and “front of house” footage, with behind-the-scenes visuals carried by internet-based feeds. Once that takes off, Liberty could stream directly to consumers, completely bypassing broadcasters. The big question is, of course: how close is F1 to OTT

“If you say it in terms of technology, over the last three years we’ve tested three components of that,” says Kapadia. “One is we tested doing 4K and Formula One. Then we did live OTT. Live OTT is when your second screen can be synchronised with your television feed. Because especially when you want to look at different angles or different data feeds…”

Does that include stuff like timing feeds or pit lane channels? If so, what about latencies between screens?

“Everything. That synchronisation is important, because what you’re getting off the internet into your second screen matches what you’re getting on your television screen, which comes via probably a satellite hub. So that is something that we have tested. We’ve basically synchronised the latencies for them to come to you at the same time.”

Again, the obvious questions are: what’s stopping OTT from becoming a reality in 2018 (which F1 commercial chief Sean Bratches has said will arrive this year), and has Tata been in discussions with Liberty about introduction?

“That’s probably not for us to answer,” laughs Kapadia, “because we’re more in the space of ensuring that technology can be put together. I‘m sure different rights holders and different broadcasters will have their own product route maps, depending on where it fits in for them.”

“With Liberty we’ve done proof of concept [in 2017]. So conversations have been with Formula One Group in terms of how we can test our things. But the road map is not something we have spoken with them about.”

The only conclusion that can be drawn from the foregoing is that OTT technology is ready and waiting – certainly for some territories – and will be introduced once Liberty is confident of monetising it. That, in turn, is a combined function of fans’ wallets and their willingness to open them. That theorem applies equally to much-vaunted VR and AR. How close are we to these?

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“We’ve started delivering three-times-one-gigabyte circuits at each race track, which is a lot of bandwidth,” say Kapadia. “The absolute number differs, depending on race location, but that capability is there that we’ve scaled it up to have a lot of bandwidth coming in. But actually there are two other big components in there, so it’s not only about raw fibre or bandwidth capacity.

“The first component is that as it goes to different race locations, can it then be taken out locally? Because it’s not just about the race-track. How do you ensure seamless distribution of that globally? More importantly, a lot of services that are needed to make this happen, like the 360 I spoke of, are essentially in the cloud.

“How do you process it, compile it, encode it and then decode it the way it needs to be done? So I think that is another capability experience that we bring in. Connectivity is one part of it, but there is the entire media platform of a range of services that can help them bring it alive.”

Lewis Hamilton, 2016
Virtual reality is becoming mainstream
Aren’t AR and VR basically two-way streets, though, in that you need responsive broadcasters at the other end, able to feed messages back and forth?

“Yes. If you look at 360, it was sort of interactive, and two-way. Because what you could do even without having to wear headgear, you could just move your phone get views from that side. So you go like this (turns phone), and you’re seeing what’s on top. That’s already the two-way capability, which is what I keep saying, that cloud component, that ability to process there, is extremely crucial for these kind of services.”

How would the average fan use VR or AR? Here Kapadia sees AR being introduced earlier than VR, which is aimed more at gaming and eSports.

“If you look at it, a typical broadcast has been what happens on the television screen. Now, you could say I can have augmented content, even on the television screen. But your handset can let you do AR. So for argument’s sake, use a case of augmented reality at the circuit.

“You’re, let’s say, in grandstand seven, you’re seeing probably cars going every one-and-a-half minutes, so ideally, if I could have an augmented reality experience on my phone, as the car goes by, I can probably then choose the car that I really am interested to follow. So as it goes by, I can pick up that driver and follow the driver around? That could be one augmented reality.

Tata has championed fans’ ideas for innovations
“But more important, apart from the video feed – because a video feed is one part – can it start pulling out the relevant statistics about that driver? Can I zoom in and actually see what is happening to the tyre temperatures, the fuel load? Or when the pit stop is happening, can I quickly at that time again be able to see a 360-degree view of the pit stop?”

Kapadia sees virtual reality as “probably a little different dimension” which will mostly “land more into the gaming space.”

“Virtual reality could actually bring a lot on gaming, where a race is going on and people are racing [Lewis Hamilton} during the race time. That’s where I think VR will play a big role. VR could play a role in creating experiences, maybe in the Paddock Club, but personally I don’t know whether people will be able to sit and watch a race in VR for 90 minutes. It will be just too much.”

Inevitably, Kapadia has one eye on the next Big Thing after AR and VR: “Whether it’s through 360 or AR or VR, it really doesn’t matter. Tomorrow there will be a new one. Mixed Reality is already making a lot of noise…”

Follow Dieter on Twitter: @RacingLines


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47 comments on “The technology powering F1’s next broadcasting breakthroughs”

  1. A great read, thank you.

  2. The first thing they should improve is how cameras actually follow an F1 car through a corner. Currently the camera zooms to keep the car the same size at all times; this totally removes any perspective that shows the actual speed of the cars. The first time I went to an race I was totally, and I mean totally, blown away with how fast these cars go through corners. It is absolutely unbelievable and has to be experienced. The broadcast, however, reduces this so much it looks like the cars are just sort of going around. They aren’t. They are pulling up to 5 g’s through the corner and sticking to the pavement in ways that look impossible. Practice showing the actual car speed first, then do all the little tricks. And improve the sound; move the microphones, or something. I come to watch the race and savor the incredible speed these cars are going. How about showing that before worrying about ‘OTT’ and ‘VR’? Show the reality first. And no music.

    1. It may be the reason why cars aren’t shown at full speed is because some digital TV standards struggle with a fast moving object or person and the picture becomes pixelated. You can see this occassionally when watching the old movies and tv programs, which didn’t have that restriction, where someone runs from “across the screen” and the image becomes pixelated.

      1. I think it’s more likely due to sponsorship requirements.

    2. Agree there’s so much basic things that need to be done before all that fancy stuff.

      Restricting views like what you describe or more exciting onboard stuff for the sake of others with more advertisers names, seems easily cured with advertisers boxes on the screen itself.

      Another thing is just getting higher quality producers who will f.i. recognize that just because you have xx no. of cameras in the pits don’t mean you have to use them. No one cares for 3 minutes of a car coming in to retire or getting a nose change when the action is happening on track.

    3. +1.

      Since FOM has been unwilling or incapable with 2D TV, maybe with VR they can convey some of the raw corner speed and crazy braking performance that is shockingly visceral live. Maybe.

    4. You’re correct that the camera following the car and zooming in removes the sense of speed and it’s my biggest complaint about the current broadcasts. For a contrast, check out the new McLaren documentary “Grand Prix Driver”. There are many shots of the cars whipping around corners, glued the track and it’s provides a much more exciting and realistic sense of the real performance and awesome handling.

      FOM are missing a huge opportunity to increase interest in F1 if they don’t incorporate some of these camera techiques.

  3. Excellent analysis, sadly rendered useless to myself, a UK viewer, by Bernie’s greed.

    1. Where I live most people have forgotten what F1 is because of him and his ilk.

      1. Yeah no kidding. I live 40 minutes from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and have yet to meet anybody here who knows what F1 is. To be fair though the FIA and Ferrari properly screwed us in 2005.

  4. A superb article! F1 should be at the forefront of technology but when it comes to broadcasting it was tethered to outdated delivery methods due to a lack of vision (thanks Bernie). When F1 was finally available in HD it was years after the technology was pretty much ubiquitous in homes and was simply expected in all other major sports.

    It’s great to see that changing and I have faith in Liberty Media. It’ll be interesting to see how this impacts on “traditional” broadcasters and their broadcasting agreements. I’m following this with interest.

    1. @geekzilla9000 The delay in taking F1 HD was simply down to how few of F1’s broadcast partners would have been able to take a HD broadcast.
      HD was widely available in the US (And Japan) with a big selection of HD channels & most sports been broadcast in HD by around 2008-2009, However that simply wasn’t the case elsewhere.

      Even when FOM began producing a HD broadcast in 2011 a vast majority of it’s broadcasters were still only taking an SD feed, Some were even still broadcasting in 4:3 which is why FOM were producing a secondary feed which kept the graphics in 4:3 safezones.

      1. Just to add something else. The delay in taking F1 widescreen was down to the races still been produced by local broadcasters & not all of those broadcasters been capable of producing a widescreen worldfeed.

        As soon as we took over production of the worldfeed in 2007 we were able to go widescreen.

        1. @gt-racer
          You always fascinate me with your insights into F1 broadcasting.

          Personally i’m in audio, but always intetested in the video side of things.
          Is there any interest at all in 8k production? The Japanese (NHK in particular) are very big on it, pushing to use it at the Tokyo Olympics.

          I get the issues with distribution, but it does strike me that 8k cameras could potentially cover a larger viewing angle, then easily have a section of image be zoomed to 4k or HD to capture things that may otherwise be missed. Possibly more useful for replays / post production than live?

          1. I don’t really see that much interest in 8K in the west. Japan is pushing it but I think that for the time being I don’t see it been rolled out elsewhere.

            What I can see happening over the next 2-3 years is what you describe in your last paragraph with 8K cameras been used primarily for replays. In F1 for instance FOM have had a few 4K super slow-mo cameras since 2013/2013 & were using them for the super slow-mo replays as well as to zoom into specific details of the shots. However since they have been natively filming/broadcasting in 4K since last year (Sky UK are the only broadcaster currently taking the 4K feed) we have seen less of that more recently.

          2. Thanks :)

  5. Hi Dieter,
    Thank you for this very informative article. I’m amazed at the amount and density of information you put into your writing, and the amount of research that has to be done in the background. You truly seem to live and breathe your job, and that’s something I deeply respect.

    Now for the inevitable “but”:
    It might be just me and my reading habits, but for my taste, the text is split into too many short paragraphs. My guess is that this is done in order to avoid confronting the readers with an impenetrable wall of text. A legitimate concern, no doubt about that. But from my perspective (which might be affected by my professional background, and therefore not representative), the shortness of the paragraphs disrupts my reading flow, leading to a reading experience that resembled a desperate attempt to set a lap time on a long, hectic stop-and-go track without any long straights or flowing corners. I was a bit relieved when I reached the end, because my eyes had become tired. This probably also means that I couldn’t extract the same density of information from the end of the text, which is a shame, because I definitely liked your article.

    This probably sounds more negative than I wanted it to sound … My point is: I think segmenting the article into fewer, longer paragraphs would improve the reading flow and thus the reader experience. But I’m not sure if this is a common sentiment, so my question goes out to the other readers: Do you have the same impression, or do you think it’s perfect the way it is?

    1. KimiRaikkonen07
      8th February 2018, 0:05

      I was pretty much thinking the exact same thing – though I don’t think it’s too big of a problem.

    2. I agree that the formatting could use some work, I’m really not sure that longer paragraphs would work with such a large font. It would be quite a wall of text I think.

      1. “large font.”


    3. I think the presentation needs to be addressed more so than the paragraph arrangement. I quite like the chunks of information, especially when there are so many quotes littered throughout the article – and even more so when reading on my phone (which is most of the time).

      The site could definitely use some improvements, as it does feel quite dated – but overall it’s not too bad.

  6. A whole race in VR might well be too much, but a qualy-lap in Monaco could potentially create a massive hype. I am certainly waiting for that, and it doesn’t even have to be live. AR seems nice and cool, but not that exciting in comparison. I’d rather choose data for my second screen through menus than through aiming my phone somewhere (that always feels awkward), but maybe I’m getting old.

    1. @crammond
      I feel the same way. For anyone watching socially these things are all pretty useless, especially anything requiring the use of special headgear. Watching the odd clip in VR or 360 degrees is good but I can’t imagine watching a whole race that way, you’d miss too much of the bigger picture.

      Augmented reality (or I guess just augmented video in this case) I could see being useful, and it could make watching a race more interactive, but the technology seems quite far off. A lot would depend on implementation too, if it’s more difficult than flipping through a few tabs on a separate screen then I can’t see the point.

      First things first, improve the standard broadcast and make it more accessible, don’t hide it behind Sky’s ridiculous paywall.

  7. I’ll believe all this when it actually happens. Till then it’s just talk.
    We hear the bees, but we never see the honey.

    And this constant maligning of old Bernie is getting tiresome. He was a businessman, not a charity. Liberty are the same, are they not?

  8. It’s high time F1 did something as cool as what IndyCar has been doing for years in terms of viewing options.

    Exhibit A – visor cam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq5fl1HckIk
    Exhibit B – 360 cam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExI-EchfA4s

    1. @damon That particular example of a Visor-Cam is a Go-pro attached to the carbon strip at the top of the visor rather than a broadcast camera ;)
      Interestingly the idea for the live broadcast Visor-cam that we do have came after we saw the one F1 was using back in 2013. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x10o9nc
      The reason it took us a few years to get our own is because the HD in-car units we have are quite a bit larger than the camera FOM were using to get there helmet mounted camera shots.
      F1- http://oi63.tinypic.com/2rdgej8.jpg
      Indycar- http://oi66.tinypic.com/fp1id1.jpg

      And the reason you don’t see a 360 degree rotating camera in F1 is because broadcasters outside of the US tend not to like them. That is also why you don’t see the 180 degree rotating camera that they do have used too much, Outside of the US those sorts of shots simply aren’t that popular.

    2. Like that visorcam! Sonoma (Sears Point) has a great idea!!! Curbs then grass; that’ll keep you on the track! The video coverage in F1 is, IMHO, way too formulaic, with the constant (probably because of contracts) scanning of the local buildings, etc. and totally out of context focusing on celebrities who, for the most part, don’t have a clue about what’s going on. As I posted earlier, simply keeping the camera still and letting the cars show their speed would much improve coverage. I have an old recording of in-car Schumacher at Monza 1992 that follows the race for about 30 laps, including the famous finger given to Berger. Totally enthralling.

      1. Its weird seing Sonoma with green grass either side of the tarmac. It’s usually scorched brown by the time the end of season race rolls around.

        1. Yes, it took me a minute to realize it was Sonoma because of that then I saw the 180° at the pits. Grass is good.

  9. …all ruined by a stupid Halo. In car shorts will be horrific.

    1. Too right, don’t want to see their legs.

  10. Fantastic feature. There’s so much more FOM can do for better and more in-depth fan engagement. Thanks for a great behind-the-scenes look. Features like this, whether from F1F or FOM or the broadcasters, can only give the fans and fans-to-be a greater appreciation for what an interesting, intricate, complex spectacle F1 really is.

  11. I’d just like to have access to a similar set up when the BBC last broadcast the races first.
    I very much miss having 5 webpages open with one for the main broadcast, one for the pit lane, one for the on boards, one for the live timings and one for driver tracker. I’d sometimes have a 6th open with twitter.

    I’m aware that I probably could get all this from Sky, but the cost is too high for just wanting the F1.

    I hope that when the UK gets the LM streaming service they don’t use Sky as a base point for price.

    As a fan of tech, I do like the idea of the 360 streaming cameras that you stream to a VR headset into. Race starts from a car in the mid field at either helmet or T-cam level would be brilliant. Then add the ability to switch which driver you are following or even a member of the pit crew.

  12. I for one would love the idea of having the full race on vr. Imagine being able to be inside Max car for 10 whole laps, then switch to Alonso’s car for another 10, it would be incredible to be able to spot the differences in handling and in the racecraft of these racers. For me it would be really a visceral experience, with the advantage of having a break if it becomes too overwhelming. The potential is incredible! Ps: congratulations Dieter, it’s incredible to have this depth and quality on F1Fanatic, I really love the new angles and perspectives it brings to this already great site!

    1. You can switch between on board cameras using the red button on Sky’s coverage. Sadly, you can’t choose from all 20 drivers… just a pre determined set.

  13. I cannot pretend to understand all that technology nor its terminology. All I want is to watch the races on my TV and get on-board footage comparable to what IndyCar has been doing for years now. So I will have to wait and see what actually happens with that. Streaming anything called VR, OTT or AR on my phone or tablet is not something I foresee myself doing…so just give me a good TV broadcast.

    1. I believe you represent a majority of fans. Even though f1 appears to be exploring every single new-technology in the world, they keep ignoring the one true application that fans actually want. A key to this is what the technology fellow from Tata, says, as he speaks about all the initiatives that are technically interesting and useful. Sadly though, most of them are un-recognized and their developers are left un-rewarded by the f1 ‘experts’ such as brundle, brawn, coulthard, hamilton, et al, who are only able to look at pictures and somehow equate credibility with fancy graphics on shiny paper.

  14. What about a telly that doesn’t flatten hills?

  15. Racing is duller and dulle, but the graphics and camera shots are the priority….How can i watch the old races with prehistoric technology and i yawn when watching modern F1 with all the graphics and gizmos?? I personally dont care about super graphics, or camera angles and 360 views and other nonsense. I care about the sport, about racing action, about interesting things that accur on the track…F1 and its leaders aparently lost their priorities…the only thing im waiting for is to see a split-screen with a Justin Bieber concert during the race in the official broadcast…in that moment i am done with the F1.

  16. Idea: Would like to see the whole damn race.
    NBCSN was great, but we only got 60% of the race.
    ESPN will probably be closer to 40%.

    Will give you money for the opportunity to be able to see the whole race. Will give you more money for all the historical race footage.

    If we could start with something simple like getting to see the whole race, i’ll give you money. Worry about the damn VR whiz bang crap once i can just see the damn race.


  17. Fancy, high tech images of paint drying are, at bottom, images of apint drying. Fundamentally, F1 is a boring, rule bound procession.

  18. I would just be happy with a streaming to device pay service, similar to the WEC. I guess that is what OTT is. I’d pay a decent amount. Let’s go!

  19. It’ll take some time, I hope they don’t push the VR/AR stuff too soon too before the consumer tech is really there to showcase it.

    As others have said if they can just market an affordable streaming service that would be enough of a step in the right direction for this generation.

  20. Damn, i seem to be the only on who had to look up on Google all the OTT and other abbreviations in this article.
    Not a happy reader.

  21. Thanks @dieterrencken, brilliant article as always!

  22. Third paragraph in…………”Twelve months on the buzz-phrases in the paddock are no longer Facebook or Instagram but 360, Over-The-Top, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, which shows how far F1 has come in a year.”

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