Doing More With HD: Encoder Advances Cut Cost per Channel

Distributing HD channels is easy with the right encoders.
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Today, the biggest issue with respect to HD video in the government space is a simple one: tight budgets for investing in new technology. Fortunately, with the ongoing evolution of video systems, users can do much more for less money than in the past. One of the most effective ways to minimize expenditures is to reduce the per-channel cost of HD video distribution, and this need is being addressed by the emergence of high-performing HD encoders that are both economical and simple to operate.

Given the volume and variety of encoders on the market, it’s not always easy for purchasing officers, communications officers, and engineers to compare systems and determine which offers the best price for the performance and feature set. The fundamental functionality provided by the system clearly remains a primary consideration, but factors such as versatility, redundancy, ease of use, HD-video quality, processing capabilities, and monitoring and control functions are also contributing to the value offered by new encoding solutions.

Extended HD Encoder Functionality

Feature-rich professional video encoders can provide efficient MPEG-2 HD encoding with real-time Dolby Digital audio encoding at a price point equivalent to that of many SD encoding solutions. In some cases, once content is digitized and the MPEG-2 streams encoded into HD streams (up to 1080i), the HD encoder also can multiplex those streams and then modulate them onto QAM channels in the 54-1002 MHz range. By providing a clean QAM constellation and quality output, an encoder with robust internal processing functionality can support the high-channel-count headend deployments typical in many government applications. In such applications, the encoder might accept as many as eight program inputs and yield four QAM outputs (each with two programs), supplying any one of the four output streams provided as an ASI output if needed.

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Blonder-Tongue HDE-8C-QAM encoder

Government facilities often must deal with inputs from different sources, and thus today’s HD encoders are growing more versatile in accepting various video formats. An optimal encoder will handle both component and composite inputs simultaneously, thus streamlining encoding and distribution of feeds from satellite receivers and cable set-top boxes. To assure uninterrupted service even in the event of a fault or failure, some encoders will automatically switch over any of the primary inputs for a spare input.

Simple, intuitive encoder operation also is important, as it allows for rapid staff training and, in turn, lower operational costs. To the same end, encoder vendors are offering their products with comprehensive GUI-based monitoring and control functions available via standard Web browsers. Typically, a rear-panel 10/100Base-T Ethernet connection is used to enable this remote capability.

The quality of the HD video output by the encoder is important because installation of wall-mounted 42-inch and 50-inch screens has become the norm, whether video is viewed in space, on the sea, or on the ground. The level of detail and clarity in HD video does more than raise viewer satisfaction with the content; it also plays a critical role in the work of government agencies, giving personnel the clear, crisp images they need to focus in and see what’s happening.

Added Features, Added Value

A front-panel RF test point can be incorporated into encoding units so that users can confirm the integrity and quality of the QAM output without any disruption of ongoing HD video distribution. Capabilities such as closed-caption (EIA-608) support, user-defined PSIP configuration, and compatibility with ITU Annex A and B digital QAM formats add further value to current encoding systems. The addition of emergency alert system (EAS) interfaces allows the encoder to comply with EAS requirements.

The many valuable features and functions available on today’s HD encoders are allowing users in the government space to invest in cost-effective solutions that are easy on CAPEX. Bringing HD video distribution costs down to the level typical of many SD models, these solutions give facilities a smart, straightforward way to take advantage of dropping prices for HD cameras and displays, the much greater availability of HD content, and the larger HD screens so widely used across government — at sea, in space, and on the ground in all variety of offices and installations.

Simply put, the versatility, reliability, quality, ease of use, integrated processing capabilities, and monitoring and control functions available on current HD encoding systems significantly improve the price-to-performance ratio that users can realize. With the right encoder purchase, this improvement translates to a valuable reduction in the per-channel cost of HD video distribution.

About the authors:

Jeff Smithserves as Vice President of sales of Blonder Tongue Laboratories, Inc. after joining the Company in January 2006. His product knowledge and experience have influenced the product evolution to digital solutions for Blonder Tongue customers in many markets including government, hospital institutions, education, and commercial applications.

Tim Sullivan is the educational and government sales manager at Nickless Schirmer & Co., Inc. working with city, county, state, federal, and military customers. In addition Tim currently serves on the Board of Directors of AHECTA (Association of Higher Education Campus Television Administrators) which works to put vendors and higher education professionals together to come up with television distribution solutions on campuses across the country.