British Columbia Legislature Revamps Video Systems

HD video upgrade
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The control room for the British Columbia Legislature.

Hansard Broadcasting Services at the British Columbia Legislature is responsible for broadcasting legislative proceedings from multiple venues in the British Columbia Parliament buildings. In addition to live broadcasts to the province of British Columbia, several venues in the buildings appear on the internal cable system within the buildings, some featuring full video, while others provide informational slides and audio.

The Legislature operates in a fast-paced, live-to-air environment, with somewhat unpredictable schedules. In fact, in many ways the operational requirements mirror those expected of live sports coverage. Operators in the broadcast division often need to react quickly and without scheduled information as they put informational graphics on the broadcast and internal channels.

As part of plans to upgrade their systems to HD in late 2012, an evaluation process was begun to acquire new character generators for broadcast and internal coverage of proceedings from the main House and Committee rooms.

Since several units would need to be replaced, it was also not cost-effective to have full-blown character generators for each venue. Being a public service, cost control is extremely important in purchasing decisions. Because of this, more streamlined playback units were preferable.

The hope was for systems that could be tied to databases or automation systems, with pre-formatted graphics that are rarely edited for style but often edited for content and are rapidly recalled, either by simple database updating, custom touch-screen GUI or brought up automatically. This meant that the most important thing for the new CG platform would be the ability to work for all these recall and updating methods. Support for elaborate live editing or composing functionality was a much lower priority.

LogoVision features a headless design that eschews a traditional CG front-end in favor of template-based graphics, designed in Pixel Prep software and populated automatically and updated manually via custom, non-technical interfaces built using Pixel Power’s Control Toolbox software. Taken as a package, Pixel Power LogoVision offered several capabilities that were important to Hansard at a very favorable price.

RECALL FROM DATABASES

Hansard is not staffed with a dedicated CG operator to recall graphics on demand, so it is therefore important to be efficient with staff. Using databases to capture and update information semi-automatically was essential to air sophisticated, up-to-date graphics without navigating a complex CG environment.

Databases are convenient because they require no special training. Also, they can be updated offline from anywhere without tying up broadcast resources. The databases are a shared resource, so the same information that drives on air graphics can be used to update web pages and other information resources.

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Seating display can be used on a tablet to make any seat live in the chamber.

The legislature is a dynamic environment where changes occur with very little notice. In meeting rooms, people can move around and people can enter and leave at any time, but the system still needs to bring up the correct name when that person speaks.

The database enables the operators to shuffle the seating plan as needed. Meetings can be adjourned at any time, and the broadcast staff is responsible for posting this updated status, as well as providing information about any upcoming meetings. Retaining this type of information in the database makes it very easy to use simple drop-down menus in the database to drive accurate graphics to air.

In addition to solving the video graphics problem today, the database foundation could be used to enable non-technical staff in other functional support roles in the legislature to contribute information without requiring the help of the broadcast team. That future capability is being considered.

AUTOMATION RECALL IS SUPPORTED

The facility uses a number of automated systems, both specialized and traditional broadcast models. One unique requirement takes advantage of the seats that are assigned to the legislature’s 85 representatives in the main legislative chamber. As soon as the speaker of the house recognizes a member and calls upon that person to speak, an operator turns on the chosen member’s microphone from a tablet. When the microphone is activated, cameras automatically slew to a legislator’s seat position. This same selection triggers Logovision to populate a ready-to-display graphic that identifies the speaker.

During evening playbacks, a standard broadcast automation system plays back the proceedings of the day. Together with LogoVision, the systems automatically generate interstitial material, bumpers and fillers to complete the program. The LogoVision systems get their recall information automatically through the automation system.

LogoVision’s headless design means that operators update templates and other requirements from a single Pixel Prep composing station over a network, without having unnecessary composing or editing tools on each unit. Pixel Prep gives the facility a complete palette of traditional CG creation tools, without the capital expense of an additional CG unit.

Among the most compelling options for Hansard was Pixel Power’s Control Toolbox. This software allows Hansard to create its own graphical user interfaces for rapid recall of graphics from touch screens and other control surfaces. Because the legislature is a dynamic environment, with legislators standing at random with points of order and other comments, Hansard can build custom interfaces that enable the operator to easily display a graphic to highlight activity.

The customized GUI makes it easy for an operator to react as different stages of proceedings are reached, enabling them to select and display graphics appropriate to any type of business that takes place in the house. One vital use is to provide an easy interface for tracking and reporting live, standing vote tallies as they are announced. With a few taps on a touch screen, the operator can now deliver this important information to air almost instantly.

“In trying to establish how the units would fit with our workflow, Pixel Power offered something which really gave us a glimpse into their customer service,” said Darrell Norton of Hansard Broadcasting Services. “Many other manufacturers would claim that their units would work in our unique environment, and send demo units to try, but Pixel Power actually took samples of our databases and graphics, and created actual working graphic recall setups that accompanied our demo units; we could actually plug them into our network and see how they would work. They made a real effort to understand our needs.”

Hansard decided to proceed with purchase of the LogoVision units, and currently has four systems in the BC Legislature. In practice, they have worked very well, and the flexibility of the Control Toolbox GUI creator has been a powerful piece of software for Hansard’s workflows. In addition, Norton said that the units have been reliable and robust, and are used daily.

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