Harris’s Selenio. Photo courtesy of Harris
Signal processing is one of the hidden areas of video production. Everyone pays attention to the cameras, the editing systems and the video resolution/format, but signal processing?
by James Careless
Why would anyone care about how video and audio signals are transported, converted and packaged?
The answer: Well-chosen signal processing systems can reduce production overhead costs, ensure video quality on an end-to-end basis, and keep programs in compliance with broadcast regulations. Here are a few options that prove these points.
HARRIS’ SELENIO: IN ONE BOX
Once upon a time, video producers lived with a single analog distribution standard—National Television System Committee (NTSC)—and moving signals about was a matter of wiring a few boxes together. No longer: We live in a world with a plethora of formats such as standard definition (SD), high definition (HD), 3D, compressed Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and MPEG4. Making all these formats play well together and move across networks—especially Internet protocols (IP) networks—can be a major operational “headache.”
Enter Harris’ Selenio, a new ‘media convergence platform’ that combines traditional baseband video and audio processing, compression and IP networking features into a single, space-saving 3RU frame. “Selenio is designed to give you a single point of contact for all of your various signal formats, with the room to cope with whatever new ones come down the pipe,” said Randy Conrod, Harris’ product manager for digital products. “Basically, it solves your signal processing problems.”
Harris’s Selenio, back view. Photo courtesy of Harris For video producers, Selenio’s modular design means that necessary features can be installed now, and new ones added as needed later. The 3RU frame has room for 14 separate single-slot modules with Internet connectivity, each capable of moving video at 3Gbps and data at 1Gbps. Meanwhile, the system’s user interface—which operates on a PC using the Microsoft Silverlight platform—is intuitive, flexible, and easy to understand.
“Selenio helps you work with everything you have now, to be ready for new formats, and to be poised to move signal transmission fully to IP, which is where distribution technology is going,” Conrod said. “It is truly aspirin for the signal processing headache.”
ALTONA TECHNOLOGIES: CUTTING COSTS
Transporting 3G-SDI, HD-SDI and SD-SDI video signals around a broadcasting plant is expensive. To retain quality at distances exceeding 300 feet, fiber optic cabling is typically required. For a video producer upgrading from analog to digital video, installing the necessary HD-SDI/SD-SDI signal processing equipment can be prohibitive.
Implementing a cost-saving solution is for to convert, as soon as possible, within the signal processing chain to the consumer-based “high-definition multimedia interface” (HDMI) standard (either 1080p/i or 720p HDTV). Once that is done, the resulting video signals can be transported over longer distances using low-cost Cat5 cable; the same cable used in today’s computer networks.
That is exactly the approach offered by Atlona Technologies. “Our conversion units can let you use consumer-grade signal transport equipment in your production room, allowing you to save substantially without sacrificing video quality,” said Chris Bundy, the company’s Director of Marketing. “Video formats as high as 4K x 2K can be transported using this HDMI conversion system without losing resolution quality,” he said. Using that production facility ends up being able to do the same work for much less infrastructure cost. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Atlona’s AT-LINE -PRO 2 in use at the University of California at San Diego’s Arts Library Media Reserves Service. Photo courtesy of Atlona Atlona’s video extension products also allow facilities to distribute a multitude of different video formats via HDMI. A case in point: The University of California in San Diego (UCSD) recently connected 32 new viewing stations to its Arts Library Media Reserves Service. All of these stations had to have access to the library’s collection of more than 6,000 VHS titles and nearly 9,000 DVDs, plus an expanding collection of Blu-ray titles.
To access all of these different sources and deliver them in the same HDTV-compatible HDMI format, UCSD purchased Atlona’s AT-LINE-PRO2 video scaler with HDMI output and the AT-HD4-V40SRS HDMI 1.3 extender with 3D support. The AT-LINE-PRO2 serves as a switcher and HDTV scaler that can upconvert composite, S-video, component video and video graphics array (VGA) PC sources to a common HDMI standard. Meanwhile, the Atlona AT-HD4-V40SRS extender can send full 1080p up to 130 feet and 1080i/720p up to 200 feet. In this case, UCSD is using Cat6 cabling to deliver its video.
“The Atlona systems have met our need for high-end scaling and reliable HDMI delivery over long distances,” said Larry Andrews, Technical Facilities Manager at UCSD. “Even video from a VHS system can now be displayed to good effect on a 37-inch TV screen.”
COBALT DIGITAL: LEGAL LIMITS AUDIO
Overly loud TV commercials will soon be illegal, thanks to the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-311). The CALM Act requires broadcasters to install equipment to ensure that commercial/PSA and programs’ volume levels do not exceed compliance levels as specified. This rule will apply to government broadcasters, as well as commercial networks.
Cobalt Digital has tackled this compliance issue with its Cobalt Digital loudness meter and loudness processing software (using Linear Acoustic AEROMAX technology). This is a signal processing solution that allows broadcasters to log and graph material in real-time and thereby documenting compliance with the CALM Act, by recording volume levels of content before and after processing. It works with Cobalt Digital’s Fusion3G and most 9000-series COMPASS cards, and is accessed using the OGCP-9000 Remote Control Panel.
The company also provides audio processing software to automatically convert legacy mono and stereo audio to 5.1, using Linear Acoustic UPMAX technology. “This makes it simple for facilities with legacy video to serve it over HDMI/HDTV-compatible networks,” said Chris Shaw, Cobalt Digital’s SVP of Sales & Marketing. “It’s an effective and economic way to keep older material current for today’s users.”
THINKING OUTSIDE THE ‘BOX’
Advancements in both video and audio signal processing means video producers no longer have to stay within the “box” of conventional processing. Many of the problems that seemed irresolvable just a few years ago are now resolved with new technology. Plainly, there is no longer any reason to drown in a sea of formats, nor to worry about accessing legacy video over HDTV networks. Formats old and new can all get along together on a distribution network, with headroom to spare for future advances.