Chief engineers have many responsibilities, but perhaps the most fundamental is to ensure that video and audio signals get from the point of creation to the intended destination with the best quality possible, whether it is for broadcast, cable or Internet distribution.
The process of attaining that goal has required linking a number of discrete pieces of equipment, each performing different tasks collectively known as signal processing.
Most equipment that carries a video signal is processing it in some way, meaning an engineer has to oversee the electronic equivalent of a team, according to Jim Graham, an engineer for Montgomery County’s (Md.) Office of Cable and Communications. “You’ve got to find pieces of equipment that are compatible and make them work together,” he says.
That may sound easy enough, but with video standards changing so rapidly, engineers have had their hands full. Video signals are converted from analog to digital, routed, integrated, generated, amplified, distributed, synchronized and transmitted over fiber optics. With standard definition, HD, Ultra-HD and 3D, “who knows what’s lurking out there,” Graham says.
But the engineer’s challenge is being made easier with a relatively new class of “smart” equipment capable of performing a number of integrated tasks with internal software that can easily be modified to meet future needs, says Jim Hatcher, chief technology officer for Human Circuits, a systems integrator located in Gaithersburg, Md.
“Three or four years ago you would see discrete pieces of equipment in line with each other; now you are seeing a central platform consisting of servers running an operating system and you’re turning on or off software features,” he said. That change is “a paradigm shift,” he added.
Manufacturers customize equipment suited to the specific signal processing needs of clients and charge accordingly. Producers do that because users may not want all the features of a particular platform, according to Hatcher. Clients “are investing in a platform that will grow with them as opposed to a platform that is going to be obsolete in a few months,” Hatcher said. When users upgrade or expand it is just a matter of obtaining a license from the manufacturer, he said.
Harris’ Nexio XS Server System
A key reason for the shift to this type of equipment is the desire of broadcasters to take advantage of the ever-growing market for video on demand (VOD). One prime example of the new paradigm platform is the high-end Harris Nexio XS Server System.
Hardware, software and architectural features of the Nexus platform provide the necessary level of redundancy to meet the requirements of the job and budget constraints. It is designed to grow from a two-channel platform with integrated storage to a storage area network of up to 180 channels, with thousands of hours of shared storage and hundreds of megabytes per second of IP network bandwidth. Further scaling up will enable using multiple signal sources connected by Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet through local and wide area networks, and the use of near-line and archival storage.
The Nexio features a complete I/O toolset, including SDI, HD-SDI and AES connectivity as well as MPEG-2, IMX and DV/DVCPRO codecs. Applications range from simple play-to-air programs controlling basic server functions to facility-wide management programs that include traffic, media and asset management and device control. Clients can utilize the application programming interface (API) to develop custom tools. A number of optional components increase the platform’s versatility.
The Miranda iTX suite is an additional high-concept platform that uses enterprise-grade IT servers to perform multi-format video play-out, signal processing, video/audio mixing, multi-level graphics, metadata insertion and even Nielsen audience measurement. The result is savings in space and power requirements.
The software-based iTX platform also offers “future-proofing,” with the ability to take advantage of ongoing CPU/GPU developments in IT hardware. The set-up includes ingest and output servers, a desktop-based workstation and ample storage. iTX operates on a standard, gigabit Ethernet (1000 Base-T) local area network (LAN) which connects the iTX servers, content storage, client workstations and external systems such as traffic and scheduling. iTX is multi-domain capable, allowing facilities in different locations to share content and tasks. System security ensures that access rights can be assigned to specific users and groups, and virtual media silos can be created to ensure there is no crossover between different channels, content or customers.
Snell’s Integrated Content Engine (ICE) 3.0
With an eye towards scalability, Snell recently released its Integrated Content Engine (ICE) 3.0 channelin- a-box powered by its Morpheus automation system. The ICE system is another offering in the trend towards IT play-out systems that combine what once were multiple racks of hardware into a small number of rack units, Snell says.
The original concept of channel-in-a-box was introduced several years ago to allow television broadcasters to add programming for different sources economically. Driven by Morpheus, ICE 3.0 is the only channel-in-a-box system that can scale from a single channel to more than 100 of the most complex broadcast channels while maintaining the same user interface.
Version 3.0 boasts full virtual machine support that facilitates lower space and power requirements with improved system robustness, Snell says. The focus on incorporating more of the channel into the box has added 3D graphics to ICE 3.0, as well as CG functionality with timeline control and the ability to populate fields from the play-out schedule and external data sources.
Harmonic’s Omneon Spectrum
Harmonic offers its Omneon Spectrum media server that can be configured with just a few channels and entry-level storage or with many dozens of channels and storage for hundreds of hours of content. With support for a variety of SD and HD formats and numerous industry standards, and as a user’s needs change, a Spectrum system can be adapted and new channels, storage and even system bandwidth added.
ChannelPort is a second-generation attempt at the channel-in-a-box concept from Harmonic, but the company prefers to call it an “enabling platform.” ChannelPort was designed to connect with Omneon video file servers, but run under just about any present-day station’s automation system. The Spectrum platform was engineered to avoid single points of failure, and to allow the “hot-swapping” of failed components. Low power consumption is an added feature.
Those systems may be a bit much for many broadcast operations, but they definitely point to the future of signal processing. In addition, “the end object is to have everything work together and produce the desired signal,” Graham said.
AJA offers its FS1 and FS2 line that features up/down/cross converter technology for high quality images and which converts contrasting sources to a common format in complex production environments. The FS1 and FS2 are fully networkable via built-in 10/100/1000MB Ethernet ports and can be rapidly configured by any computer on the network via a standard web browser. FS2 adds the ability to process two independent streams of 3G/HD/SD 10-bit broadcast-quality video and two independent groups of 16-channel AES audio.
Cobalt offers its 3G/HD/SD-SDI Fusion3G 9901-UDX card with up/down/cross conversion, frame sync and advanced audio and ancillary data support, plus many other industry standard features, including up-converting to 1080p.Full audio support includes per-channel audio delay. Remote control is quick and easy with the free DashBoard remote control software.
TV One’s C2-7260
TV One combines multiple video processing products in its C2-7260 dual channel 17-input video processor. The C2-7260 performs switching and HD-SDI up/down/cross conversion, as well as additional functions such as independent video processing and scaling engines. It handles SD-SDI, HD-SDI, Composite Video, YC (S-Video), YUV Component, YPbPr Component, DVI and RGB. In addition, the C2-7260 has capabilities in both broadcast and presentation environments with switcher mode, independent mode and dual picture-in-picture mode, and the user can alter the system.
Those systems may be a bit much for many broadcast operations, but they definitely point to the future of signal processing.