We all know how fast this industry is
changing, especially the technology.
Although broadcasters’ goals haven’t changed (to provide
viewers with the best pictures, best sound, best services,
and the best overall viewing experience), over the past
decade, the means to this end most certainly has. Equipment
features and quality are at an all time high, and equipment
reliability is arguably on the same plane.
While the reliability and quality of the equipment is high,
many broadcasters might not have their focus in the test and
measurement arena these days, at least until something goes
wrong. Keeping pace with today’s technology surely means
adopting new methods and knowledge for troubleshooting,
but some things remain the same. Let’s take a look at some
old classic test gear that still passes muster, some new technologies
that shine, and how test and measurement in general
has changed in the past few years.
ACQUISITION: STUDIO AND FIELD
In the field—as well as in the studio—video all starts
with the camera. These days for broadcasters, it could just
as easily be the DSLR used in the field as a “traditional” camera.
While today’s cameras make better pictures than ever,
one item that has hit the “high popularity” list is the warm
card for white balancing. The slightly blue cards seem to
make modern cameras have that old “tube” warm look
For more staged field production, and in the studio, the
tried and true color test charts, such as the DSC Labs Chroma
DuMonde are still the benchmark for getting cameras
to match. Of course, the chart would be useless without
some type of waveform monitor, or an SDI analyzer, according
to Ian Valentine, business director, Video Product Line
at Tektronix in Beaverton, Ore.
“An SDI analyzer [waveform monitor] continues to be
the main workhorse in broadcast environments,” he said.
For field audio, small handheld test generators and monitors
are still the norm, but testing is pretty much the same,
except for lip-sync, which is sometimes overlooked, until it
goes “out.” Ian Gott, maintenance engineer with WPSD–TV
in Paducah, Ky., uses a metronome with an LED and speaker
out to check and set lip-sync on remote field productions.
That may be a new use for an old product.
DISTRIBUTION: FILES, SDI AND STREAMS
After the content is acquired, it’s either likely a file, SDI,
or a stream, most likely with embedded audio. For files,
there are several applications on the market that can do a
quick analysis of those files.
Richard Duvall, technical marketing manager
with Tektronix, says he’s seen continual growth
year on year with software for automated QC of
file-based workflows, a prominent feature of the
company’s Cerify Video Content Analysis platform.
“Tektronix’s Cerify was recently endorsed by Netflix
for use by their content suppliers,” he said.
That seems to be the norm “as most programming
is now sourced and disseminated as files,”
according to Paul Keller, project manager with
Harris Broadcast’s test and measurement line.
“File-based test systems like our QuiC Pro are an
important part of a media asset management system,”
For a portable approach, Triveni Digital recently
launched its tablet-based StreamScope Portal MPEG
analysis and monitoring tool. “In studios and headends, the
engineering team is looking for a more portable solution,”
said Ralph Bachofen, vice president of sales and head of
marketing for the Princeton, N.J.-based company.
For file transfer and good IP performance in general,
products like Solarwinds’ IT-LAN Management Software
can go a long way in indentifying issues with your LAN.
For SDI distribution, broadcasters’ needs seem to have
changed over the last 5 years, according to Tektronix’s Duvall.
“[Broadcasters’] interest was focused on physical infrastructure
and engineering compliance, whereas now, their
focus is on regulatory compliance [e.g. closed captions,
loudness], and lower cost,” he said.
Issues such as closed captioning, CALM compliance,
and Disclaimer line count for political ads are the three big
things most tested in studio environments today, according
to vendors. In addition, for that one “evaluation” video
monitor (where they are not using multiviewers), broadcasters
are looking for professional video monitors that can not only display an accurate picture, but can also de-embed
audio and display closed captioning, all in one.
As broadcasters determine how to manage their budgets
for test and management, test equipment rental companies
are seeing an upsurge in business as broadcasters seek to
optimize their budgets and balance CapEx against OpEx, according
to Bob Nichols, director of international business
development for Cobalt Digital in Urbana, Ill.
“Cobalt has a large and expanding customer base of
rental companies around the world,” he said. Triveni’s
Bachofen supports that position as well, saying “renting
equipment is clearly a trend.”
|Rohde & Schwarz’s R&S EFL110/R&S EFL210 interference analyzer platform detects interference in cable TV and LTE networks, as well as most VHF/UHF channels.
While over-the-air viewership took a pretty good nose
dive in decades past, the increase in “cord-cutting” has led
to a rise in OTW viewership recently. In this economy,
broadcasters are after every viewer, and every penny. And
this applies to its digital auxiliary channels as well.
After all of the content is gathered, it’s ready to be placed
in its .1, .2, and .3 slots, and it seems that some broadcasters
are maximizing the life out of their gear. Dan Wilson,
senior maintenance engineer at WPSD says their station
still uses their original Harris Flexicoder platform that was
introduced in the 1990s.
“For our Flexicoder test and measurement, pretty much
all we’ve had to do is add a Harris Transport Frequency Extractor
to monitor the 19.39 Mbps stream, and keep a solid
10MHz source to the unit,” he said.
For broadcasters using IOTs, Gott and Wilson both agree,
the occasional removal of “gunk” from the water cooling
fins on the tubes is key to IOT longevity; WPSD’s IOTs were
installed in 2004 and are still making power. Touching on
microwave gear, both STL and ENG, they also agree that in
today’s environment, it either works, or goes back to the
For RF test and measurement in general, things are definitely
“RF sampling and digital signal processing are now good
enough to economically provide long-term monitoring so
that trends can be discerned before they impact audience
coverage,” said Harris’ Keller. Going a step further, Duvall from Tektronix adds that “demand for RF
test and monitoring has declined significantly
in the last 10 years. Monitoring interest
has shifted from QoS [RF transmission-related]
to QoE [content related].” While
power meters and spectrum analyzers are
still required on occasion, their frequency
of use (no pun intended) in troubleshooting
has dropped off sharply.
Triven’s Bachofen has a bit of a different
take, however. “The basics of RF are the
same,” he said, “however, the addition of
mobile DTV and the discussions surrounding
ATSC 2.0 and 3.0 make the RF side continue
to be relevant and challenging.”
Greg Kregoski, business development
manager, Multimedia & A/V Test North
America for Rohde & Schwarz, takes a different
“With many white space devices not
having an ATSC/8VSB receiver built-in, it’s
likely that the need for RF interference
analyzers will grow as the perfect storm
for UHF/VHF spectrum continues to form,”
he said. “We’ve recently introduced the
EFL110 interference analyzer, enabling users
to track down legal as well as rogue signals
[VHF and UHF] and observe them in
frequency, amplitude and time.”