I recently met with Larry Kaplan, of Harmonic, to hear about the company’s new product — the Spectrum ChannelPort.
“As consumer desire for more content delivered to more devices increases,” Kaplan said, “broadcasters, content providers, and cable and satellite operators are challenged to launch new branded channels and services while reducing costs."
The ChannelPort is a departure from many of the new master control products in that it is designed to integrate easily with existing systems. Many broadcasters are looking to add sub-channels for mobile or IPTV feeds. If they are already using conventional server/switcher/automation controller architecture, then adding adding a channel-in-box can involve considerable changes to the traffic, automation and media management. Many would like to continue with their existing automation platform, just adding further channels, and to extend their existing storage systems, with air and near-line servers.
"The newest member of the Spectrum media server family, ChannelPort simplifies the task of bringing new services to air quickly and affordably,” Kaplan said. “It builds on users' existing infrastructure rather than forcing them to start from scratch. Using ChannelPort, a facility can add not only playout channels, but also functionality that traditionally has required five or six separate components in the transmission chain."
Most automation systems use proprietary protocols to control the master control chain. Two have become ad hoc standards — the Louth VDCP from Harris, and the Oxtel Automation protocol from Miranda, which is used for branding.
The ChannelPort module is designed to be added to Spectrum and Mediadeck servers. The module adds comprehensive branding, with eight key layers, as well the ability to switch to a live input. It is controlled via VDCP and Oxtel protocol, so it can be added to an existing system with minimum changes and configuration.
The Harmonic philosophy acknowledges that, for many broadcasters, the issues when expanding are more likely continuing reliability of transmissions and gradual change rather than a wholesale swap-out of all the existing systems.
Minimizing cost is of prime concern for secondary channels, and the creation and operation of branding is one important factor. Broadcast graphics are traditionally prepared on broadcast systems like Chyron, Pixel Power, Vizrt and Orad. ChannelPort introduces an alternative, in the use of Adobe Flash. Outside the world of broadcast graphics, Flash design and development is a very common skill.
It’s not a new idea to use Flash in broadcast applications. Just like Photoshop, skills with Adobe products are found across the board in graphics departments. However, there is a problem with Flash in that rendering in a web browser with the Flash plugin is best effort rather than deterministic. To be of use in broadcasting, graphics must render in real time. Harmonic has addressed this issue by designing a Flash rendering engine as part of the ChannelPort module.
Photoshop and After Effects can be used to build graphics, and common formats like Targa sequences are also supported. The final on-air look is built as templates in Flash professional and loaded to the module.
It is not going to replace powerful 3-D branding engines from Vizr and Orad used for premium channels. But, for the majority of channels’ 2D branding, it fits the requirements. With eight layers of keying, the ChannelPort module can add multilayer graphics including logo, side panels, live crawls and tickers, as well as regulatory marks. It has full support for EAS messages, accepting EAS data and audio from an EAS decoder.
ChannelPort is available in three configurations: as a stand-alone half-RU device that adds branding capabilities to a Spectrum system; integrated in a MediaDeck 7000 chassis to function as a stand-alone branding server; and integrated in either a MediaPort 7000 or MediaDeck 7000 chassis to function with both those devices as a stand-alone branding server with media ingest capabilities. Four modules can be housed in 1RU for sites short on rack space.