The broadcast automation market is a specialized area. With about 35 vendors, it is small compared to the 1500 or so broadcast and production equipment suppliers that exhibit at NAB. A newer entrant to this select circle is ToolsOnAir with its “TV station in a Mac” solution. Although not the first to use the Apple Mac platform for playout, the PC is more popular in automation applications. “Automation Technology Update” spoke to Gilbert Leb of ToolsOnAir to find out more about the company and its products.
Automation Technology Update: ToolsOnAir is a relatively new company. When did it start?
Gilbert Leb: The parent company has been an Apple reseller in the business-to-business sector for more than 20 years. ToolsOnAir is the development company with focus on broadcast solutions, but also for video and graphics playout for event presentations and digital signage.
Automation Technology Update: There are several automation systems that run on the PC, often using Matrox hardware cards. Why did you choose Apple Mac as your platform?
Gilbert Leb: With our background, we see a good positioning on the Mac platform. We also have seen a strong movement toward the Mac platform because of the popularity of Final Cut Studio. Broadcasters are looking more and more for a complete QuickTime- and MXF-based workflow on the Mac. For us, we also have the advantage that any Mac ordered by the broadcaster will have the same specification as the one in our development lab. No motherboard variants, driver problems … discussions about firmware. Plus, we don’t have to ship hardware around the world.
Automation Technology Update: The Mac Pro doesn’t have video ports. What additional hardware do you use?
Gilbert Leb: We use standard products from AJA and Blackmagic Design for input and output. We are working very closely with Telestream and have developed also a multichannel interface for just:in that uses Pipeline as a capture device.
We can also use the Matrox Mxo2 as an input device for ingest, and even for playout. So you can see there is choice for the broadcaster. All these products are available anywhere in the world, so again, no shipping.
Automation Technology Update: That should add up to a cost-saving for the broadcaster. Is the product suitable for multichannel applications?
Gilbert Leb: Our solution was designed to be multichannel. Also, it can be controlled over the network.
Automation Technology Update: You make use of partners for some of your products: LiveCut and Step2e. Can you explain the relationship with these companies, and are these exclusive agreements?
Gilbert Leb: Step2e is a nonexclusive partner where we see a lot of potential in the whole administrative part of a TV station. LiveCut is an exclusive cooperation, because we have done a lot of development work together to establish the multicamera workflow together with Final Cut Studio 2.
Automation Technology Update: You mentioned MXF; Apple products are based on the QuickTime framework.
Gilbert Leb: We partner with MXF4mac. They provide integrated MXF solutions for Mac OS X that enable native MXF handling through the QuickTime architecture. This will also allow QuickTime-based applications such as Final Cut Studio to deal natively with MXF. Compatible MXF files behave just like they were MOV — no conversion process is required, no background process is running. It's a pure, native direct access. Through MXF4mac, Final Cut Pro can edit natively both MXF OP1a and OP-Atom variations.
Automation Technology Update: What are your primary markets for your products (IPTV, local stations, VOD, etc.)?
Gilbert Leb: Our main focus is midrange local and regional TV channels, IPTV stations already using Macs or those who want to move because of tapeless workflow on the Mac platform. We see also more requests from “established” TV stations for special projects such as niche channels or LED screen playout. With just:live, we also see a market for urban screens, live events, theaters and stadiums.