David Dillard, senior IT specialist for Voice of America, checks the operation of Omneon MediaGrid servers. Each server unit is given the name of a bird (e.g., Chicken, Owl, Woodpecker) to make it easier to track the large number of devices. Photo by Bob Kovacs
Like many media organizations, Voice of America
needed to come up with a plan to convert a busy
tape-based facility to the new digital world.
Voice of America is chartered by the federal government
to represent the United States with a consistently
reliable source of news and cultural information.
Today, the VoA employs nearly 1,200 people,
delivering news and cultural programs to an
audience of 125 million people in 44 different languages.
To do this, VoA has 20 radio broadcast studios,
four television studios, 32 video editing suites, a
bustling master control room and a 30,000 squarefoot
newsroom staffed 24/7, every day of the year.
Voice of America provides about 150 news reports
per day across all its supported languages and services,
as well as talk shows and feature segments.
VoA’s television service has grown considerably
over the past three decades, but it has been nearly
all videotape systems with an occasional server here
and there. The organization now finds itself nearing
the end of a major upgrade to its core infrastructure.
“We’re essentially in the transition from analog
to digital,” said John Johnson, deputy for information
technology for VoA.
With a big operation that spans the globe and
operates in dozens of languages, VoA has unique
needs that set it apart from other large news operations.
After creating a videotape-based workflow in
the 1980s to handle the demands of round-theclock
broadcasts in multiple languages, officials at
VoA decided it was time to move to a server-based
workflow. At the heart of this upgrade are a variety
of Omneon servers, controlled by Dalet media asset
“What this is all about is modernizing our TV
foundation, which is Omneon,” said Michael
Serafini, director of the digital management division
and technical director of the digital video project for
MEDIAGRID AND SPECTRUM
There are two levels of servers from Omneon:
MediaGrid devices are used for ingest and storage,
while Spectrum units provide on-air playout. VoA
currently has 140 TB of storage in the MediaGrid
system and 20 TB of space in the Spectrum server,
but both those numbers can grow for future needs.
Since it is all digital bits, both systems can handle
either standard-definition or high-definition signals,
and VoA uses a mix of both as of today. Although
parts of the Omneon and Dalet systems are working
now, full integration of the systems is expected to
be complete by the end of summer.
VoA uses DaletPlus media asset management to
provide the user interface to the new server system.
The Dalet controller knows when something is
ingested into the Omneon MediaGrid and it handles
tagging the file for storage or moving it to the
Spectrum server to be available for playout.
Producer Tetiana Koprowicz (left) and editor Sara Brownlee work on a story for VoA’s Ukrainian-language service. Although there still are VCRs in the rack, almost all video is brought into the Final Cut Pro system. Photo by Bob Kovacs
If the file needs to be transcoded to a more VoAfriendly
format, a Rhozet (now owned by Harmonic)
Carbon Coder transcoder is used to convert the file.
As part of the transcode process, Carbon Coder
handles an array of technical operations that include
SD-to-HD conversion, PAL-to-NTSC conversion, logo
insertion, color space conversion, color correction
and closed caption extraction.
“The Carbon Coder is our Swiss Army knife for
interchanging formats,” Serafini said.
Five blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the pre-World
War II building that houses the Voice of America
has more than 150 Final Cut Pro editing workstations
and seven control rooms currently connected
to the Omneon and Dalet systems. In addition to its
large television complex, VoA also has extensive
For programs that are moved to the long-term
archive, VoA uses Front Porch Digital’s DIVArchive to
manage that process. Only items that will be used in
reasonable future remain on the MediaGrid server—the long-term archive is on tape.
The DaletPlus automation does more than just provide
an interface between the users and the servers. It
also gives VoA an instantaneous look at system utilization,
including amount of storage used (on
both the MediaGrid and Spectrum
servers), alarms and bandwidth demands,
as well as the location and number of users
accessing the server system. This is viewable
on the internal LAN at VoA, so engineers
can check from their desks to make
sure the technology is running smoothly.
On Final Cut Pro workstations, locally
based producers and editors can edit any
material that resides on the MediaGrid
server. VoA is testing DaletPlus InterWeb
for remote editing, which uses low-resolution
proxy files saved in Windows
Media Video (WMV) format. Using
DaletPlus InterWeb, a VoA reporter in a
distant country can edit a story on the
proxy files and have that story be ready
for broadcast on the Omneon server.
“We now have 1,000 users of the
DaletPlus system,” Serafini said. “I’m surprised
at how well it’s been accepted.”
VoA worked extensively with Omneon
to architect the system and is relying on
IBB for the physical integration of the
“We’ve been through enterprise
deployments before,” Serafini said. “You
have a committee focused on workflow,
one on training, one for design/technical
issues and one for project management.”
There are always things that never get
addressed by the best planners, but VoA’s
engineers, management, Omneon and
IBB seem to have pulled this one together
with few headaches. As of today,
Voice of America has 42 services in 14
different languages operating off the
Dalet/Omneon system, and the implementation
is not yet complete.
“The number one challenge for us
was the integration between Dalet and
the Omneon MediaGrid,” Serafini said.
“I’m extremely happy with where we are today.”
It’s not an easy task for one of the world’s largest
and most complex media organizations to make the
leap from tape-based to server-based workflow.
However, Voice of America seems to have found a
groove with its carefully planned rollout of its new
server and media asset management system.