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Pixel Power's Clarity

April 1, 2007

Isolated broadcast solutions are set to give way to increased consolidation between various products that until now served only a single function. For many broadcasters, making a separate investment in each piece of equipment for a discrete function, such as switchers, character generators, A/V mixers and server-based clip/still stores, is a necessary evil. These systems are often expensive to buy and maintain, and they cause broadcasters to deal with multiple suppliers for technical support during the fault-finding and diagnostic process.

Switchers, for example, were essential in the editing function, so broadcasters were forced to invest in them. Switchers are no strangers to consolidation, first with the computer-based nonlinear editing that followed the advent of digital. These new, more streamlined editing technologies supplanted standalone production switchers, which have consequently been removed from most edit suites. Yet they remain a staple of studio operations. Whether cutting sources to air, providing the DVE capacity for over-the-shoulder graphics or the keying to layer captions and straps over live pictures, a production switcher is a familiar part of the news studio. Now comes a move to eliminate them from news studios, too.

Consolidating functions

The move to automate the entire news production process — including the studio — continues. Broadcasters are considering whether an operator-driven device like a production switcher is even needed. The same effects can now be achieved within a graphics device, linked closely to the newsroom system using the standard MOS protocol. With functions almost identical to those of character generators, it makes sense to consolidate — and automate — production switchers.

In an automated newsroom with a dual-channel graphics system, such as the Pixel Power Clarity, templates stored in the character generator software are populated by an XML link to the automation, so that all the graphics are generated automatically. Each program's style sheet within the graphics unit stores DVE moves and other effects, while the built-in clip store holds preloaded video sequences, either for stings or for story packages.

Streamlining workflows

As a practical example of how consolidating these functions would work, imagine a dual-channel system that provides live broadcasts several times a day. A client using an ActiveX control plug-in allows newsroom staff to create a news story. The plug-in has details of all templates, stills and clip content stored on the graphics system. Storage locations on the graphics system are defined on a specially configured control center with automated content ingest. These are scanned automatically to maintain a database accessed by the ActiveX control plug-in.

The character generator stores predefined templates configured to use combinations of video inputs from which the newsroom staff can choose. Users can select foreground clips and fill text fields as they would using any other system.

Completed stories are inserted into a rundown and manipulated by a rundown manager on the playout client. Rundowns are stored on the newsroom server, which makes the rundown for that particular program MOS active just before the broadcast begins. It then instructs the graphics system to load the job before cueing and preparing template pages on both channels within the central news system, including video clips from the internal video server.

Throughout the news program, channel 1 is typically used to play video clips, either as backgrounds behind the presenter's desk or preproduced package stories. Channel 1 is fed to the background input of a chroma keyer, which can then superimpose the anchor if required by the template.

Once the output is mixed from the different sources, it is fed into the input of channel 2, where its keyer adds foreground graphics, such as captions, lower third straps, and over-the-shoulder graphics and clips. Channel 2 can also mix in a live feed from a remote reporter, typically via a satellite link.

Based on templates, the graphics system accommodates last-minute changes and live updates. A touch screen control panel allows live control of video sources and graphics for breaking news. Facilities for embedded and discrete digital audio ensure that paths match and keep sound and picture together.

This system also has dual-channel internal video and audio architecture, enabling fully customizable routing of SDI video, embedded audio and discrete AES/EBU digital audio to and from all system inputs and outputs — everything an audio mixer would do. Similarly, its internal clip store offers reliable, streamlined ingest, storage and playback of audio and video content in conjunction with the control center, making a separate video server unnecessary.

Finally, the consolidated solution offers the functionality found in an isolated graphics solution or character generator. It has fully featured software with integrated, advanced CG capabilities that work easily both under automation and remote manual control via the use of prebuilt template pages.

Consolidated solutions also complement wider industry trends, such as telecom operators seeking to provide mobile content. They represent a cost-effective, all-in-one system that can create content — and graphics — in any output format required at a lower equipment and production cost than traditional routes.

Combined advantages

The benefits of streamlining workflows from multiple, isolated products into a single box are clear. The device is easier to support and maintain, and is typically available at a lower cost, as broadcasters only need to deal with one supplier for technical support. It also allays concerns over interoperability and confusion over who is responsible for fixing any problems that might arise.

Such a system remains flexible to accommodate future enhancements and is easily integrated into an existing broadcast environment. It also makes configuration quicker and more straightforward, while maintaing a customizable interface that is reliable under both automation and remote manual control.

Finally, and perhaps most attractively, it costs one-quarter of a non-consolidated system built around a switcher, while providing all of the high-quality functionality. It also reduces reliance on the number of people required to run such a workflow.

While isolated solutions may retain their place for isolated functions, an automated news broadcast deems them unnecessary. Investing in multiple solutions and dealing with various suppliers and contracts is clearly no longer the necessary evil it once was.

James Gilbert is managing director of Pixel Power.

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