PBS Technology Conference

Engineers, traffic professionals, and managers from all over the U.S. gathered at the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas last week to share with peers and hear about PBS plans for 2010 and beyond. The group of around 500 heard presentations on issues including file-based workflow, loudness, compression, traffic issues, grant writing, video quality monitoring, cloud computing, and more. Attendance was up from last year and sponsorships were sold out, pleasing all and allowing PBS to offer scholarships to personnel from a number of stations around the country.

A major focus of the conference is the status of PBS' NGIS non-real-time distribution system, now in alpha testing by stations. The system will ultimately replace a large portion of its real-time distribution, which requires much of the national content to be locally recorded for later playback. NGIS will deliver content as files to a highly redundant IT-based system deployed by PBS at all 177 of its affiliates. PBS has developed a sophisticated automated workflow (Station Services Platform) that communicates directly with the station's traffic system. Content is delivered to stations at least 48 hours before air dates, and the system will hold the content for 10 days afterwards to allow stations to copy the content to servers or archives for future playout.

The Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) just approved an application specification and associated shim (AS-03) that constrains MXF and facilitates interchange between the files PBS creates and all stations. For stations not able to use MXF content, the Station Services Platform includes transcoding software from RadiantGrid running on a 16-core HP computer assuring all stations of the ability to get compatible files automatically over PBS satellite bandwidth.

The file transfer system is being provided by IDC. A terrestrial data path will provide back-channel communication to allow receivers to notify the sending system of missing or corrupted packets. Testing is ongoing and performance figures are in line with expectations.

A highlight for all at each TechCon is an open Q&A with senior managers from PBS Technical Operations. Station engineers grill PBS on its current projects and future plans in a free-flowing conversation. The conference ended with a sponsored reception for everyone around the pool before everyone heads to NAB or returns home.