Harris' Versio

To call channel-in-a-box an industry trend is to state the obvious. But, to say that every solution follows the same design and deployment philosophy is not necessarily accurate.

In many cases, the channel-in-a-box (CIB) explosion helps broadcasters simplify new channel launches and addresses needs like disaster recovery. How these needs are solved varies greatly, even within the boundaries of what we know today as CIB.

The new Harris Versio integrated playout platform builds in the required functionality to launch a channel while providing freedom to integrate wide-ranging external workflow components. This is a significant advantage for broadcasters that need to leverage content across the workflow, including, but not limited to, existing shared storage systems, traffic and billing, and asset management systems.

For broadcasters concerned with reliability, a key benefit is the ability to gradually transition workflow functions to the platform. The baseline Versio product combines video server, channel branding, graphics and automation components in its 1RU form factor. Automation and/or clip storage doesn’t have to be internal, allowing for a smoother transition and a choice of how to manage playout and deal with associated risks.

The overall feature set compresses multiple functions into the design with the ability to scale from one to hundreds of channels. It doesn’t force broadcasters to use all capabilities.

Beyond the chassis’ own capabilities, the solution also reaches farther across the workflow, allowing users to leverage existing digital asset management and traffic and billing systems. This helps manage overall channel costs and potentially increase revenue by bridging business and playout functions. The tight integration allows traffic operators to sell and schedule new commercial spots in close proximity to air time.

Reason for existence

Cost-efficient operation of multiple channels is often essential to the growth and success of broadcasters. Consumer thirst for new programs, special interest channels and content across multiple viewing platforms means that broadcasters need to offer intriguing and compelling programming to grow audience share and revenue. However, they also need to be budget-conscious, and new channel launches with specialized content can be expensive.

The launch of multiple channels and services within standard broadcast architecture traditionally requires the purchase and integration of single-function products such as servers, automation, master control switchers and graphics systems. Versio’s design offers a solution for broadcasters working to control operating costs while adding channels. It also incorporates proven yet evolving Harris technologies that cover key technical elements. In addition, it offers simple scalability as the number of services increase.

Ultimately, the solution is designed to help broadcasters grow and protect revenue through a flexible, cost-effective platform. The ability to add channels individually makes the cost-per-channel linear, versus sizable investment increments common to standard playout systems for each group of new channels. Time-to-air for new channels is also significantly decreased from months to a matter of weeks or days. As a result, the time taken for turning investment into revenue generation is significantly reduced.

As broadcaster needs change over time, Versio can adapt to those changes with a simple reconfiguration. This may be changing between onboard and external automation, between using shared or internal storage, or by applying software license keys to turn on features. 

Features and operation

The shift from hardware- to more software-centric workflow models has already simplified the playout infrastructure. This system evolves the model, offering a single platform to support everyday operations such as file ingest, closed caption and pre-recorded audio insertion, audio channel management, DVE and mix effects, and upstream/downstream device control.

On a more expansive level, the solution allows broadcasters to decide how and when to grow services — including mixed SD and HD content, as well as 2D and 3-D graphic branding. The solution uses its resources, matching appropriate IT hardware with software requirements. Graphic branding is a GPU-centric operation, with its own set of SSD media drives to enable fast loading of graphics. 

Harris branding technology also supports optional DVE capabilities and mix effects, as well as RSS and ODBC-driven text such as snipes and lower-thirds. A separate set of hard drives is used for on-board clip storage to maximize storage capacity from the small footprint. CPU supports video encode and decode operations, and allows maximum clip codec and wrapper format support.

The option to use external SAN storage or the platform’s standard integrated storage adds flexibility to media sharing. SAN-connected servers stream directly without having to cache content to a local disk via fully redundant Ethernet connectivity.

The integrated video server function supports 2X internal channels, which enable mix effects under automation control and an optional baseband record channel. The output is a fully branded channel, with support for SNMP monitoring, the Magellan log server and Versio’s onboard multiviewer. Broadcasters can also run automation directly on the chassis, or leverage a new or existing external ADC or D-Series automation controlled over Ethernet. Used with an external automation system, the platform offers the ability to control more upstream and downstream devices.

The on-board automation function offers full control of integrated resources plus external device control including VTR, router, subtitler and external graphic branding systems. An intuitive user interface allows the operator to monitor and modify playlists independently to centralize control.

The pertinent takeaway is reliability. Deployment options, including seamless integration with existing infrastructure, ensure long-term durability and scalability — with the freedom to control built-in functions as desired. Therefore, broadcasters seeking to prove the reliability of the CIB concept have more freedom to do so.

Beyond the basics

The flexibility of deployments rests within the integrated software licensing, which can quickly enable or disable options. Additional options include advanced branding, including 2X 2D DVE and switching between a live input and disk-based clip playout. Its expansive codec support also reduces concerns for successful clip playback in a wide variety of formats.

Other options reach farther into the workflow, including automated file movement using Invenio Motion media asset management and Harris Live-Update-based interfacing with its traffic and billing systems. The latter employs BXF, which allows fluid playlist changes between traffic and automation functions, so traffic can sell ads almost to air time.

It is clear that CIB will grow in importance in the playout space. The prospect of lower costs, easier operation and simpler, faster deployment are important attractions. Blending this with versatility and proven reliability makes channel-in-a-box a potent option to today’s standard approaches.

Andrew Warman is senior product marketing manager, Harris Broadcast Communications.