Technology seminar: Automation

The accelerating pace of change in our industry was reflected in the television automation realm at NAB2006. The consensus regarding business at this year's show was that things have improved over the past few years, maybe not in the number of visitors, but in the perceived quality of interest in automation solutions.

The merging of servers and automation persists. And the march continues toward the goal of a station in a box, as the adoption of IT to implement solutions in all areas of television expands. Several vendors have incorporated automation into server hardware as part of their systems.

The systems have taken on such chores as trancoding between file formats, allowing for the seamless delivery of file-based content from end to end. This requires the management of a large amount of content and a wide range of formats. Tighter integration of graphics, automation and traffic systems is taking place with the completion of the SMPTE S22.10 Data Exchange Working Group's implementation of the ATSC Programming Metadata Communications Protocol (PMCP), specified in ATSC document A/76.

Broadcasters intent on surviving, and even thriving, are looking for new opportunities to distribute content. NAB president and CEO David Rehr told broadcasters in a speech at the show that every new device and gadget on the market is a potential vehicle through which content can be disseminated. That means, of course, more channels of programming with existing resources. Rehr predicted that issues with business models, copyright and technology will “get worked out.”

What's newly shippable?

Sundance Digital replaced FastBreak with FastBreak NXT. It is geared for one and four channels of control and incorporates a number of features from the company's flagship Titan product line.

FastBreak XPress replaces FastBreak Spot as the slimmed down version of the NXT product. Geared for facilities looking for basic server and switcher control, XPress offers basic machine control and allows for an easy upgrade path to either FastBreak NXT or Titan. FlexEvents now includes expanded control of secondary events by allowing users to create mini timelines of secondary events and attach these either to the playlist or as an attribute of the element itself.

OmniBus showed iTX, which is based on the company's software and standard, off-the-shelf computer hardware for automation, server and master control. It runs using Microsoft Windows XP, 2003 Server, DirectShow and .NET; the AMD Opteron line of processors; and HP standard IT hardware. MCR effects capability via software includes 2-D DVE, CG and still-store functionality. When playlists are ingested, the associated media — be it MPEG, AVI WM or DV — is also ingested into the server.

NVerzion is offering NStat, which monitors Ethernet machine control and the company's NBase. NVerzion also introduced NLine, a multichannel application that provides users the ability to monitor all of their playlist schedules from one easy-to-read software interface. It also notifies the operator of any scheduling conflicts.

Harris released an enhanced D-Series playout automation solution that interfaces with its H-Class Content Delivery Platform for more efficient workflow in multichannel environments. The new H-Class Media Ingest features dynamic exchange of playlist and as-run data. It also provides automated file-based ingest from media delivery services with required transcoding and the ability to configure associated workflows, including proxy creation and audio normalization.

DTG's Xe automation system now includes transfer technology that automates and resolves Pathfire metadata. Xe's virtual metadata display technology provides information and alerts to browsers and to a Miranda Kaleido-K2 display showing the on-air event ID as well as warning messages. The system also has a DekoCast driver interface that allows an operator to specify a template file and insert text and information to automatically appear on-air.

Digital Broadcast MediaFire, a play-to-air server, now includes direct interfaces to such media delivery services as Pathfire, Fast Channel, DG Systems and Vyvx. Its MediaVault archiving system provides increased Blu-ray storage. The MediaBank Safety Net is a disaster recovery system that provides complete automated on-air functions off-site in the event the station is unable to maintain on-air operations.

Crispin's ArchiveManager provides nearline storage for media that is integrated into the automation system and can be used to help manage disk space on video servers. Crispin's Hierarchical Storage Management is incorporated into the system. This combination provides a policy-based storage and retrieval system. The company's Digital Transfer Agent provides a link between third-party content distribution and fully automated, on-air presentation. The transfer system locates and issues commands to transcode and transfer programming to the play-to-air server, along with metadata that is simultaneously retrieved and written to AssetBase, the company's database application.

AVECO showed ASTRA Lite, a simple 1RU PC server with one user station for ingest and playout of one on-air playlist and control of a 360 Systems server, a small router, logo inserter and a VTR for ingest.

Pro-Bel introduced the Morpheus Media Browse, which allows low-res copies to be created using a high-speed transcoder that streams the specified files from the material source, performs a transcode to Windows Media 9 format at twice real time and then stores it.

Pebble Beach System's Anemone is an entry-level automation system intended for small broadcast operations. It provides playout and ingest tools that can be used to run up to four channels.


Many segments of the industry are realigning their roles as to which systems are performing which roles in the television food chain. In a number of segments, the footprint of some gear has been reduced to the limits of required physical I/O for a box or system. So, if size can't be reduced, feature sets move and stretch across traditional boundaries, and vendors find that they have new competitors.

Jim Boston is a West Coast consultant.