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The Changing Face of Test and Measurement

For a portable approach, Triveni Digital recently launched its tablet-based StreamScope Portal MPEG analysis and monitoring tool.

PADUCAH, KY.—We all know how fast this industry is changing, especially the technology.

Although broadcasters’ goals haven’t changed (to provide viewers with the best pictures, best sound, best services, and the best overall viewing experience), over the past decade, the means to this end most certainly has. Equipment features and quality are at an all time high, and equipment reliability is arguably on the same plane.

While the reliability and quality of the equipment is high, many broadcasters might not have their focus in the test and measurement arena these days, at least until something goes wrong. Keeping pace with today’s technology surely means adopting new methods and knowledge for troubleshooting, but some things remain the same. Let’s take a look at some old classic test gear that still passes muster, some new technologies that shine, and how test and measurement in general has changed in the past few years.

In the field—as well as in the studio—video all starts with the camera. These days for broadcasters, it could just as easily be the DSLR used in the field as a “traditional” camera. While today’s cameras make better pictures than ever, one item that has hit the “high popularity” list is the warm card for white balancing. The slightly blue cards seem to make modern cameras have that old “tube” warm look when used.

For more staged field production, and in the studio, the tried and true color test charts, such as the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde are still the benchmark for getting cameras to match. Of course, the chart would be useless without some type of waveform monitor, or an SDI analyzer, according to Ian Valentine, business director, Video Product Line at Tektronix in Beaverton, Ore.

“An SDI analyzer [waveform monitor] continues to be the main workhorse in broadcast environments,” he said.

For field audio, small handheld test generators and monitors are still the norm, but testing is pretty much the same, except for lip-sync, which is sometimes overlooked, until it goes “out.” Ian Gott, maintenance engineer with WPSD–TV in Paducah, Ky., uses a metronome with an LED and speaker out to check and set lip-sync on remote field productions. That may be a new use for an old product.

After the content is acquired, it’s either likely a file, SDI, or a stream, most likely with embedded audio. For files, there are several applications on the market that can do a quick analysis of those files.

Richard Duvall, technical marketing manager with Tektronix, says he’s seen continual growth year on year with software for automated QC of file-based workflows, a prominent feature of the company’s Cerify Video Content Analysis platform. “Tektronix’s Cerify was recently endorsed by Netflix for use by their content suppliers,” he said.

That seems to be the norm “as most programming is now sourced and disseminated as files,” according to Paul Keller, project manager with Harris Broadcast’s test and measurement line. “File-based test systems like our QuiC Pro are an important part of a media asset management system,” he said.

For a portable approach, Triveni Digital recently launched its tablet-based StreamScope Portal MPEG analysis and monitoring tool. “In studios and headends, the engineering team is looking for a more portable solution,” said Ralph Bachofen, vice president of sales and head of marketing for the Princeton, N.J.-based company.

For file transfer and good IP performance in general, products like Solarwinds’ IT-LAN Management Software can go a long way in indentifying issues with your LAN.

For SDI distribution, broadcasters’ needs seem to have changed over the last 5 years, according to Tektronix’s Duvall. “[Broadcasters’] interest was focused on physical infrastructure and engineering compliance, whereas now, their focus is on regulatory compliance [e .g. closed captions, loudness], and lower cost,” he said.

Issues such as closed captioning, CALM compliance, and Disclaimer line count for political ads are the three big things most tested in studio environments today, according to vendors. In addition, for that one “evaluation” video monitor (where they are not using multiviewers), broadcasters are looking for professional video monitors that can not only display an accurate picture, but can also de-embed audio and display closed captioning, all in one.

As broadcasters determine how to manage their budgets for test and management, test equipment rental companies are seeing an upsurge in business as broadcasters seek to optimize their budgets and balance CapEx against OpEx, according to Bob Nichols, director of international business development for Cobalt Digital in Urbana, Ill.

“Cobalt has a large and expanding customer base of rental companies around the world,” he said. Triveni’s Bachofen supports that position as well, saying “renting equipment is clearly a trend.”

Rohde & Schwarz’s R&S EFL110/R&S EFL210 interference analyzer platform detects interference in cable TV and LTE networks, as well as most VHF/UHF channels. TRANSMISSION

While over-the-air viewership took a pretty good nose dive in decades past, the increase in “cord-cutting” has led to a rise in OTW viewership recently. In this economy, broadcasters are after every viewer, and every penny. And this applies to its digital auxiliary channels as well.

After all of the content is gathered, it’s ready to be placed in its .1, .2, and .3 slots, and it seems that some broadcasters are maximizing the life out of their gear. Dan Wilson, senior maintenance engineer at WPSD says their station still uses their original Harris Flexicoder platform that was introduced in the 1990s.

“For our Flexicoder test and measurement, pretty much all we’ve had to do is add a Harris Transport Frequency Extractor to monitor the 19.39 Mbps stream, and keep a solid 10MHz source to the unit,” he said.

For broadcasters using IOTs, Gott and Wilson both agree, the occasional removal of “gunk” from the water cooling fins on the tubes is key to IOT longevity; WPSD’s IOTs were installed in 2004 and are still making power. Touching on microwave gear, both STL and ENG, they also agree that in today’s environment, it either works, or goes back to the factory.

For RF test and measurement in general, things are definitely better.

“RF sampling and digital signal processing are now good enough to economically provide long-term monitoring so that trends can be discerned before they impact audience coverage,” said Harris’ Keller. Going a step further, Duvall from Tektronix adds that “demand for RF test and monitoring has declined significantly in the last 10 years. Monitoring interest has shifted from QoS [RF transmission-related] to QoE [content related].” While power meters and spectrum analyzers are still required on occasion, their frequency of use (no pun intended) in troubleshooting has dropped off sharply.

Triven’s Bachofen has a bit of a different take, however. “The basics of RF are the same,” he said, “however, the addition of mobile DTV and the discussions surrounding ATSC 2.0 and 3.0 make the RF side continue to be relevant and challenging.”

Greg Kregoski, business development manager, Multimedia & A/V Test North America for Rohde & Schwarz, takes a different angle.

“With many white space devices not having an ATSC/8VSB receiver built-in, it’s likely that the need for RF interference analyzers will grow as the perfect storm for UHF/VHF spectrum continues to form,” he said. “We’ve recently introduced the EFL110 interference analyzer, enabling users to track down legal as well as rogue signals [VHF and UHF] and observe them in frequency, amplitude and time.”