Automating master control

Integrated master control systems like Miranda’s Master Control Glass Cockpit provide support for multichannel operations.

Many factors are coming together to reshape the modern master control room. Today, master control must enable broadcasters to respond to the demands of consumers looking for a broader selection of channels that provide more information and greater interactivity. Viewers also are demanding a higher quality viewing experience with HD and multichannel audio.

Integrated master control

To offer more channels, each targeted to a smaller viewing audience, broadcasters must reduce their per-channel playout cost. This requires more affordable and more efficient equipment.

Facilities used to use a separate switcher, character generator, logo generator and clip server for each channel. Modern master control systems can integrate all of these functions under the control of a single interface. In addition to making it easier to automate interfaces, more highly integrated systems have reduced broadcasters' overall equipment costs significantly. Today, master control functions can be readily combined, as long as master control discipline, workflows and values are respected.

To be successful, modern master control products need to be designed from the ground up for multichannel playout managed by a single operator.

In a multichannel environment, the goal is to make the difficult job of being visually aware of each channel as easy as it can be. Miranda's Master Control Glass Cockpit is one example of this development. The system features soft control surfaces for monitoring, setup and adjustments, along with dedicated transmission panels.

With a high level of multi-vendor system integration, a single operator can control more channels more effectively, and stations can add extra channels with minimal impact to their infrastructure. More recently, manufacturers have taken integration further by integrating local master control operations with remote sites. This allows a single operator to control multiple channels spread across multiple locations. The PBS ACE project uses this type of distributed control. A consortium including Accenture, AF Associates, BroadView Software, Intel, Masstech, Microsoft, Miranda Technologies, Omneon Video Networks, OmniBus Systems, and SES AMERICOM developed a master control infrastructure for PBS. The solution uses IT strategies to automate repetitive processes and reduce the need for costly manual operations at member stations.

A more engaging viewing experience

The solution uses Miranda equipment for local branding, local and systemwide signal monitoring, signal routing, and interfacing. It provides multilevel, automated system monitoring and remote problem identification. It allows PBS to remotely monitor, over a standard Internet connection, exceptions occuring on stations in diverse geographical locations.

To meet the demand for a more engaging viewing experience, broadcasters are continually enhancing their channel branding and graphics capabilities in the master control room.

Typically, stations can use a dedicated graphics automation system, separate from the main playout automation system, to simplify the control and management of the more complex on-air graphics today's viewer expects.

Control is critical in a multichannel master control environment because operators have neither the skills nor the time to complete tasks manually. One person might manage 10 channels in a facility, so control must be both simple and contextual.

Advances in this area include Miranda's new Imagestore Intuition branding graphics generator, which allows complex multilayer graphics and animations to be controlled effectively by station automation, or via intuitive hard or soft manual control panels. This control is at the heart of effective channel branding.

Changing trends in viewer tastes, economics, automation, and presentation have led to the development of master control systems that offer today's stations more flexibility.

Richard Brice is managing director, Europe, at Miranda Technologies.