Automation at this year's NAB mirrored the evolutionary changes that are taking place in the broadcast industry. As workflows inside a television facility change in response to new emerging business plans, automation is evolving to accommodate new directions that are taking shape. Automation took on centralcasting a few years ago; now monitoring and control technology are catching up.
What was big at this show was the explosion of asset management software that now spans programs from inception to delivery to the viewer.
While geared towards the digital messaging/signage market, Leightronix's NEXUS might provide another approach to centralcasting. The NEXUS provides multichannel digital video playback and recording, digital messaging/signage, DVD/VCR machine control, and video/audio signal routing. The NEXUS operates as a standalone device and is managed via a network using provided WinNEXUS software.
Crispin showed Catch Server Acquisition, which has third-party interfaces to content delivery systems, such as FastChannel, DG Systems and Media DVX. It also has developed, and is currently testing, an interface to Pathfire. In addition, Crispin is talking to potential customers about Multi-IP, which allows personnel within a facility to take instant control over on-air operations of channels or streams. This allows one release center, whether in the same facility or at a remote location, to take over for another center.
Sundance also is offering ingest management via its Digital Delivery Management System (DDMS). DDMS integrates with PathFire and MassTech's MMB to move content from the various cache servers in a station to the transmission video server.
At Telestream, the focus was on workflow. First on the company's list was the product Launch. The software-based DNG system for Windows and Macs lets journalists drag and drop media files to a desktop icon for flipping and transmission from the field back to the station over Internet connections. Telestream also showed the Flip4Mac MXF input product. Its MXF capability allows it to take files from Sony XDCAM and eVTRs and send them to Apple's FCP Pro HD.
Media asset management
As mentioned earlier, this was the hot area in the automation arena. Harris offered its H-Class platform, which provides broadcasters and content providers a means to integrate disparate processes into a single, modular system that handles content management and delivery enterprise-wide, from creation to consumption. H-Class is geared towards serving the “audience of one” by managing the delivery of media across multiple networks, channels, formats and devices. This provides for more targeted programming and advertising possibilities. The joint automation-ingest platform solution enables customers to automatically process content for delivery in multiple formats for a range of customer devices
Blue Line Technology introduced its BlueSuite automated media management software. BlueSuite is a single software structure, and from that foundation, all applications operate as one suite of software. BlueSuite is billed as an Enterprise software package.
Crispin's NewsArchive enables a news department to store, catalog and later locate and retrieve news stories previously aired from a video server. In addition to clip storage, NewsArchive organizes and manages video content so that operators can find what they need on the fly.
Although Sundance showed Seeker last year as a media asset management application, it has been reconfigured to provide three functions in one: asset management, media management and project management. The media management portion allows you to move content between various devices, using a transcode engine if needed. The project management engine allows operators to create tasks and subtasks, assign them to individuals or groups (i.e. editors) and track their status. Users can create alerts, move the assignment of tasks to others, create workflow rules, etc. The integration of these three functions results in an extremely interesting product.
Pro-Bel's Morpheus Media Management runs behind automation to ensure all media is accounted for and ready for playback when needed. The system works with the Morpheus automation platform, allowing the media to be accounted for and present for scheduled playback. Many applications are included in order to manage playback, recording, transfer and archive.
NVERZION's Xpansion software has the power to catalog, search and retrieve massive amounts of data, which allows you to combine existing data acquisition tools, data archive equipment and search mechanisms to create a single, open system, while still being able to quickly and efficiently manage your assets locally or throughout your whole system. Xpansion software can be accessed globally using existing Internet tools such as simple search engines and Web browsers.
OmniBus demonstrated its Content Management and Workflow systems, which provide an integrated, task-based solution that it claims unlocks the value of video content. The OmniBus Content Management and Workflow systems integrate the searching, viewing and moving of video content into a desktop application.
Although Sundance's FastBreak has been around in various forms since 1994, FastBreak NXT is a complete rewrite of the interface and uses a number of components from the company's flagship Titan system. It is designed for playout control of one to four channels, while Titan is targeting at the larger channel count facilities, or for the groups who want to do distributed centralcasting.
Pro-Bel announced that the Morpheus was released at the beginning of this year. The Morpheus is scalable up from a single channel to limitless multichannel operations, with built-in flexibility and ease of use. Features include unlimited secondary event scheduling; Opt out, which allows zoned playback of commercials or other programming; and Media Ball, which is a grouping of scheduled events contained in an icon form and can be dragged into a schedule, allowing the operator to schedule an entire group of events as a single event.
At the show, Optimal Solutions Inc (OSi) highlighted its work with the 60 Sinclair stations. In the fall of 2004, the company embarked upon the largest traffic conversion in history, moving some 60 Sinclair broadcast TV stations to an integrated, centralized traffic system. With more than half of the stations already converted, the remaining 17 stations are scheduled to be completed by later this year.
The bottom line
While IT has been the foundation for the front office side of broadcasting, the technology is now becoming entrenched in the hardware playout layer as well. The delineation between software systems will continue to evolve and automation systems must be robust enough to play in an ever-changing landscape.
Jim Boston is a West Coast consultant.