BBC Broadcast's Digital Production Village

When fully operational, the new center will house the playout, channel management and creative teams for all BBC channels.
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Shown here is one of the Christie Digital rear-projection displays in the engineering control area.

BBC Broadcast’s massive new Broadcast Centre is sited adjacent to the BBC’s White City building in West London. The center is part of the neutrally branded Media Village, which officially opens this month. The broadcast center’s five floors provide a total working area of 270,000 square meters. When fully operational, it will house the playout, channel management and creative teams for all BBC channels, as well as other UK commercial and international broadcasters.

Designed as a combination of themed meeting rooms and open-plan environment, the broadcast center is a different model from Television Centre, which dates from the 1950s. BBC Broadcast employs about 1000 people, who are housed on the first three floors of the building. The floors above are available for other broadcasters to co-locate in the broadcast center.

The broadcast center is at the heart of BBC Broadcast’s vision to lead a major shift in broadcast media management from the traditional tape-based formats to digital media, transforming its capability to playout, present, manage and repurpose rich media content for any platform and any broadcaster. BBC Broadcast is part of BBC Ventures Group, the BBC’s commercial media services business comprising BBC Resources, BBC Broadcast and BBC Vecta. BBC Ventures Group is wholly owned by the BBC and is charged with the task of maximizing income for investment in programs and services.

ATG Broadcast was selected to design and build a fully Digital Production Village within the new broadcast center. The village is equipped and configured to enable creative staff to create trails and interstitial material quickly and cost-effectively. The Digital Production Village went online in January and is now fully operational. It consists of 35 browse stations, six self-operating edit suites, six craft edit suites, a captioning suite, two audio dubbing suites and two voice-over booths.

Ingest

In phase 1 of the installation, ingest stations located around the building use OmniBus ingest clients to digitize all required media into multiple Quantel sQServers. 50Mb/s MPEG-2 and 1.5Mb/s MPEG-1 copies are created in parallel. The proxy copies of the digitized content are then accessible from the QCut browse stations, where projects can be completed to a simple level. Complex editing or finishing of simple projects can be achieved in 12 edit suites — six are designated self-op suites for straightforward work, and six craft suites are available for complex edits. Finished video edits are exported to the audio dubbing suites for final track laying as AAF audio files together with Quicktime video proxies. Gallery Virtual VTRs controlled from AMS Neve AudioFiles provide proxy replay in the audio suites.

Phase 2 sees the introduction of a large central storage system (CSS). OmniBus clients will then ingest media from Sony Flexicarts and stand-alone VTRs into an Omneon server system. Files will be transferred into an SGI Origin online store, and then be available via gateway interfaces to the Quantel production environment.

Pre-editing

The 35 Quantel PC-based workstations enable editors to perform rapid access with the ability to view, log, choose and edit stored material. Video, audio and metadata can be drag-and-drop edited with a pen and tablet into a practically complete production, with multiple users accessing the same media and without waiting for tape shuttling. 150 creative staff were trained to operate the equipment during summer/autumn 2003 using a test-bed system installed at Television Centre to mimic the final workflow.

Once processed, the material is completed in a craft suite if necessary, finalizing audio mixes or completing any additional graphics that might be required.

The edit stations are housed on two floors of the building in an open-plan environment, with creative staff using either headphones or standard PC speakers to review material.

Craft editing

Twelve craft edit suites on two floors of the Broadcast Centre are equipped with QEdit Pro nonlinear editing systems, which provide color grading, keying and speed ramps, grading and blurs, enabling the elements of the promo to be given a coherent style.

The craft edit suites carry out basic audio track-laying; the final video edit and rough-cut audio edit is then passed to the audio suites for final mix-down. Two audio suites are being equipped as part of the Edit Village. Currently material is transferred using Digi-beta, but the next stage of the project will see file exports from Quantel in AAF format being picked up over Gigabit Ethernet by the audio editors

QScribe workstations are used for captioning, accessing a library of regularly-used graphic components. Work is under way to automate this process, which will enable multiple versions of trails such as “tonight,” “next week” and “tomorrow” to be created as a background task.

Audio

Each of the two audio suites is equipped with a voice-over booth, Audiofile and Libra sound desk. Material is shared between suites using the AMS Neve StarNet networking system. The Edit Village works in stereo, Dolby 5.1 and, if necessary, multi-language. Requirements for different versions, their duration, on-air time, logos, etc., travel with each project as metadata.

Central storage

In the initial phase of implementation, D10 format files created using Omneon video servers under OmniBus control will be transferred to a 50TB SGI online store from where they can be accessed by the Digital Production Village. A 200TB ADIC Scalar 10K archive library controlled by Front Porch Digital’s DIVArchive hierarchical storage manager allows files to be archived either as a manual process or according to archive rules set within DIVArchive. It will be possible to archive files from multiple playout servers to the library, enabling programs requiring repeat broadcasts to be ingested once only.

The central disk array is a high-availability, high-bandwidth SGI RAID system with a rugged operating system. It is designed to support hundreds of software clients that will be attached to review material and access material to create subtitle and audio description files. Other services such as transcoding, aspect-ratio conversion and making multiple copies for different delivery platforms will also be supported. The current size of the online store is 50TB, and it is capable of expansion to 200TB in the future. It is a generic IT store that can store anything from text up to uncompressed HD. It allows online access to nine weeks of material, with material transferred to the ADIC archive device either manually or using rules set within the DIVArchive HSM software.

The future

Future phases of the storage project will introduce other services hosted by the SGI disk array, including automatic transcoding, aspect ratio conversion and delivery of content to a variety of platforms. Browse copies will be created and accessed via multiple PCs and decoders connected to the SGI disk array. They will be used for the review of programs, the creation of subtitle files and other ancillary services. It is planned to enable each of the company’s national centers to initiate file transfers of programs to be broadcast in their areas, giving enhanced flexibility to their schedules.

Asset management tools will be introduced later in the year to streamline the many concurrent processes that will be needed.

The Production Village and central storage system represent a significant investment by BBC Broadcast in the future of tapeless broadcasting. The architecture selected, commissioned and system integrated by ATG will enable definable savings to be made, both in program promotion budgets and in manpower efficiencies. These savings should be of great assistance to BBC Broadcast as it markets its services to other broadcasters, enabling extremely cost-effective promotion and transmission packages to be offered.

Alan Pimm is the sales director of ATG Broadcast.