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Court TV's new NOC

When Court TV was launched as a start-up operation on July 1, 1991, its original location was not built with the intention of it becoming a broadcast facility. It was essentially pieced together without the infrastructure that is essential for such facilities.

Court TV’s new master control room is the showpiece of the network’s new digital network operations center. Three 67-inch Barco Janus projection screens driven by Hydra processors assist operators in monitor the health of the facility’s systems and ensure that media shows up on playlists where it is needed. Photos courtesy George Kopp.

This included unsuitable HVAC and power. Twelve years later, the network's viewership had grown to nearly 80 million viewers, but the basic facility had remained unchanged. It was time to upgrade the entire operation. After that long on air, the original infrastructure and equipment was nearing the end of its life. The facility had to be upgraded in all aspects, from the building essentials to the technology being used. It was decided to find space in the network's existing Manhattan building for a new network operations center (NOC).

After several venue changes, the building's 20th floor was settled upon as the final location for the new NOC. The team allocated about 3200 square feet for an electrical room, a mechanical room, HVAC, a new master control room, equipment center, some network operations support space and a staff break room.

Project goals

In addition to the total redesign of the facility and an upgrade to digital technology, a fundamental goal was to achieve improved content movement and facility workflow through a digital asset management system. Such a fundamental alteration would be based upon the creation of a centralized machine room that would serve as the foundation for a networkwide technology makeover. A.F. Associates of Northvale, NJ, was brought in for guidance on the overall facility design and implementation. Concadia Solutions provided expertise for the asset management portion of the redesign.

There are significant challenges in a conversion to a digital asset management system. Operations workflow issues in this kind of environment constitute a whole new way of working technologically, and getting all hardware and software vendors to ensure compatibility is important. Even getting different companies to work together can be a challenge. In the case of the new facility, they all came through and no serious problems were encountered, due largely to an extensive advanced planning stage.

The machine room shown above contains the core infrastructure for Court TV’s network operations center, including a Thomson Grass Valley Trinix 256x256 SDI router, a Sun Microsystems V880 running AVALON, an LSI Logic spinning disk cache, and Motorola’s DigiCipher II transmission platform.

Even when logistical issues are solved, it is still a significant challenge to get internal staff to think differently about the way they work. That is a big adjustment. The jobs of operators at Court TV have changed. Instead of pushing buttons and timing segments, they are checking logs and monitoring the health of the facility's systems. They are also doing more things up front to set up processes and ensure that the media enters the system properly and shows up on playlists where it is needed.

So in order to move forward with a better looking and sounding signal, laying a digital framework was critical. Also, to move to a digital asset management system, obviously a change to digital was mandatory — beginning by converting the assets into a digital format.

One of the fruits of going digital was eliminating tapes moving about the facility. It also allowed the implementation of a system that relied much less on the human element and more on technology and software. This meant converting the facility to an entirely server-based environment supported by a digital robotic archive. The final result was a facility with high reliability and consistency.

Profile XP servers were selected for many reasons, including Court TV's positive experience with Thomson Grass Valley's line of video servers. The new facility utilizes two PVS 1026s for play to air, and one PVS 1044 for ingesting the content. Each server is equipped with 1.8TB of storage. The network encodes its material at a bit rate of 18Mb/s. The servers are driven by Sundance Fast Break Automation in a mirrored configuration backed by a digital archive.

Technical plant

The team chose a Sundance system with a high level of redundancy. The facility uses a main and backup air station for both the East and the West Coast. The List Sync backup air station receives automatic updates from the primary air station. This ensures that playlist changes are reflected on both stations without manual intervention on the backup.

Sundance also wrote a codec to allow the automation log to be pushed to the DNF 3040 controller. The 3040 drives a server port on the ingest server, providing yet another layer of redundancy and diversity.

Metadata is attached and media is encoded into a digital format at encoding stations in the facility. The encoded media is then pushed to the archive using AVALONidm software.

At the heart of the archive system is EMC's AVALONidm software running on a Sun Microsystems V880 server backed by an ADIC Scalar 10K robotic archive. The robot is equipped with 10 Sony AIT-3 tape drives. The AIT-3 tape format was chosen because its storage capacity and media costs offered an attractive combination. Sundance issues archive requests through AVALONidm to the ADIC library. The system combines the storage of on-air footage under control of the automation system, and the digital video contained in the servers. The latter material, as high-resolution files, are managed by the AVALONidm software. The V880 is directly connected to approximately 4TB of disk cache storage. Policies established within Avalon determine what media files reside on the disk cache and what files will be moved onto digital tape in the Scalar 10K.

Content files that haven't been accessed for a user-defined time period are automatically deleted from the disk cache system, while all files are saved for long-term backup on data tape. This keeps the disk cache system free for new or more frequently used files.

EMC’s AVALONidm software on a Sun Microsystems V880 server, backed by the ADIC Scalar 10K robotic archive shown above, is at the heart of the facility’s new digital asset management system.

When material is sent to the archive, the asset management software also copies a file to a Dell Power Edge running Telestream's Flip Factory. Telestream flips the files into a 1.5MB MPEG-1 file with embedded frame-accurate time code that is sent back to the array. These proxies can then be accessed across the facility's wide area network from a standard Windows or Macintosh workstation by virtue of the Avalon XDSM file system client. Concadia also provided Court TV with an asset management system for graphics assets based around Canto's Cumulus product, which provides check-in/check-out and Web publishing. The graphics elements are also stored on the spinning disk cache and in the ADIC robot.

Concadia also tied the asset management system into the editorial department to expedite the flow of station promos to air. Telestream allows editors working on an Avid Unity system to take files and post them in a hot folder. Telestream grabs those files and converts them to the Profile's GXF server format and puts them on play-to-air servers. This removes a step by allowing promos to be cut and sent straight to air without having to go through the intermediate stage of recording to tape and sending that tape to playout. The system permits going both ways, to and from the edit suites.

An Axon TX-Compliance recorder allows the sales department to record digitally in an MPEG format. Previously the network used VHS machines for recording air checks. The recorder provides 90 days of storage at 500kB. Each day's program can be segmented into small sections of user-defined length. These segments can then be viewed by time and date and even edited. When programming issues arise, the segments in question can be e-mailed to the appropriate parties.

Another goal of the NOC rebuild was to allow for truly discrete master control switching for the East and West Coasts. In the past, the West Coast was simply a three-hour delay of the East Coast feed. Ad sales requested the ability to carry discrete programming and commercials to a West Coast audience.

To help facilitate this, the team installed two Thomson Grass Valley M2100s. Evertz X1202Ss are used for backup switching. Graphics elements are derived from two Chyron Duet LEX character generators with clip player option. Other graphic elements such as bug and ratings information originate on two Leitch Logomotions. A Chyron MAX is also employed for supplying the newscrawl. For inserting the caption and XDS data, an Evertz 8084 is being used. Orban Optimod 6200s handle the audio processing.

The team decided on a centralized router with a chassis big enough to expand as needed. This would be a critical component in the next phase of the facility rebuild and it was important to size it appropriately. Court TV chose to run with embedded audio and installed a Thomson Grass Valley Trinix DV 33-256 router with an Encore control system.

The facility also employs the Motorola DigiCipher II platform for transmission compression. The primary DC II encoder is located at the new facility. A second encoder is located at the Ascent Media uplink site in Northvale, NJ. This provides separate, yet redundant processing while offering central control over both units from the NOC. The project also included the addition of the DigiCipher Event Manager for administering affiliate cue tones.

As a signature of the conversion to digital, it was decided that the master control room should be turned into a showpiece. To provide the eye candy, three 67-inch Barco Janus projection screens were installed and stitched together to appear as one large screen. The projectors are driven by three Barco Hydra processors. This allows up to 90 images of any size to be displayed at any one time. All sources can be displayed with tallies, alarms and audio metering. Forecast Consoles provided all of the furniture in master control.

Court TV has taken a huge step forward. Working with the engineering and design teams at A.F. Associates and Concadia, it has created a state-of-the art facility that meets current needs and is prepared for the network's future.

Joe Schwinghammer is vice president of engineering at Court TV.

Project team

Court TV
Joe Schwinghammer, VP, eng.
A.F. Associates
Tom Michaels, project manager
Mario Patuto, automation
Concadia Solutions
Patrick Turner, sr. system arch.

Equipment list

Thomson Grass Valley
Profile XP servers
M2100 MC switcher
Trinix DV 33-256 router
Fast Break Automation
List Sync
DNF 3040 controller
EMC AVALONidm software
Sun Microsystems V880 server
ADIC Scalar 10K robotic archive
Sony AIT-3 tape drives
Telestream's Flip Factory
Avid Unity
Axon TX-Compliance recorder
MAX! graphics system
Leitch Logomotion
Motorola DigiCipher II platform
Middle Atlantic Products equipment racks

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