The transition to digital television and the emergence of high-definition television (HDTV) has created a new and increasingly difficult landscape for broadcasters to navigate. Changing production requirements and challenges have necessitated a new way of approaching traditional broadcast-related tasks. Further, facilities must find a way to bridge the gap between traditional broadcast operations and new revenue-generating models within the DTV environment.
Figure 1. VMC servers are software-based client stations that can be networked throughout a facility for access by as many as six concurrent clients and can be supported and connected with up to six servers at any one time.
This is especially critical for small- to medium-market facilities, which must make significant investments in order to comply with the digital mandate being imposed upon them, while simultaneously staving off competition from cable and direct satellite technologies. One solution for stations in these markets is to implement an aggregation solution that allows them to continue their digital transition, as well as reducing operating costs by increasing the efficiency in the master control environment. An example of this type of solution is the Visual Monitoring and Control (VMC) system, developed by Doyle Technology Consultants in cooperation with NVISION, Sundance Digital and Dolby Laboratories.
The system uses software to integrate the monitoring and control of cross-vendor and functional hardware systems, and targets broadcasters that have been trying to figure out what to do in both the transition and eventual business of DTV. By making their operating environments more efficient and ultimately more productive, it is essentially an enabling tool that facilities can use to examine new and different ways of operating through the transition to a DTV multi-services business model.
The software essentially functions as an extension of the roles that system integrators have traditionally played in a broadcast facility, designing signal systems through the managing of connections between individual pieces of equipment, with the goal of making an environment operator-friendly. In VMC’s development, computer networking technology is used in place of dedicated cable connections to enhance the system’s operation and conform to a client’s business model. As such, the system can be viewed as a collection, display and control point of parameters in the signal management chain.
The technology components of the solution, introduced at this year’s NAB, include an integrated signal management and master control engine built around NVISION’s Pick Hit award-winning NV5128-MC master control/multiformat routing switcher, which features 128 system inputs, as well as mixing, keying and voice-over capabilities; built-in squeezeback; and a logo store.
Sundance Digital’s Titan automation system, which is designed for multichannel, server-based broadcast facilities, can support several business models including datacasting, time shifting and cooperative plants such as duopolies, as well as those needing to centrally automate operations across widely dispersed locations.
Finally, a comprehensive visual monitor and control system allows operators to fully monitor the entire operation on a single screen. The system, which is fully server-based, allows operators to visually monitor branding operations while simultaneously maintaining override control, monitoring upcoming automated events, monitoring and managing AC3 audio encoder settings, and displaying program service information in human readable form.
In other words, it gives operations the tools that allow them to be creative in how they run their businesses. As the broadcaster moves closer toward a DTV multi-services operation, master control environments will be required to monitor and control a diverse collection of automated systems. Traditionally, this has meant a dedicated data display for each system: one display for an automation channel, a control panel for master control, one for error monitoring and so on. In this case, operators find themselves dividing their attention between displays, and acting more as a “firefighter” when a system sounds an alarm. To reduce the clutter for the control operator, KVM switches have been used by some solutions to bring each system to a single display one at a time.
Instead of trying to use KVM switches, which potentially can cause operators to get confused as to which screen they’re on, the control and monitoring system actually aggregates all the data and information onto one screen. It interfaces to each piece of operational equipment and converts information into a format that then can be passed to clients. They can then log on and access information from any place in the facility, or even remotely.
VMC, as a system, allows the control room environment to be more operator-friendly, in that operators now only have to go to one point to get their information, rather than view several screens to find out what’s happening. It enhances the ability of a single operator to manage several service streams.
Each system server can also service multiple clients. The software-based client stations can be networked throughout a facility, allowing a client to actively monitor and control the on-air channel it logs onto. Each channel has its own server, supporting up to six concurrent clients, and a client can connect with up to six servers at any one time. (See Figure 1)
It’s as much a way to delegate information as it is a client-server configuration. It also helps distribute the workload among several people and aids a facility in managing its personnel. For example, if a master control operator calls in sick for a day, another operator or the chief engineer can easily fill in by connecting to the system through a LAN, logging on as a client, and monitoring operations from their desk or even from home.
The business and operations of broadcasting are changing, from the present simple management of signal flow, to the management of information delivery in data formats. The tried-and-true methods employed in monitoring an NTSC transmission, mainly percent of modulation, will need to be augmented with the monitoring of the used and available data space in the ATSC transmission. The VMC system, with its software architecture, provides the means for the broadcast facility to evolve as required to meet monitoring and control needs for the new business models of DTV.
John E. Hartwell is chief technology officer at Doyle Technology Consultants.