Field Report: Quartz's Q256 router at CHUM Television

CHUM Television, a Canadian media company and content provider, recently acquired licenses to add five new national specialty channels to its lineup, which already includes popular offerings such as Citytv, MuchMusic, Bravo, Space, Star, MuchMoreMusic and CP24.

The new channels were to be integrated into the CHUMCity building in Toronto and would increase the total complement of channels to 12. As a result, CHUM found itself with multiple analog facilities and several digital facilities. A decision was made to upgrade the existing master control rooms and streamline the overall operation.

In re-architecting, CHUM had two main goals – put all its services under automation and run everything from a new digital master control suite. In that way, the station could streamline management and eliminate the analog switchers on flagship channels like Citytv. This would enable CHUM to finally put the channels under automation and give them a richer on-air look with more graphic capability and more sophisticated pushbacks. This look was difficult to achieve with the aging analog systems. Lastly, CHUM planned to move all commercial and interstitial content to servers under automation.

The target was to be able to deliver a dozen digital channels from the CHUMCity building in Toronto, with capacity to support up to twenty independent services. This led to the need for a new router. We looked at 256x256 serial digital routers at NAB2001. This would evolve into our main router handling all services originating from Toronto. Knowing that high definition was on our horizon, we primarily looked at routers with that capability. It turns out, however, that in most cases you pay a premium to get that capability.

The reality was that most of our channels were SD and would remain SD. I started looking at large SD-only routers and was introduced to Quartz Electronics by their Canadian vendor, Major Tech. Consequently, I ordered a 256x256 SDI router along with a 128x32 analog router and 64-port data router. This switching system will form the core of our combined master control rooms.

The Quartz Q256 SDI router delivers large-scale 256x256 routing capabilities in a single compact 16RU frame, and is field-expandable to 1024x1024 by combining additional router frames. The router easily upgrades via interchangeable I/O cards to provide support for high definition broadcast.

One of my primary concerns was reliability. Quartz’s router features the full redundancy of critical controllers and power supplies one expects in a mission-critical system. Built-in monitoring and diagnostic features help to ensure performance. In addition, the design of the router facilitates easy maintenance and recovery.

CHUM had specific interfacing requirements for the router. The initial application was based on the five new channels. They were to originate from a common master control room. The Q256 interfaces directly with the Grass Valley 2100 master control switchers we had already purchased, enabling us to easily feed an array of sources into the 2100. Accompanying the Q256 are two Quartz SC1000 system controllers – the brains behind the box. The Q256 is a small box, so you get many cables in a tight space.

I have had many products come into our building that simply do not work the way they are promoted and turn out to be very disappointing. I can probably count on my fingers the number of products that have been 99 percent satisfactory right out of the box. Our Quartz router is one of them.

Bruce Cowan is director of broadcast technology for CHUM Television.