Hamlet tests the digital age

Digital broadcasting has not eliminated the need for quality monitoring tools
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Hamlet's Flexiscope

The migration to digital has brought about a complete change in the broadcast world. Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in engineering, which as a career has changed beyond all recognition.

An all-analog system, needing a routine alignment for each piece of equipment and constant monitoring of levels, called for a team of engineers and technical supervision of all but the simplest of operations. Digital technology has brought a degree of stability to the equipment and eliminated this tedious supervision. The result is a need for fewer engineers, allowing those that remain to be mobile around the facility, focused on preventive maintenance and path checking, and able to respond to arising problems.

Yet, digital broadcasting has not eliminated the need for quality monitoring tools; it has simply changed the way they are used.

Signal levels are still an issue. It seems that every piece of equipment nowadays has a built-in color corrector, for instance, an open invitation to the inexperienced to create out-of-gamut signals. And digital equipment can still generate faults, meaning the signal path needs to be traced.

Whether it is digital or analog, the facility has to deliver a clean, accurate signal with the right audio and video levels. This requires checking everything with precision test and measurement equipment. For mobile engineers in digital facilities, portable devices that don't sacrifice quality can be used.

An analogy can be made to the PDA. The platform is a palmtop device, completely self-sufficient in itself, but capable of linking to a PC to download data and take on the latest software. Ultimately, it will be capable of providing the complete range of test and measurement functionality simply by adding the appropriate connection modules and loading the right software.

Hamlet's Flexiscope is a multiformat waveform monitor, vectorscope and picture monitor, with facilities for embedded audio. It is capable of working in HD as well as SD.

The monitor looks like a slightly oversized PDA. It has a 3.5-inch diagonal TFT screen at the top, a set of soft keys below and a keyboard at the bottom. A speaker and headphone socket are provided for audio confidence monitoring. The TFT display shows the picture in correct (4:3 or 16:9) aspect ratio.

The display can show SD or HD waveform displays or vectorscope, audio bar graphs (with digital, PPM, VU, nordic scales and simulated ballistics), and phase display. Data analysis also is included for digital streams, including EDH, stuck bit and color gamut. Digital cursors are provided for accurate timing and level measurements. Internal processing is digital for maximum stability and accuracy.

To meet the portability requirement, the device is battery powered, running for more than two hours on a charge. A power adaptor is supplied for use in a fixed location.

The system is built around a custom chipset, designed solely with the purpose of audio and video test and measurement in mind. The launch model of the Flexiscope will meet the most common needs of the engineer in the digital facility and is provided with a single BNC input for SDI or HD SDI with embedded audio.

Future Flexiscope products will have multiple inputs, analog inputs or be audio-only devices. Should new formats that require real-time monitoring come along, these can be added.

The digital revolution has changed the way engineers work, but certainly not eliminated the need for careful quality control. Test and measurement manufacturers need to react to this change with products that are stable and accurate, but portable to reflect the new engineering workflow; simple to use without compromising precision; and, above all, cost-effective.

The Hamlet Flexiscope is a new platform with plenty of room to grow with new applications as they become needed.

Steve Nunney is managing director for Hamlet Video International.