The broadcast industry is undergoing a technological change. Digitization, IT methods and the Internet are transforming television creation and distribution. In particular, the use of desktop computers will fundamentally change television graphics production. The modern desktop computer now is able to manipulate any aspect of real-time audio-visual content easily. Based on industry standard hardware, these computers provide benefits in performance, flexibility and cost-effectiveness when combined with a broadcast graphics studio. Support for media processing within the Microsoft Windows XP operating system likewise will increase mainstream media integration.
Inscriber’s Inca Studio and Inca CG can integrate with media file formats such as DV, MPEG-2, Windows Media, Flash and Power Point.
This change marks the beginning of a new era of incredibly powerful, yet highly cost-effective graphics systems for broadcasters. The need for many multilayer CGs, clip stores, DVEs, mixer effects or 2-D/3-D graphics systems will be eliminated as a single 2RU box with SDI I/O can do it all. The rich graphics seen during the Super Bowl, World Cup, Olympics or Academy Awards will become commonplace on even the lowest-cost systems. These changes will occur quickly and will provide tremendous cost and creative benefits to broadcasters.
Meeting the future head-on
Inca CG and Inca Studio, the first products in Inscriber’s new Inca line, are intended to meet the demands of this emerging trend. Inca represents a completely software-centric approach to managing video and graphics. Rather than routing video signals through a graphics system to other components in a compositing chain, the system completely replaces those components with software equivalents. Acting much like a real-time nonlinear editor, its architecture also can assemble and combine elements such as audio, video clips, matte channels, effects, graphics, text and animations.
The software architecture uses a Pentium Xeon CPU and an ATI Radeon or nVidia GEForce graphics processing unit. Inscriber also has developed a suite of PCI-boards to handle multichannel SDI (SMPTE 259M) I/O within a standard Intel-based PC. The Inca PCI-100 is suited toward 1RU or 2RU configurations, while the more powerful Inca PCI-1000 is suited to a 4RU configuration.
Both boards are autonomous of fluctuating technological changes. They do not embed a graphics processor at the board level. Rather, they use the high-speed bus interconnects available in the system to deliver the same benefit. This allows the systems to remain independent of the rapid advances in either motherboard, PCI-X, AGP or PCI-Express board graphics.
Processing logic is executed as software on the motherboard CPU, as opposed to being embedded in hardware FPGAs. Three-D graphics, formerly requiring hardware to support higher bandwidth and quality, are now rendered full-resolution on consumer-grade cards at broadcast-quality frame rates. Audio streams are processed alongside video with low-level synchronization between playout and triggering/control.
The main software engine behind the display dexterity is a frame-accurate mixer/compositer and filter graph. Together they allow the combined playout of multiple elements such as stills, rolls, crawls, clips, animations, masks and transition effects. The filter graph defines the layering, priority and transitions between 2-D or 3-D objects. The mixer/compositor analyzes each field (frame) of the graph and renders the fields (frames) for full-resolution output in real time.
The system handles video as a dynamic graphic object. Real-time clip-to-clip transitions are achieved seamlessly. A clip can reside on any layer of the rich multilayer environment, and multiple clips can be active at any given time. Real-time organic dissolves can be achieved without a switcher or NLE. Any image can be used as a matte to create custom transition effects. Page-formatted rolls and crawls allow for quicker, easier creation, edits and navigation. Playlist pages become pages of the roll or crawl, with all formatting maintained.
With a traditional CG, this level of effects is achieved by combining graphic and video inputs into a production mixer with the compound effect arranged by GPIs to trigger other devices simultaneously. These effects are realized in one box, on a single channel output, freeing switcher rails and reducing the complexity of production room setups.
Inca RTX, a recent addition to the growing product line, combines diverse graphic and effects functionality with a programmable user interface. Its direct interface with video hardware and integrated data sources makes it an ideal solution for the real-time broadcasting of dynamic data in sports, weather and news.
As modern graphics systems now combine numerous elements of visual media, the lines between CGs, still-stores, clip-stores, DDRs, DVEs and vision mixers have blurred. Graphic systems that combine all these components will become the standard, while the effects made possible by these systems will determine the future look of TV graphics.
Dan Mance is the president of Inscriber.