New networked graphics system for Bayerischer Rundfunk

BR chose the Chyron Duet LEX systems after a long evaluation, carried out by BR on behalf of the ARD group of broadcasters
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Chyron’s Duet LEX system includes a Windows 2000 operating system, graphics creation tools, Lyric 2-D/3-D CG animation with 500 True Type fonts and the standard CAL API for automated data-driven applications.

As the German state broadcaster for the Bavaria region, Bayerischer Rund-funk (BR) was the first member of the ARD network to take delivery of more than 20 new character generator systems. These were destined to replace the existing graphics facilities across the entire gamut of operations at BR and were introduced in record time.

BR chose the Chyron Duet LEX systems after a long evaluation, carried out by BR on behalf of the ARD group of broadcasters. The ARD encompasses 16 companies, mostly the regional state broadcasters, but also some specialized channels such as a children's channel and the international Duetsche Welle Television.

Training

The broadcaster's graphic design department produces a variety of programs, including news and sport, from a mixture of studio and OB facilities plus a large post-production operation based on a new installation of Avid NLE systems. The department had to handle a complete changeover from the existing systems to the new platform in a short timeframe.

Training was organized to suit the job functions. The graphic designers are responsible for the creation of all the templates and the overall design for the graphics. The operators, on the other hand, need to know how to recall these designs, how to update and edit the content and playout animations to air. And, of course, they need to know how to respond in an emergency situation.

Therefore, two training programs were run. The first was for the designers, who were able to learn the principles of building animations and designs using the Chyron Lyric design software. This extensive 2-D and 3-D application, of course, opened up new possibilities for creating designs than previously available. This in itself was a learning curve and involved educating people in the creative departments about the possibilities offered by the new technologies being employed.

Once this basic training was under way and the new style templates were being created, the emphasis moved to the operational people, who needed to drive the units live on-air. The task here was greater because of the step change between the old and new CGs. The biggest change was the use of Windows as the operating system and the much greater use of industry-standard tools and techniques that comes with the adoption of open architecture systems.

One crucial step along this path was the creation of the rules for the central graphics server. This was a completely new concept for the graphics facility as previously all material was physically transferred using removable media. The creation of the server hierarchy and the conventions for directory and file-naming needed careful thought and planning. Also, many staff members had never been exposed to the concept of networked-based central storage of content.

Deployment

However, the flexibility this gave the graphics function was enormous as new design work could be created whilst the studio was actually being used, with the finished project being placed on the server and pulled down into the studio machine. In addition, the folder-based structure allowed user notes to be added by the designer to be viewed by the operator.

After operator training had started, they chose suitable locations for the first use of the new systems on-air. BR operates from a main studio complex on the outskirts of Munich and also from smaller satellite studios plus a fleet of OB trucks. The first use was a live broadcast from an OB at the world-famous Oktoberfest in the center of Munich, barely four months from when the contract was placed with Chyron.

Following this, the satellite studios were brought online with operators able to hone their skills on essentially news-based programming which, from the graphics perspective, is more structured and template-based.

Software-based graphics

The final task of bringing systems online in the main studio centre was carried out in a relatively short time-span, and all studios were converted and ready for use for all programming. This, of course, demanded that the graphic designers were able to create the templates and that all strands of programming were covered.

In parallel to the introduction of live-to-air CGs, there was a similar deployment of software-based graphics software. BR had recently built a new post-production centre using the latest Avid NLE technology. The editors used the Lyric for Avid CG tool, an Avid plug-in compliant with the AVX (Avid Visual Extensions) API. More than 50 seats of this were delivered, giving every Avid system full titling and graphics capabilities. Before this new installation, graphics were created remotely and recorded to videotape as a separate alpha and fill recording.

The AVX plug-in architecture has several operational advantages. The entire details about the graphics, including the animation key frames, any fonts and images used, etc., all are stored as part of the project. This enables editing of programs to be moved between suites whilst ensuring that all the assets are available at any time.

Windows operating system

The graphics plug-in is a fully featured version of the online software, so an editor is at any time able to modify any aspect of a graphic or animation. In this respect, the need to train the editors in the use of Lyric was similar to the requirement to train operators of the online CGs. The editors will generally be recalling templates created in the graphic design department and populating data, but they may equally well be required to create simple designs themselves, or modify parameters to suit the program content.

The fact that this new family of CGs used conventional PC architecture and deployed the Windows XP operating system meant that several new conventions needed to be addressed for their installation. First, security was paramount. All the systems are installed on a private isolated network that is inaccessible from the outside world. Second, the regular playback machines have extra security preventing operators from accessing the C: drive. This removes the risk of any inadvertent modifications to the system set-up and removes the temptation to ‘tinker’ with the configuration. Finally, all users are briefed to only use the machine as a CG, despite the fact that it could be used for a variety of other applications.

The graphic design department, of course, needs a different set of rules as this is where the CG world meets the wider graphics creation environment that consists of Photoshop, After-Effects and other myriad sources of content. Here tight rules are needed to preserve security, but the open platform capabilities of the CG mean that all the tools available to the designer can be tightly integrated with the CG software. This presented a completely new set of opportunities and for the first time, all the graphic artists had access to advanced tools on their own desktop.

David Ward is general manager, EAME, for Chyron.