New York Network's broadcast center

A New York Network’s (NYN) new all-digital broadcast center, owned by the State University of New York (SUNY), serves the Empire State’s educational institutions and government agencies, as well as private-sector clients.

New York Network’s new broadcast center includes space for three studios – one of which is used three days a week by the New York State Assembly’s talk show productions.

The new facility, with a total contract value of $10.6 million, features multiformat (HD/SD) production switchers, video routers and cameras, as well as full HD connectivity, to provide a simple upgrade path to high definition. The facility was built by Sony Electronics’ Systems Integration Center (SIC).

When the network was established in 1967, its mission initially was to serve was to serve New York state’s nine public television stations. When PBS changed to satellite distribution for its stations in 1978, NYN re-examined its purpose. Gradually it evolved into an interconnect for all 64 SUNY campuses — the State University Satellite Network (SUNYSAT).

A need for greater re-invention occurred just after 2000 when it became clear the network would have to move out of the capitol’s Alfred E. Smith building, which was scheduled to undergo renovation. The relocation gave the network an opportunity to design a new facility from the ground up.

The network’s new space features generously high ceilings, and its location inside the concourse of Albany’s Empire State Plaza — a retail and government office complex — allows the network’s many anchors and interviewees easy access to subjects and sources. NYN now includes three studios, three control rooms, master control, two nonlinear edit suites, an announcer’s booth, offices and support space, satellite uplinks, and field production facilities.

Studio A and B are each 30 feet by 30 feet and can also be operated as a single 30-foot by 60-foot studio. A moveable wall insulates each studio from the other’s sound. Studio A contains a set for standard talk shows, news programs and conferences. Studio B is a general-purpose space, often used for talking-head productions. There is also a smaller 20x20 studio, which is occupied three days a week by the New York State Assembly’s talk show productions, which are distributed via cable throughout the state.

The broadcast center is equipped with seven Sony HDC-950 high-definition studio cameras — which were selected in anticipation of the network’s eventual conversion to full HD operation. Five are located in Studios A and B and two are placed in the smaller studio. At present, their HD signal, visible only on the viewfinders and a handful of HD monitors around the facility, is being converted to SD before being passed through the plant. The plant itself can handle 1.5Gb/s, so the upgrade path to HD is clear.

The facility also has two BVW-790W ENG cameras for use in the field. The studio configurations are soft, allowing deployment of the studio cameras in the field as well.

In addition to cameras, Sony also provided decks, monitors, linear editing gear, audio gear, boards, switchers and a slew of back-room equipment. The facility’s house videocassette standard is Digital Betacam, and the facility is equipped with 13 DVW-A500 VTRs.

The broadcast center runs nine channels. They include a 24-hour cable channel available to one million households statewide via Time Warner Cable; an occasional channel for videoconferences; a channel dedicated to the New York State Lottery, whose official drawings are broadcast in every market in the state four times a day; and a channel reserved for another 24-hour customer, soon to be announced. In addition, six other channels are dedicated to New York state off-track betting, carrying images from racetracks across the state to betting parlors. These channels originate from a nearby uplink facility, where they are co-located with receivers and decoders. (The network is running an older MPEG-2 digital compression system for the uplink but is in the market for an upgrade.)

A New York Network engineer works at the Sony MVS-8000 multiformat switcher with integrated digital multi-effects.

In the master control room there are six simultaneous playout streams. Three of these are allocated to channels 1, 2 and 3. The fourth is redundant protection channel for Channel 1. The fifth is used by the ingest operator (e.g., someone filing a tape into the server), and the sixth is used by master control as a utility review channel (e.g., to check incoming spots). The number of playout channels can be increased with the addition of decoder boards.

There are five record channels. One is allocated to the media ingest operator and the others are available for scheduling as needed — for example, to record a satellite feed. The number of record channels can be increased with the addition of encoder boards. Two Pinnacle MediaStream 900 shared-storage devices are configured for up to 150 hours of storage at 8Mb/s with four channels of audio per stream. This capacity can be increased with the addition of more RAID storage.

Video ingested into the server but not required for playout within a certain time window is automatically transferred to archive storage, which consists of an ASACA “jukebox” containing 750 DVD drives, each of which can hold approximately 9.4GB of data — for a total of 4TB or 2000 hours of material. Harris Automation manages this transfer.

It also controls all aspects of the transmission of program channels. Once program schedules are entered into the automation software, the system first checks that the requested video item is available on the server. If it is not, it attempts to transfer the video from archive storage. If archive storage does not contain the scheduled item, an alarm will appear on a screen in master control and also in the traffic office, allowing the operator time to address the problem.

At the scheduled time, the automation system will set the appropriate router crosspoints, execute the defined video transition by controlling Miranda master control switchers, and start the server playing the scheduled program. Automation also controls the tuning of three satellite receivers and a dish controller, allowing the scheduling and automatic recording of satellite feeds.

Karl Diehl, NY network producer/director, at the controls of one of two identical Avid Composer suites at NYN.

Operators in master control can oversee the entire operation via computer screens, a monitor wall and quality-control stations, making sure the program is correct and the video and audio parameters are to spec. In the event of a scheduling error, an equipment failure, or a live program being over or under its scheduled run time, operators can make adjustments or, if necessary, take manual control of any part of the system.

The center’s routing comprises gear including a PESA Tiger and a Sony HDSX 5800 router. The associated audio router is a PESA TDM-3000. Control room equipment includes a Pinnacle Deko character generator, a Graham-Patten 8000 edit mixer, a Yahama console, a BKE-9400A linear editor and three DMX-R100 audio mixers.

The facility also includes three MVS-8000 multiformat switchers with integrated digital multi-effects, 264 monitors, (including seven BVM-D20F1U evaluation monitors), and systems from Avid, Evertz, Fujinon, Leitch and Vinten. About 110 miles of cable ties it all together. A Clear-Com intercom system is used throughout the facility, with 20 WRT-822 wireless mics and 40 EMC-77BC lavalier mics.

NYN is not a terrestrial broadcaster. All its transmissions are via satellite or fiber. An Ipitek HBR-2500 OC-48 optical digital transport system connects the New York State Plaza production operations to the network’s Ku band uplink facility six miles away. Satellite feeds for recording and for monitoring the transmissions are sent back from the same facility. Two fully redundant fiber paths are used; they incorporate an automated self-healing system. In addition, DS3 lines, provided by Verizon and Worldcom/MCI, allow a 45Mb/s datastream connection to NY-1, the cable news channel in New York City, which provides cross-connects to all major media.

No major hardware problems resulted from the broadcast center’s installation and construction. Some software bugs emerged as a result of the system’s complexity, but these were resolved within a few months.

The network receives an annual appropriation from New York state of nearly $600,000. Its mandate is to generate about $3.4 million in revenue each year in order to meet its operating budget of almost $4 million. So far, the network has accomplished that goal. Its major customers include the New York State Lottery and the state’s off-track betting organization. Other public-sector clients include SUNY and the state Office of Children and Family Services. Private-sector clients include Albany area broadcasters and Time Warner Cable.

The RFP for building the broadcast center was written to ensure that the standard-def facility would have an easy upgrade path to HD. In a sense, NYN today is a standard-definition implementation of an HD plant, so that when the switch is made, no forklifts will be required.

William F. Snyder is executive director of New York Network.