New York’s Network

As the recent relocation of New York Network (NYN), the official network of New York State, proves, sometimes adversity comes out of prosperity.

Forced to move out of the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building—its home since 1967, the Albany-based New York Network found new digs close by in the Empire State Plaza. The move into the 15,000-square-foot space took a full three years to complete, but today, NYN is reaping the benefits of a $10.6 million investment, replete with the latest in broadcast and videoconferencing gear.

Task Masters

To say NYN is multi-functional would not do justice to the variety of in-studio and remote productions managed by its 30 full-time employees (20 in residence at the network’s studio facility and the others working at the satellite uplink and the New York Lottery studio). NYN operates a 24/7 educational channel that is carried by a number of cable systems statewide on one of its access channels (NYN reaches about 1 million households). On three other channels, NYN provides videoconferences, “back haul,” and closed-circuit work, most notably the four-times-daily official drawing of the New York Lottery, which is broadcast by a commercial TV station in each market.
NYN also provides five channels of video from various racetracks nationwide everyday to the consortia of upstate New York Off Track Betting (OTB) corporations. The network is distributed via the state-run SUNYSAT system on KU-band satellite and cable television, and also goes out to all 64 of the State University of New York campuses, of which NYN is a part. Additionally, NYN is also hardwired into the New York 1 news channel.

On average, NYN’s facility produces about six to eight hours of original programs each week, mostly live videoconferences. Other projects include event coverage, government and education programs, and PSAs. On the transmission side, the educational channel provides 168 hours of programming per week, while OTB offers 84 hours per week.

According to Bill Snyder, executive director of NYN, finding an ideal relocation site was all in the timing. “We were in the right place at the right time for some prime real estate,” he said. “We were looking around for something that had a high ceiling because the studio spaces needed something that was higher than the usual eight or nine feet. The concourse of the Empire State Plaza really is the only space around here, and lo and behold, the OGS Computer Center had been turned down and relocated. So we snatched it up.”

When deciding on the technology, Snyder and staff had the future in mind. “The RFP that we developed for the technical facility tried to look into the technological crystal ball and put us at a place where we wouldn’t have to be replacing things a couple years down the road,” Snyder said. “We wanted to look out as far as we could without dealing with vaporware or wild sales claims.”

To this end, NYN called on Sony Systems Integration (which Sony recently agreed to sell to A.F. Associates) to install an SD system with the capacity for an HD upgrade at a later time. At the heart of NYN’s infrastructure are a variety of PESA routing switchers, including a Tiger 192x128 analog video router framed for 288x144, two TDM3000 large-scale time division multiplex audio routers (224x256 AES with two embedded audio channels and 224x144 analog stereo audio), a Cougar 64x32 mono audio router for timecode, and a protocol translator for Sony S-BUS. One of the more interesting things about the audio routing is that an analog input may be sent to a digital output, and visa-versa, without the need for external format conversion.

NYN’s equipment compliment also includes seven Sony HDW950 HD cameras and corresponding Fujinon HA17x7.8ERM ENG-style HD lenses, which offer digital control of zoom, focus, and iris functions with Fujinon’s Digi Power features. Studio cameras also sport QTV LCD prompters.

“We wanted to be able to upgrade to high definition from standard definition without a forklift,” Snyder noted. “And that was sort of our mantra: HD-capable, SD implementation.

“We can look at an HD image on the cameras. We put HD monitors on the cameras because they were not too expensive. And we have a couple of HD monitors in the quality control area. But we could not justify the significant additional expense for HD at a time when there isn’t a standard. So we settled on SD.”

The reality of HD is imminent, however, and NYN is prepared for the evolution of the technology. “At some point, to be at a contemporary broadcast standard, we’ll have to go to HD, but it will be as the result of a demand from the field,” said Snyder. “For example, if you’re going to do a medical program and will show certain procedures, we would expect to get an HD image where we could see all the detail. And we’re all set for it. The plugs are ready—we’ll just lift the switcher and pull out the SD cards and put the HD cards in. It’s a non-forklift upgrade.”

According to Adam Salkin, staff engineer at Sony Systems Integration and senior engineer for the NYN project, a major challenge lay in the requirement that the system be multi-format HD/SD, but the total system couldn’t cost more than an all-SD system. “Some of the major components such as the [Sony] MVS-8000 switcher and [Sony] HDS-X5800 router are multi-format, but many others are not,” he explained. “In some cases we fed both an HD and an SD version of the signal to the router, which could then switch between them. In other places we installed SD-only equipment, but designed for HD so that a future upgrade would be simple and fairly inexpensive.”

Additionally, NYN specified that resources should be generally available to all the production or transmission spaces. “We have multiple digital Betacam tape recorders, a DVCAM, standard Beta SP for our archives,” Snyder said. “All of these resources can be routed to any control room or any edit suite without physically moving stuff around. It’s all handled through the way the system is wired up here.”

Digital Digs

The new facility, which was completed in the spring of 2003, includes three digital studios: two 30- x 30-foot rooms separated by a removable soundproof wall and a smaller “Armageddon” room, designed for emergency use. Each studio is equipped with its own digital control rooms.

“There was a pretty significant learning curve for our folks on staff here to transition from the old analog world of pushing buttons to the digital world, where they’re working on a keyboard or a mouse,” Snyder said. “We were fortunate to have mostly young staff, and they made the transition pretty easily.”

Each of NYN’s three studios is equipped with an ETC lighting control system with instruments provided through Barbizon. The two large studios were designed by George Allison, who has also designed sets for ABC News. Rita Kogler of The Lighting Design Group consulted on the instrument package and designed the standard lighting setups.

“The [2,000-hour archive] system is operated by a Harris Broadcast automation system, so we make up playlists and it essentially runs itself. When you get that complicated, it takes a while to get all the bugs straightened out.”

A major priority during the NYN project was its videoconferencing services, which provide one-way video and two-way audio. “The New York State Office of Children and Family Services uses our facility for most of the training they have to do for foster care and daycare,” Snyder said. “There’s a training room in each of their centers where OCFS can deliver training once a week on a regular basis, and they found that broadcast videoconferencing is a great way to deliver their information because it’s timely.”

If a regulation changes this week, the OCFS doesn’t have to coordinate a statewide road trip for sharing the message—they spread the word via videoconference.
“So we always have 60 sites looking at us, and generally more,” Snyder explained, “because there are spinoffs—daycare centers where it’s convenient for people to not go to the social service district offices. They can stay in their location.”

NYN specializes in broadcast satellite videoconferencing, which engages its studio, control, and transmission facilities. “We broadcast to as many as 150 dedicated sites all over the state, and occasionally to a few in other locations nationwide,” Snyder said. “Each videoconference client sets up their own network of satellite receive sites.”

The upgrade project at NYN, which took on a “most-bang-for-the-buck” approach, is indicative of the way people are looking at technology these days, said Salkin. “There’s been a large trend of designing for maximum flexibility,” he said. “For example, multi-format HD/SD systems and their component equipment will soon be commonplace. The control rooms at NYN can all be used for editing as well as live production.

“The other trend is the more extensive use of automation and its coupling to electronic asset management. This means that the cost of broadcasting an additional channel is mainly on the production side, with only a small incremental cost for managing and broadcasting the material.”