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Real Broadcast Network's Internet Broadcast Operations Center

RBN pumps out 3000 programming signals of information 24 hours a day from its new all-digital Internet Broadcast Operations Center (BOC).

Real Broadcast Network (RBN) is among the busiest broadcast networks in existence. While a traditional broadcast network today puts out between one to five signals, RBN pumps out 3000 programming signals of information 24 hours a day from its new all-digital Internet Broadcast Operations Center (BOC). In addition, RBN has the ability to pump out close to three times that amount due to the system's expandability.

With its integration experience and expertise in mind, Digital System Technology was brought in by RBN to help modernize its facilities. The network was operating with an antiquated analog system, and the goal was to upgrade its facilities into a forward-looking, fully digital streaming media center with a design created around the notion of the entire system being automation capable.

Utilizing a palletization technique to reduce on-site integration and installation time, a complete digital core was constructed and tested featuring all necessary processing equipment off-site before it was moved into the roughly 1800-square foot space created for the Internet BOC. Space directly adjacent to the analog studio was used for the new BOC.

Though it was challenging to work with the limited space available for the new center, limited power proved to be a tougher obstacle. However, as the RBN building is an expansive 286,000 square feet, additional power from other sections of the building was tapped with the help and expertise of an electrical contractor. On top of this challenge, the system had to be brought up quickly — approximately 45 days from the execution of order to go online. The new system had to be put online while working around RBN's existing 24-hour broadcasting schedule, which entailed building consoles, setting up workstations, and tearing down existing equipment while people were working on the equipment being torn down. At completion of the new BOC, the majority of the analog equipment was gone.

With the new BOC, RBN is the first organization in the country to execute the full analog-to-digital conversion, including the digital processing and encoding of a digital signal directly to the Web. Another unique aspect of this system is that it marks the first time a streaming media company seriously considered and then implemented noise reduction within the streaming path. For this entire process, DST integrated Snell & Wilcox IQ Modular Series products with adaptive comb filters for decoding, frame synchronization and noise reduction purposes. Snell & Wilcox rack-mounted Kudos series converters were installed for the A/D conversion occurring directly from the satellite.

After conversion, the noise reduction process begins. By using noise reduction, the encoding process for RBN is much easier on storage and in streaming bits. Pinnacle Systems developed the system's encoders specifically for RBN, which funded the development of the product. (Though it consulted on the development of the encoder and integrated it into the system, the encoder selection was the only part of the system that did not come through DST.)


RBN stressed the need for high-volume stream requirements from the start. A compact system had to be designed due to space issues, and the system had to be efficient and ultimately expandable. In the streaming media industry, there is a lot of redundancy within the streams, so that was addressed as well.

Considering all of these factors, DST decided to install a Philips 64×64 serial digital matrix routing and switching system. However, this has since been upgraded to a Philips 96×128, opening the doors for RBN to handle 128 discrete streams through its Internet BOC. The expandability does not stop there: The facility has the capability with its current design to upgrade to a 256×256 routing system. The flexibility of the Philips routing systems is essential to the growth of this facility.

Perhaps the most essential component DST implemented within the new BOC is CompuSat, an automated dish control and satellite recording system. RBN programs its internal scheduling and billing system, which directs the CompuSat system to preprogram all satellite feeds coming through the facility. The process of recording and receiving the satellite feeds is thereby automated. CompuSat steers the satellite dishes and tunes the receivers, bringing the programming seamlessly and directly into the facility. For RBN, this is important because they stream live events more so than any competitor. Most facilities streaming video for Internet broadcast record the event first and play it back later, which is exactly like a system recently integrated at RBN instead receives a live satellite feed and sends it straight out over the Internet.

RBN accepted the recommendations for all other essential integrated products, including Symetrix 422 and 421 auto-levelers, Ikegami monitoring walls and Circuit-Werkes phone couplers. The Symetrix auto-levelers were vital for the facility and desirable above all competitive units as they were the only products capable of adjustable auto-leveling as opposed to strict, non-adjustable clamping. The auto-levelers feature automatic gain control to fix audio levels being fed from the phone couplers. The two-channel 422s repair the audio by raising or lowering the levels as needed before feeding the signals into the Philips routing system, and as mentioned, are manually adjustable.

RBN is also using the Snell & Wilcox RollCall Network Management and Control system to provide a continual real-time display of the status on the entire system's equipment. This software also allows many of the system's components to be fully flexible and controllable over a WAN. Essentially, if RBN were to open more facilities in the future, operators could control all aspects of the switching and routing and adjust the processing equipment from one central location through the existing network.

When it came time for launch in August 2000, there were the inevitable few hiccups. As the sparking of each new facility is unique, a few problems are normal. The main issue was crosstalk within the phone coupling setup. Signals were mixing across coupled phone lines, creating a challenge that would prove most difficult to address. DST developed an isolator that separated the signals and confined them to their own lines. Another problem that was minor in comparison was the need to switch the auto-leveler models initially provided by Symetrix to another model better suited for this facility.

An added bonus of this system is that it is moveable. Due to DST's palletization technique, the system can be broken down in two days, relocated and reinstalled in its current layout within seven days. Therefore, if RBN ever outgrows its current facility space and needs to move to a larger building, DST can smoothly relocate the facility.

Mark Siegel is vice president of DST, Washington.