Routing systems

As the concept of just what a “router” truly is continues to evolve, so does the hardware. Once, there was no doubt as to what the definition was; equipment that switched signals from different sources to different destinations. Now manufacturers are interpreting the idea of signal routing much more liberally, adding more complex options to the routing process.

Considering the complexity involved in the average X-Y crosspoint router, it seems wrong to call such a device a “simple” router, but really it is. Taking input X and making it appear at output Y is about all the systems could do a few years ago. Computer controls enhanced this process but didn't change the result very much.

Today manufacturers see the router as more than just a signal switcher. The larger units have multiformat capability — such as a mix and match of analog video, SDI, HD, etc.; automatic time-controlled functions; and hot-swappable circuit boards — but this isn't the latest news. Using the routing process to convert a signal from one format to another, or to add some form of processing or correction to the signal as it passes through, is a technique that is becoming more common. Another is to use the router to perform a function normally left to a discrete device such as a telephone coupler or a security camera “scanner.”

Manufacturers are also taking into consideration that the industry is in a series of technical transitions. No one wants to sell a product today that will be obsolete when HDTV finally arrives in full. If you're shopping, it's worth determining how the product you are considering can be upgraded.

PESA Switching remains a company that makes products that have future upgradability. They introduced a complete new line this year, dubbed the Cheetah, which features the ability to take an analog digital signal and turn it into an SDI within the router frame itself. Also, SDI and HD can be handled in the same frame, with some card matching. The Cheetah can output signals either in a “copper” (that is, coax) or fiber format. So now, you can hook a single- or multi-mode fiber to the router output directly without an interface.

Within any company's product line, the control panels for one router will typically control any other router. The ability to also control the competitors' routers remains an important selling point, and more manufacturers are implementing this.

Grass Valley Group's “Net Captain” software is a good example. It has a level of flexibility that works with both their current and past products. It will also control other routers, notably the “Jupiter”-based system from Thomson/Philips or products from Utah.

GVG also has some new introductions, including Bravo, Concerto, Encore and Tempo. Encore is the control system for all of them and some others in the line. The main claim to fame is maximum flexibility in minimum size.

The latest from Leitch is a new 16×16 (expandable to 32×32) unit that passes high-rate digital without re-clocking. This is part of the Integrator series, which is designed as an overall solution for a facility that needs both small and large routers in different places. Their latest control software is the BLUECUBE, which will talk to all the Integrators (and, presumably, integrate them under one control system) and also functions within a distributed architecture.

Touching briefly on the audio-only side, Sierra Automated Systems has a new product called the 32KD. This goes beyond just an audio router; it's designed to replace both the traditional audio console and also some of the typical outboard peripheral devices that are normally separate boxes.

The unit can also replace a console, believe it or not. Any “controller” that can speak via a computer interface can be placed in (or on) a surface and hooked up to the 32KD. The controller can be from any one of several manufacturers. The cabling is then connected to the frame. This isn't especially new to the video world, given the layout of most switchers, but in audio it's just beginning.

Miranda showed the NTW-HD1616 (see Pick Hits, pg 82), a 1RU high, 16×16, remote-controlled audio-follow-video product that is only one inch thick. At first glance it looks more like a faceplate from a larger product, but it's a router, all by itself. If you have shallow racks, this is for you.

One of the more interesting marriages to take place earlier this year was Philips (formerly BTS) teaming up with Thomcast. The latter now has the router and overall broadcast equipment business under their name, with Philips keeping the set-top boxes and delivery systems in its own name. The supposition here is that Thomcast can do a better job of pushing the products into the marketplace. They'll also support all the older Philips products.

Meanwhile, Thomcast had a new routing product that was, well, not exactly introduced at the show. Shrouded in some secrecy, the new router will allow improvements in routing digital signals of various kinds, and some control options only available with this unit. It's dense (actual physical size classified as of this writing), keeping with the design philosophy of “density, serviceability, and reliability.”

Thomcast also has a new version of the “Jupiter” software, which allows switches to take place only at the correct point within a digital “frame” so that there is no glitch artifact. This covers all the major digital video formats available.

Chyron Pro-Bel launched its Axis family of routers, as well as the HD, SD and AES versions of its large-scale Eclipse routing system.

Extron featured its SVS 100, a four-input, one-output video switcher offering seamless switching, effects, picture controls, audio switching and genlock capabilities.

Omneon Video Network's Content Server System was on display, along with FAST's purple. The open-platform, standards-based infrastructure serves multiple applications and utilizes Firewire I/O with FAST's purple, with the I/O serving as an edge device and allowing direct transfers to a common file system.

ADC featured a new timecode card and controller software offering full tie-line management support for its Envoy 7256 router.

DNF Controls showcased its modular Ethernet machine control system.

So the router, the “heart of the plant” in many installations, is not just a signal passer any more. It now can manipulate the signals that it's feeding out, take the place of outside boxes, and even function as, and with, automation systems. The mutations are underway and they're happening fast.

Paul Black is Engineering Manager of the San Francisco International Gateway teleport for Loral Skynet.