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Snell & Wilcox's Kahuna at Betanews

Betanews employs Snell & Wilcox’s Kahuna production switcher in its Esterna 10 OB truck. The switcher allows an operator to mix inputs from SD sources such as feeds from SD handheld cameras, graphics and archive footage into an HD production.

The production switcher plays a central role in the live broadcast of sports, concerts, plays, and corporate and civic events. In today's outside broadcast market, which is starting the migration to HD, the production switcher must have the capacity to handle a broad range of formats with relative ease.

As a provider of comprehensive broadcast services for electronic newsgathering and field production, as well as a broad range of film and professional video projects, we find that a large portion of the services we provide are targeted to clients in the outside broadcast market. Our work with leading broadcast and production companies demands that we equip our OB vans with flexible and reliable production switchers that meet high standards not only for size, weight and cost, but also for versatility in handling different format types and aspect ratios while working with both new and legacy broadcast sources and systems.

We see a growing number of clients requesting hybrid SD/HD or full HD broadcast services, and any new equipment we put into our OB vans must be robust enough to serve the demands of different productions. After close evaluation of HD-capable products available on the market, we selected a Snell & Wilcox four-M/E Kahuna SD/HD production switcher for installation in Esterna 10, a 10m × 12m truck that is the largest unit in our fleet and one of the largest units in Italy.

We worked with systems integrator Video Progetti in bringing together gear for the new van, which was built in Rome at Strides, a specialist vehicle builder. With Esterna 10 on the road and in demand, we've already ordered a second Kahuna system for a new van currently under construction.

Our production switcher was supplied fully loaded with four M/Es and eight channels of 3-D DVE effects. The 11RU mainframe and associated control panel serves to control both SD and HD sources.

When functioning in multiformat SD/HD mode, the switcher allows an operator to mix inputs from SD sources such as feeds from SD handheld cameras, graphics and archive footage into an HD production. The unit uses a proprietary technology, dubbed FormatFusion, to bring these sources together flawlessly. This internal conversion of source material saves us the cost of external conversion gear and allows more space within our OB vans for other purposes.

Our decision to use the switcher in our HD OB vans was based primarily on the system's ability to work in both SD and HD at the same time. We often provide feeds for more than one client (and in more than one format) during an event, and flexibility is essential to rapid delivery of feeds in multiple formats. We simply assign each M/E an output format, which allows one M/E to combine HD and SD sources to deliver an HD broadcast product while another M/E does the same to deliver an SD output.

Each M/E bank features its own FormatFusion engine, as well as four keyers able to perform luminance, linear and chroma keying; five transition wipe generators; a still store and RAM recorder; RGB color correction; two utility buses; and effects memory capability. With all of this functionality included in the switcher, we are spared the cost (both financial and in terms of space) of additional outboard equipment for the van.

Fully loaded with DVE options, the switcher lets the operator manipulate as many as 24 SD or HD images independently. Four two-channel DVEs enable application of effects — including warps, tiling, ripples, rolls and peels, with Trailstore and lighting effects — to the keyers and background transitions.

Since we began using the system — primarily for large sports events, including the Monza Formula One race track in Milan and football matches for the Italian football league and UEFA Champions League — Snell & Wilcox has supported us with software optimizations that make our lives easier and use the switcher just the way we want. Live has taken on a new aspect.

With the new switcher, it has become easier to create a more sophisticated look for HD productions with fewer resources.

Our experience with the technology so far also has shown that the Kahuna's internal conversion introduces a negligible amount of delay. This parameter is very important in production of concerts and other events in which close synchronization of sound is essential. Picture quality also has been excellent, due largely to the way in which FormatFusion merges different formats.

We have no complaint with regard to support and service; it really hasn't been an issue. As we installed the switcher into Esterna 10, our engineers worked with engineers from the Snell & Wilcox team and Strides to ensure that the system operated as expected and provided the functionality we needed. The company completed the project quickly, responding to our requests and configuring the system to match our desired workflow, and integration of the Kahuna with our other broadcast systems was quite easy.

With any system used for live television, redundancy is important. Each M/E is entirely independent and hot-swappable, so there is no single point of failure. In addition, a board can be replaced without disruption to overall operations.

Umberto Chiariello is managing director of Betanews, a broadcast facility based in Naples and Rome.