The Associated Press (AP) is one of the world's oldest and largest news organizations, with major offices in London, New York and Washington, D.C., as well as regional offices around the world. The Washington, D.C., operation had two separate K Street locations — just two blocks apart. One was for AP's Washington News Bureau and the other for the Broadcast News Center. In December 2007, AP consolidated the two by moving to a new downtown facility. The layout of the new building, at the corner of 13th Street and L Street, maximizes the editorial, production and administrative synergies for the more than 460 people working there.
The relocation allowed AP to bring its multiple departments, including international video, radio, domestic video, online video, multimedia, photography, broadcast graphics and print journalism, together into a single facility. Hundreds of miles of data cable, four miles of electrical cable, three miles of conduit and more than a mile of mechanical piping link the four-floor, 82,000sq-ft facility, where three levels share an interconnecting scissor-type stairway.
Professional Products of Gaithersburg, MD, and AP engineering handled the systems design and integration for the entire broadcast, IT and telco infrastructure, including:
- a technical core and data center with 14 rows of Stantron racks and emergency power system support;
- three TV and four radio studios;
- a central news desk area with an intercom, router panels and audio/video monitoring at each workstation;
- about 70 video and audio digital, ENPS MOS-enabled editing stations;
- LAN closets to enable data drops to 400 desktops connected over a 10GB fiber backbone; and
- a master control center that supports video ingest and playout operations, satellite positioning and camera control, among other applications.
The chief objective was the implementation of a facility video server system for all departments to share, edit, view and distribute story information. Each department previously used separate, dedicated servers and relied on tape exchanges and audio/video baseband connections to share resources and information for stories. The streamlined workflow not only provides a more efficient operation but also cuts costs and system complexity.
The server system
The challenge of designing a central server system for all operations is finding a technology platform to accommodate everyone. The existing commercial options for broadcast servers in early 2007 were not entirely compatible with AP's ambitions, and it was clear the cross pollination between departments would suffer in some capacity with a standard out-of-the-box server.
AP selected an MOS-enabled solution that was interoperable with its ENPS newsroom system and Final Cut Pro editor. The goal was to ingest a story once and then repurpose it across multiple departments. The computing hardware is based on the Apple Xserve, Mac Pro and Xsan platforms, as well as Gallery's Sienna OriginOne MOS gateway software.
Master control is located on the sixth floor and is home to eight operator stations, three of which are designated for video ingest and playout operations. The AP server has 12 ingest channels and four playout channels. Master control operators communicate with content management and satellite coordinators in the main newsroom over a Clear-Com Eclipse digital intercom system to coordinate ingest schedules and playlists.
On the fifth floor, the main newsroom is the main traffic area for organizing incoming and outgoing content. Master control operators communicate with the central resource desk coordinators and refer to the ScheduALL traffic system to confirm incoming satellite feeds and available ingest channels.
During ingest, QC checks for audio and video levels, and adjustments are performed with a Harris TVM-850 and Snell & Wilcox RollPod. The DV25-based content is available for editing on all workstations as soon as the recording process begins. Operators can browse low-resolution proxy content. The immediate availability of the audio and video assets is based on Gallery's Sienna StoryCut feature, which ties the editing system to the newsroom computer.
This is where the advantage becomes clear for different departments. Radio operators can begin the process of stripping audio from video. The Associated Press Television Network can run with the audio and video. And the Online Video Network can use different aspects of the file for its applications.
The server provides 18TB of fully mirrored ingest and editing storage and 4TB of playout storage, which represents a week's worth of online content. Five Vicom Vmirror VM-2 network appliances provide the mirroring for Apple Xserve RAID storage.
The ingest-to-playout ratio of storage space reflects the philosophy of a news organization, making room for fresh story material. Edited material is transferred to the playout volume, where master control distributes it to AP's London headquarters or other client facilities.
Long-term storage is mainly handled with DVCAM videotape. Journalists and producers assign video MOS objects to ENPS stories as the story is created. Content managers then assign specific stories into an archive run list. When the list becomes active, it creates a playlist of all video objects in proper running order, which are then automatically archived to the DVCAM tape.
Two operator stations in master control are primarily used for camera control and shading. Three stations are used for audio and video feed monitoring and disaster recovery, which permits taking control if the London control room has a problem. All MCR positions can access the satellite dishes through CompuSat. Each station receives sources through a Pro-Bel Sirius 256 × 320 router. Monitoring is handled by six, 46in Sharp LCDs and an Evertz VIP-12 channel multi-image display.
Master control shares the sixth floor with the technical core, a 2592sq-ft room that houses the entire broadcast, IT and telco infrastructure. Most of the facility's 140 Stantron racks are housed in this space (84 E-Racks, plus about 20 two-post IT and telco racks). Professional Products populated the racks with equipment, preterminated the cables and tested the rack systems at its Maryland warehouse, saving valuable time once on-site.
A 12in raised floor was installed in the technical core prior to the integration process. Stantron provided customized bases that were set into the floor, allowing the installers to drop and bolt the finished racks into predrilled holes. The raised floor is a critical piece of the HVAC plan, with cool air flowing up through the floor and into the racks to keep the equipment cool. The air is directed upward and out the top, where Stantron rack top fans assist the airflow pattern. Four 20-ton Stulz Air Technology Systems provide total facility heating and cooling.
The Stantron E-Racks (36in deep by 22in wide) offer plenty of space for cable management, with tie-off points provided every eight inches. Built-in horizontal lacing bars further enhance cable management in the densely populated racks. Cables are tied to the interior sides of the rack, where Stantron PowerOptions 180-degree rotational power strips are vertically mounted on Stantron PowerMount brackets. Power redundancy is provided through dual power supplies, with each rack featuring a grid A and grid B. The technical core system is backed up on multiple systems from MGE UPS Systems with power conditioning. A large Caterpillar generator can power the entire facility for 30 hours.
The broadcast portion of the technical core is systematically arranged to house equipment responsible for various stages of the video signal flow en route to the main routing switcher. External sources are brought into the facility through various satellite and fiber receivers, which comprise one rack row. The signals then move on to a second row of racks filled with Snell & Wilcox signal processing, conversion, distribution and synchronization gear. More than 100 Snell & Wilcox A/D converters are used for signal conversion. The Pro-Bel Sirius video router, with an Aurora controller and a Freeway RS-422 control router, is the heart of the video system. Snell & Wilcox distribution amplifiers assist the facility with Belden 1695A plenum cabling.
Internal video sources consist of three small TV studios, including two chroma key studios on the fourth floor, each complete with a Hitachi HV-D15 camera and Crystal Vision Sapphire chroma keyer for inserts. There also is a 48ft × 24ft two-camera Hitachi Z-4000 studio on the fifth floor, used for panel discussion and other video productions. It features a Ross Video Synergy 100 digital production switcher, an Avid Deko 550 character generator and a Yamaha MG166FX audio mixer.
The integration of broadcast and IT within the same technical core was perhaps the greatest technical challenge. The IT portion included integration of a Nortel voice-over-IP system that connects to each user workstation. Professional Products handled the entire IT integration, based on a complex Cisco routing infrastructure.
The two-post racks from APWMayville in the technical core are populated with Cisco routers, switchers and patch panels, most of which include built-in fan systems because of the density of this equipment. The two-post configuration accommodates the side-to-side cooling required for IT equipment by eliminating the side panels found on traditional broadcast racks.
Two LAN closets are on each floor. Each LAN closet, cooled to 68 degrees, features three APWMayville two-post racks populated with patch panels for both LAN and SDI signal distribution. Four separate GigE data connections, plus one SDI video output and RF cable output, are available to each user. The LAN closet locations ensure that cable runs are restricted to 200ft. Professional Products also installed cable to 21 client stations on the fourth floor. The rooms feature a broadcast service panel with ties to the facility's router and intercom. Cable runs were also provided to a series of offices on the seventh floor for other A/V applications.
The project was a challenge on many fronts. Managing 300 miles of cable from floor to floor over a massive amount of real estate was challenging enough. However, the server integration and automation workflow turned out to be the biggest challenge. The result is one symbiotic system where everyone is sharing sources and repurposing assets across multiple departments — a truly integrated A/V system.
Chuck Hefner is senior applications engineer and Danny Gurley is project supervisor for Professional Products.
Steve Losquadro, director of project management
Rick Winde, exec. mgr., Designed Systems Group
Danny Gurley, project supervisor
Jack McMahan, senior project supervisor
Bob Myer, systems design engineer
Chuck Hefner, senior applications engineer
Jeff Schowalter, systems test engineer
Alan Spain, applications engineer
Paul Ghattas, senior systems programmer
Steve Kuhn, director of broadcast engineering
Lou Pagan, director of broadcast systems
Technology at work
Billboarder metadata management system
ENPS Newsroom System
Final Cut Pro
Xserve RAID storage
APWMayville two-post data racks
Avid Deko 550 character generator
Belden 1695A plenum cabling
Caterpillar generator system
Cisco data routers and switchers
Clear-Com Eclipse digital intercom
CompuSat satellite dish control
Crystal Vision Sapphire chroma keyer
Dell blade servers
Evertz VIP-12 multi-image processors
Gallery Sienna StoryCut and OriginOne software
Harris Vidoetek TVM-850 test and measurement
Hitachi Z-4000 and HV-D15 video cameras
MGE UPS Systems backup system
Nortel voice-over-IP network
Freeway RS-422 control router
Sirius video router
QLogic 9200 FC switcher
Ross Video Synergy 100 digital production switcher
ScheduALL traffic system
Simulsat dish surveillance
Snell & Wilcox
RollCall Management system
Frame synchronizers, distribution amplifiers and signal converters
PowerOptions thin power strips
Stulz Air Technology Systems HVAC
Vicom Vmirror VM-2 storage network appliances
Yamaha MG166FX audio mixer