WIBC's transition to digital

WIBC employs an Avid Unity system comprised of direct ingest channels via Airspeed media servers and Media Array ZX JBODs that provide 2.5Tb of mirrored storage.

Despite the busy news year in 2004, Reuter's technical team in Washington, DC, was able to squeeze in a facility upgrade that entailed completely transforming the facility and newsroom to a digital system.

The Reuters Television bureau in Washington, DC, is the coverage hub for all video news acquisition from the Americas. As part of the world's international multimedia news agency with 197 bureaus in 130 countries, coverage of both North and South American news requires tremendous resource coordination and management. The stories created by the Americas staff are broadcast to clients worldwide via the World News Service and World News Express satellite delivery systems.

In the summer of 2003, as part of the facility's global technology upgrade, the bureau was asked to create a technical and logistical plan to migrate the existing analog facility to a new server-based digital newsgathering operation. The existing facility that had been built in 1993 consisted of a 24/7 MCR supporting a 10-dish/30+ fiber teleport, a 16-machine tape intake room and 11 edit bays. Feeds were brought in from locations ranging from Los Angeles to Argentina via satellite and fiber, recorded to tape, and produced and edited in cuts or Avid edit bays before being injected into the WNS regional and global feeds. The system had worked well for years, but it was labor-intensive and costly to manage.

The goal was to create a more streamlined and efficient facility that would take advantage of new digital technologies. As part of a global plan, the facility also was going to take its streaming media product creation in- house and begin to deliver its product via an IP-based system. The Washington technical team was tasked with finding the right products, figuring out how to integrate them into a 24/7 facility and provide a transition plan in just four months.

Video levels are checked via a Videotek VTM-150 on multiple LCD monitors. Audio monitoring is provided by Wohler AMP2-AM/AMP2A-4S audio meters and a PTV PT0600C-11 stereo correlation meter.

A wide array of products had to be considered for the project, most importantly the desktop editing and asset management system. Because of the size of the operation and the desire for scalability, the facility began looking at vendors who supplied integrated systems that would provide an end-to-end solution from acquisition to playout. Avid was selected for all of the bureaus because its LANShare and Unity systems were scalable to specific bureau needs and provided a uniform global editing platform. Because Avid News-Cutters and Media Composers were already in use at many bureaus, there was an existing confidence in the product quality and knowledge of its interface.

The bureau chose an Avid Unity shared-storage system that was comprised of direct ingest channels via XDecks (later updated to Airspeeds), Media Array ZX JBODs providing 2.5Tb of mirrored storage, a 3-channel Airspace for playout, an Avid Adrenaline for finishing work, Mojo DNA systems for desktop tape ingest and NewsCutter workstations. The equipment choices were tailored to the bureau's unique needs as an “agency” news organization. Much of what Reuters supplies news clients with is video from many countries, for many countries. Stories are not generally voiced, and edits are long to provide the end client with usable footage for integration into its newscasts. Because of this, much of the acquisition footage is sent in from contributing bureaus, edited down for content and sent on to clients. In the past, the tape intake room required 16 beta machines to cross roll on daily incoming feeds. The eight shared-storage system ingest channels provide more people access to more material. The tape-based method frequently required multiple rolls on the same footage for different departments within the newsroom. Often, a single feed might have elements that were simultaneously needed. The new system allows anyone at one of the NewsCutter workstations to pull down video just seconds after the feed begins and create his or her own edits.

Because the system allows new functionalities, such as direct control of scheduling what sources are recorded via control of the BTS router, the decision was made to move the MCR staff into the newsroom to better facilitate coordination. In years past, the news desk called the MCR on the house RTS system to give satellite coordinates and ask for a router source. Then it called the tape intake room via the RTS to begin rolling. Now with the MCR operations desk beside the news desk, the editors simply ask on what source their feed would appear. Through the Avid Capture Manager interface, they create their own capture with any metadata that needs to be associated with it. The great benefit to having the MCR in the newsroom is that throughout the feed, the news desk and MCR operator can keep each other informed about any issues that arise.

The bureau uses an Avid Adrenaline for finishing work, Mojo DNA systems for desktop tape ingest and NewsCutter workstations.

Moving technical control of the MCR into the newsroom took a lot of thought and planning. Many of the manual functions that the MCR operators were used to performing had to be remoted. Great attention was paid to providing the operators with the ability to thoroughly monitor, adjust and route all the signals that went through the facility. A new IP-based Crystal Control system was installed to replace the original serial control of all the satellite dishes, receivers and support equipment. Additional flexibility needed to be added in RF routing, so a Quintech SRM2150 series 32×16 L-band router was added to provide flexible routing of downlinks to multiple receivers. In the past, receivers were hardwired or patched to an incoming signal. In order to maintain quality control of the incoming ingest signals, DPS575-AV units were installed in line before the Xdecks to provide audio and video adjustments through both remote panel and Web Interface. A Marshal V-R25P LCD monitor bank was installed post-DPS to monitor outputs. Because 24 computers now comprised the shared-storage system and other contribution systems, a BlackBox cat5 based ServSwitch Summit KVM system was installed, giving four terminals access to all 24 devices.

With limited space for video monitoring, Zenith LCD plasma displays were mounted throughout the newsroom, fed by a 16 port Leitch SuiteView system, which also provides source labeling and audio level monitoring on the screen. Video levels are checked via a Videotek VTM-150 on multiple LCD monitors. Audio monitoring is provided by Wohler AMP2-AM/AMP2A-4S audio meters and a PTV PT0600C-11 stereo correlation meter.

One of the most difficult logistics of the project was migration and installation of equipment without interrupting workflow. The new equipment and systems needed to be installed in spaces currently being used without interrupting existing capacity or functionality.

The first task was to come up with a design that would allow for a seamless integration. The final plan was to locate the new MCR operations station just outside of the videotape intake room and next to the assignment desk. This would give the proximity to news and the equipment that was needed for the workflow goal. The video intake room, which housed 16 VTRs in eight racks, was chosen as the site for the Avid Unity system. The plan was to reuse the room's router destinations and sources for the Unity system, eventually replacing the decks with shared-storage system ingest channels tied to tape backup machines. The remaining router destinations were to be used for the SuiteView system and additional newsroom-based machines.

The intake room had adequate HVAC but was only on generator power. With the addition of the new servers, it had to be rewired into the facility UPS system. A local breaker panel was also added inside the room. In order to begin moving the new equipment in without any loss of capacity, all 16 of the tape decks were relocated into just four racks and a side table, leaving four racks in which to begin the build-out. Team Video, a local systems integrator, was hired to help with the rewiring and build-out. This allowed Reuter's engineering staff to participate but still have time to fully support the bureau's news operation.

The MCR operators were moved into the newsroom, providing better communication between the news desk and the MCR operator.

Eventually the new system was set up, tested and running side-by-side with the old one. Training was provided to the newsroom staff prior to the switchover on a fully operational Unity system. A training room was set up with NewsCutters for the journalists and photographers to learn nonlinear editing, and the MCR staff was trained on the fully active newsroom operations center.

During this period, the old desktop workstations were replaced by the new Avid-approved NewsCutter workstations (HP 4100/HP 8000). On the day of the transition from tape to digital, a crew from Avid provided support to the newsroom as the video intake room's router destinations were switched from tape machines to the shared-storage system. From that moment forward, all material was brought directly into the shared-storage system and played out via the Airspace. As a testament to a smooth transition and proper training, the news department decided by the third day that the tape backup of all incoming Unity feeds was no longer required. The decks are still there as a backup if Unity fails, but have only been needed during outages required to accommodate new equipment upgrades (software and the Airspeed replacement of the high maintenance Xdecks).

Since the system was commissioned, Reuters has attached an Anystream Agility system, which creates a streaming version of Reuters' products in Real and Windows media that are delivered to clients by FTP. A global Telestream network has been interfaced that now provides cost-effective feeds via the Internet from Latin America, the USA and Asia.

Reuters' own LNG digital news gathering kits throughout North and South America now contribute daily to an integrated LiveWire MediaLink FTP contribution system. With the increase and cost-effective nature of digital contribution from the field, having a solid digital core system has allowed Reuters to take advantage of new systems with minimal costs and effort. And, as the features and options continue to increase on these systems, even more opportunities for complete digital integration will be available.

Design Team:

Ian MacSpadden manages television news operations for Reuters television in the Americas.

Adrian Davies, project mgr
Ed Weingartner, dir. manufacturing operations
Charlie Raynsford, customer account mgr

Crystal Computer:
Roger Franklin, R&D mgr
Tim Johnson, project technician

Reuters Engineering:
Ian MacSpadden, mgr, TV news infrastructure
Roger Shull, chief eng.
Keith Allen, maintenance eng.

Equipment List:

Team (broadcast integrator):
Larry Tyler, vp eng.

Unity shared-storage system
Router server
Countdown server
Port servers
Airspeed and Airspace media servers
Adrenaline NLE system
Mojo DNA systems
Newscutter XP workstations

Blackbox Servswitch Summit KVM system

Chromatech, Videotek, and HP audio, video and frequency quality control monitoring devices

Crystal Computer Crystalvision monitor and control system

DPS 575-av
CCS DPS 575 Gateway
DPS RC 575
Suiteview monitoring system

Pilot software

Digibus Digital Glue

Panasonic DVC PRO machines

Quintech SRM 2150 32 by 16 RF routing matrix with two remote panels

Ross Terminal gear DAS

Zenith and Marshal LCD video monitors