Skip to main content

Astro Cyberjaya

The shift from tape-based to file-based broadcasting began at isolated locations in Europe, Japan and the United States during the 1990s and has since become a worldwide phenomenon. This transition is an inevitable response to progress in disc-based data storage capacity, speed and affordability.

ATG Broadcast recently completed a new 65-channel tapeless digital broadcast center in Cyberjaya, Malaysia, for Astro All Asia Network. Astro is a cross-media operator with direct-to-home (DTH) satellite television services in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Cyberjaya Broadcast Centre (CBC) is a 24-hour facility that supports origination, post production, playout, archiving, subscription management and uplinking. Television content arriving at the facility is edited to provide programs of the required length and to create promotional clips for each channel. Where necessary, programs are subtitled into the four main languages of the region: Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese, English and Hindi. Multilingual audio tracks are available for selected programs to augment the subtitling feature. Dubbing can be done in Bahasa Malaysia, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, English, and Tamil.

New site, new technology

The new center needed to complement the existing All Asia Broadcast Centre (ABC), which has been on-air 24/7 since it was built in 1996. Located on 117,000 square metres in Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor, ABC has a total floor area of 35,000 square metres and is also the original teleport site for Malaysia East Asia Satellite (MEASAT), Astro’s sister company, which operates the four satellites.

Introducing dual-site operation meant that satellite uplinks could be switched to minimize the risk of rain-induced microwave signal fade caused by tropical thunderstorms. Additional channel capacity was also needed to serve a newly launched satellite.

Malaysia’s broadcasting regulations require that all transmitted content must be suitable for family viewing and conform to a strict code of ethics. Therefore, all acquired material, whether on physical media or live satellite feed, requires compliance editing.

Astro also transmits to Indonesia, which has its own set of broadcast regulations. Storing the original physical copy plus two edited transmission copies requires three times the amount of storage, along with associated media management and digital file transfers.

One solution was to allow dual-site working using dual archives with media mirrored across both sites. Each site would uplink part of the channel bouquet. If a problem arose at either site, the uplink could be reconfigured quickly to transmit the most popular channels while the problem was fixed. Six versions of each program would need to be archived if traditional full-length versions were stored.

Astro decided to adopt a different approach. A more efficient option was to store the source copy, and the edit decisions and transitions of the version for a specific broadcast slot, thus avoiding the need to save the entire program each time it was repurposed. Successful implementation required a complex automated workflow and the appropriate tools.

Pre-implementation system trial

With a complex workflow, it’s necessary to define and test before implementing. Manufacturers’ test facilities do not have the full complement of what is needed, and they are shared with other projects. Therefore, the CBC project required a dedicated pilot system.

The objective was to demonstrate ingest, compliance editing and output of Windows Media 9 files for subtitling, transfer to archive as an MXF file, restore from archive to server for transmission, and the automated workflows required to deliver the above.

ATG was selected to manage the project and test and develop workflow before implementation. The company was chosen because it has a proven track record of delivering large-scale, file-based transmission systems in Europe and understanding the associated complex networking requirements. The company assisted Astro in specifying and designing a scalable, nonblocking system architecture that could operate across multiple sites.

Complex workflows that originate in the broadcast management system are passed to OmniBus G3 workflow managers. To deliver the required automated media processing, an OmniBus Colossus automation system controls multiple Quantel sQ ingest and production servers, Omneon Spectrum transmission servers and a Front Porch Digital DIVArchive driving a Sun StorageTek SL8500 storage library. The equipment was selected on the basis of proven signal quality and reliability, ease of interfacing to the control system, and ease of operation and maintenance.

After conducting the pre-implementation trial, ATG designed, installed and commissioned CBC as a total system comprising:

  • a satellite downlinking and incoming lines area;
  • an ingest and compliance editing plus versioning area;
  • a multichannel transmission area;
  • reactive transmission suites and voice-over booths; and
  • a master control room.

Central apparatus room

The central apparatus room can receive 60 RF-shielded lines. It operates in a mix of SDI plus dual-language embedded audio, SDI plus single-language embedded audio, and PAL. Routable Snell & Wilcox standards converters were installed. Miranda Kaleido processing and distribution under iControl track-swaps and equalizes as required. Klotz Digital Vadis auto-levelers normalize audio levels across all channels. A 128 x 128 Grass Valley Trinix provides signal routing. Tektronix WVR-6100 digital waveform rasterizers monitor signals and feed into 17in XGA screens. Picture monitoring in the lines control area uses a virtual monitor wall comprising three 40in Barco LCD screens fed by Miranda K2 multiviewers.

The central apparatus room required 140 equipment racks to accommodate the support equipment for this large project. Major equipment installations included Evertz master sync generator, G3 and Colossus servers, sQ servers, Grass Valley coding and mux, Miranda Densité distribution amplifiers, and Clear-Com talkback.

Local playout ingest

Engineers can supervise ingest from five control positions. A sixth desk is allocated to outgoing content. Each desk is equipped with two Sony Digibeta VTRs and an OmniBus Opus content manager configured for metadata editing to simplify the task of content cataloging.

Four of the desks accommodate Quantel sQ Cut editing software. The desks are used for preliminary editing of incoming content, which is then transferred to an eight-port networked sQ server with 180 hours capacity. sQ Cut is installed on six compliance stations, each equipped with Opus for content browsing and logging. These desks are used for quality control and to ensure that editorial content conforms to Malaysia’s broadcasting codes.

The installation also includes an ingest supervisor desk with an Eyeheight BU-7 logo upload and management system, Opus controller and Teletest multiscreen monitors.

After editing, media is archived or transferred via FTP to the transmission servers. Content is archived as original clip plus AAF file to describe such things as editing changes and additional frames of mixes that were performed.

A StorageTek SAN with 5TB of capacity archives programs, clips and interstitials, and stores them on an online data library. The nearline archive uses a StorageTek SL8500 robotic data tape library with four robotic arms, seven tape drives and up to 4450 tape cartridges at 200GB capacity per cartridge.

Local playout transmission

Local playout multichannel transmission is controlled from a suite initially equipped to accommodate three operators, each with its own Barco 67in rear-projection monitor wall fed from Kaleido K2 multiviewers. Each playout control desk is equipped with a Colossus and configured to control six channels. A Pixel Power Clarity graphics system and Eyeheight keyer/audio mixer insert graphics or voice-overs on any of the channels.

The local playout multichannel transmission area also houses a supervisor’s desk with similar equipment plus Sony Digibeta VTRs for any late arriving transmission masters. Two voice-over booths provide live voice-over capability.

Channel branding is handled using 36 Eyeheight logo inserters, including a main and backup unit reserved for an apology caption. The local playout multichannel transmission area has a dedicated transmission server comprising main and redundant 36-channel Spectrum servers. Local playout routing via 256 x 256 Trinix in a 512 x 512 frame allows for easy future expansion.

Reactive suites and voice-over

Four reactive suites and associated voice-over booths provide live coverage of events such as the Winter Olympics, World Cup and Asian Games. The equipment in the suites includes Miranda Presmaster master control and branding and Alto multiviewers.

Transmission routing and output

Transmission routing is handled via
256 x 256 Trinix, again in a 512 x 512 frame for easy expansion. Junger compressor/limiters are deployed on each channel to auto equalize audio levels, and Miranda content probes check path status.

The transmission system is designed on a modular basis, allowing additional channels to be added without disruption to on-air channels. The system is currently 4:3 but is designed for easy upgrade to 16:9.

After digitizing, bit-rate reduction, error correction, digital modulation and encryption, the processed signals are uplinked to the MEASAT system and then downlinked directly to the user. All video and audio signals are compressed using MPEG-2. Astro’s broadcast system complies with the internationally accepted DVB standard.

Uplinking can be carried out from either CBC or ABC. Seamless switching minimizes potential rain-fade during a thunderstorm.

Master control

The master control room uses 4 x 2 Barco 67in rear-projection monitor walls with a height of 870mm from the floor to the upper edge of the screen. Careful liaison with the architects was needed to achieve the required ceiling height. Each of four Kaleido K2 monitor image splitters can be fed with 24 inputs. The main unit is fitted with 1 x 2 monitor screens on either side to allow for easy future expansion.

The monitors can be switched to display a combination of off-air feeds and signals from any router in the station. An OmniBus tie-line manager monitors any source on any router as an aid to fast fault-finding.

Miranda control probes present on incoming lines, local playout and main transmission circuits can be monitored using iControl to quickly ascertain a problem in any transmission feed. Master control room routing is via 128 x 128 Trinix in a 256 x 256 frame.

ABC site

The ABC site is now being refurbished and upgraded to provide the same facilities as the CBC site, and it will be equipped to transmit 200 channels. All media will be mirrored across the archives on each site, allowing any channel to be transmitted from either location. Further expansion to a third interconnected site is planned for Astros’ expansion of its DTH service in Indonesia.

Conclusion

The investment in new technology will allow the quick and easy launch of new services as required. Astro’s subsidiary, MEASAT Broadcast Network Systems, has a 20-year exclusive license for satellite DTH transmission in Malaysia.

The company’s subscription TV service currently broadcasts 72 channels to more than 2.1 million subscribers — more than one-third of television-equipped homes in the region. Through a joint venture, Astro also distributes its services in Brunei. The DTH service uses high-powered Ku-band transponder capacity on the MEASAT system.

The system designed by ATG comprehensively meets Astro’s initial requirements and is easily scalable to meet future demands. The successful launch of MEASAT 3 in December 2006 allowed the company to expand its current services in Malaysia and Indonesia, and across the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Alan Pimm is sales director for ATG Broadcast.

Design team

  • Astro Graham Stephens, CTO Phuah Aik Chong, systems integration manager David Thomas, broadcast development manager
  • ATG Alan Pimm, project director Arpad Vezer, project manager Russ Jones, senior design engineer

Technology at work

  • Barco 40in LCD screens 67in rear-projection monitors
  • Evertz 5600 sync pulse generator
  • Eyeheight BU-7 logo upload and management system Logo inserter
  • Front Porch Digital DIVArchive content storage management
  • Junger Audio compressor/limiters
  • Grass Valley Trinix routers
  • ViBE and Flextream coding and mux
  • Klotz Digital Vadis audio auto-leveling
  • Miranda Densité distribution amplifiers iControl monitoring and control Kaleido Alto and K2 multi-image display processors Presmaster master control
  • Omneon Spectrum server
  • OmniBus Colossus automation G3 workflow servers Opus content manager
  • Pixel Power Clarity graphics systems
  • Quantel Enterprise sQ server and editing system sQ Cut software sQ Edit software
  • Snell & Wilcox converters
  • Sony Digibeta VTRs
  • Sun StorageTek SL8500 modular library system 5TB storage area network
  • Tektronix WVR-6100 waveform monitors
  • Teletest multiscreen monitors