Automation Hits Its Stride

If the number of new product introductions can be utilized as a barometer of the broadcast industry’s health, it looks like we might be finally pulling out our three-year-long slump. Everyone—from the RF guys to the camera companies—issued a virtual mountain of new products at this year’s NAB, and automation was no exception. Here’s what the top automation companies have on their plates this year.

Crispin has added several new features to its System 2000, the suite of products that comprises its flagship automation offering. Through an agreement with Linx Electronics the system now features an automated realtime DTV Program and System Information Protocol (PSIP) solution. This will allow TV stations to quickly update their viewers on unanticipated schedule or programming changes. “It’s a realtime update of what’s going to air,” said Alan DeVaney, president and CEO of Crispin. “It tracks whatever the operator does, so if the operator makes a change, it’s transparent to the operator.”
Crispin has also added a nearline archive to its ArchiveManager product. Up to 18TB of disk storage may be attached, in nearline service mode, to GVG, Leitch Nexio, Pinnacle, Omneon, and 360 Systems video servers.
Crispin’s NewsPlayX product now features “NewsWheel” capability, an option that allows stations control over on-air programming via the AP’s ENPS newsroom system. The system enables execution of multiple active rundowns as driven by producers through ENPS. Crispin has added what it calls “Catch Server” management to its System 2000, integrating the DG Systems, Fast Channel Video, and MediaDVX, catch (sometimes referred to as “edge”) servers into the system.
For its LoRez server, Crispin has added slate capture capability. In addition to being able to capture and create proxy clips viewable anywhere on the network via the LoRez server, customers can now capture the slate of the material and display it to the user anywhere on the network. This comes especially handy as a verification tool. Marketing
Michael Drzymkowski, president of D.Co Marketing, says his company’s DigiCaster automation product offers a turnkey solution for broadcasters. Most of D.Co’s customers comprise what Drzymkowski calls the PEG market, which stands for Public, Education, and Government channels. “A lot of those people need to do broadcast automation but don’t need the complexities of an operational product that assumes that you’re doing the same thing that the ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates are doing.”
The DigiCaster solution includes a 17-inch SVGA with monitor switch, keyboard and mouse, rack, power strips, and AC backup; two 9-inch TV monitors; the ShowMaker broadcast automation software, which can be used to create and schedule playlists and analog events; a switcher/controller for controlling VCRs; an MPEG-2 encoder; the DigiPlay MPEG-2 player; and Liebert GXT line conditioning. It has the capability for automated store-forward archiving, utilizing HDD and digital tape storage. Broadcasters looking to gradually transition an analog plant to digital can maintain full support for the older analog plant. The system is also applicable to multicasting.

Digital Transaction Group
With the introduction of its AIRO XDS automation solution at NAB, Digital Transaction Group (DTG) looks to jump full-speed into the transition from traditional broadcast workflows to IT-based networks. “One of the biggest advantages with an IT-based workflow is that you now have a network awareness of all the devices, where all the devices can be shared across all the channels and available to all the users,” said John Price, director of product management for Digital Transaction Group. To that end, AIRO XDS’s architecture uses a transactional based client/server model and is based on Microsoft’s .Net framework. The system also features the entire library of XDS device drivers, which control the majority of devices found in a typical broadcast facility. All of the device drivers are written in XML to meet the protocol and standards to communicate with these devices.
Price said the introduction of the XDS will also help ease broadcasters into the file-based world of IT. “I think the demands in the automation world are now much more linked to facilitating the movement of video files from different storage units, whether it’s a video server stored locally or video server across the country being able move that file from one place to another place.”

Encoda Systems
With the recent introduction of its D-Series Version 4 automation solution, Encoda Systems has upgraded the underlying operating system of the product from Unix to Linux 2.6. According to Steve L’Heureux, president of the company’s automation solutions division, having the open-source-based Linux as part of the architecture gives it much greater scalability: “We’re going to be able to provide much more cost-effective solutions at the low-channel count—anywhere from one to eight channels—as well as provide better and more cost-effective solutions at the high end.”
The open-source software will also make troubleshooting and repairing problems easier, according to L’Heureux. “The fact that we own the source code means that no matter where the problem may lie, whether it’s way down low in the operating system or up on the application layer, we can get to it and fix it quickly.”

This year, Florical introduced the Auto JIP (JIP stands for Join in Progress) feature for its AirBoss automation system. The Auto JIP allows broadcasters to join a program already in progress after a live sporting event has run longer than expected, or at the end of a breaking news event. It can also insert a Join in Progress bumper slide and audio announcement before joining the program. “This is a significant new improvement,” said Jim Moneyhun, president, Florical. “It’s one of the most difficult things to automate. I would say it is quite superior to what is known as deadroll or rollunder, because it takes just a push of the button at the end of a live event, and you’ve joined.”
Other recent product introductions from Florical include the MediaTrans Plus, which uses MPEG-4 technology to provide delivery of video and audio signals between two locations, the AirLogger, which automatically creates off-air log recordings for verification purposes and stores them onto long-term storage media, and the AirBoss remote viewer, which automatically cues on-air talent to return from a commercial break within a newscast or other studio program.
The company has teamed with Telestream to allow Florical’s automation products and Telestream’s Flip Factory to work together to provide unattended transcoding and transfer of video files from edge servers. The company has also enhanced its MediaTimer program timing application to offer desktop viewing of programs stored on a high-resolution video server.
Florical has also come out with an Internet edition of the NewsRepeater. It provides for automated replay of a news program with new commercials inserted.

At NAB, Harris introduced its Broadcast Presentation Manager (BPM), which allows operators to manage networks and enterprises from both local and remote locations. According to Brian Lay, director of product marketing for Harris’ automation solutions division, this will be especially useful for centralcasting. “There are still some broadcast groups attempting to do some regionalization or centralization of their operations, so they can manage a number of stations from one location. Even though the content is played out from the edge, they like to centralize the playlist management and the supervision.”
The BPM also features dynamic interfaces within the playout operational environment, linking the station’s traffic system with its automation system. It comprises an Air Manager component that allows operators to have a simultaneous view of up to 16 on-air channels, as well as to manually edit metadata. Harris has also upgraded the Digital Ingest software application module for its Harris Resource Suite [hrs] to offer enhanced ability for broadcast facilities to automate front-end media ingest and transfer processes. The new Digital Ingest 1.1 interfaces with Pathfire and FastChannel media systems, supplementing current interfaces to DG Systems, Media DVX, and Vyvx.

MicroFirst Engineering
MicroFirst recently unveiled the DAS-NLS near-line storage solution and AMI archive management option for the D.A.S., its flagship automation offering. The DAS-NLS automates the hierarchical storage and retrieval process of video clips existing on near-line network attached storage (NAS) disk arrays and professional on-line video file servers. It automatically decides what media needs to be stored on the NAS, as well as what media should be copied from the NAS to a video server in time for playout based on the D.A.S. program schedules. If the kill (deletion) date for a clip is earlier than a schedule requires, the NLS will automatically adjust the kill date to be subsequent to the last scheduled playout.
According to Jerry Berger, vice president and general manager of MicroFirst, it is generally more cost-effective for broadcasters to store their growing assets in a hierarchical fashion, but several elements need to be considered to assess the true costs: “The true cost of hierarchical storage is the combination of the on-line server and its associated storage component, the near-line library storage component and the near-line data/clip movement and archive management software systems.”
The AMI option for the D.A.S. is an XML interface that allows integration between the NLS and D.A.S. databases and third-party archive management systems’ databases. It allows the NLS system to automate the exchange of video clip metadata information as clips are added, removed, or modified to and from third-party archive management systems.
MicroFirst has also introduced the MPS-9810, an intelligent auto/manual multi-point A/B switch that enables redundant automation processors (AP) in the D.A.S. It monitors the D.A.S. communication, and upon sensing a failure, switches up to 32 asynchronous serial communications ports from the primary AP to the backup AP seamlessly. The offending AP can then be replaced with no interruption of service.

Pro-Bel’s big news is Morpheus, its new automation system. The newly redesigned architecture supports advanced playout of conventional content as well as multimedia and data-based material.
Morpheus is based around the Media Ball concept, a new technology allowing complex sequences of events to be packaged together to provide a simple presentation for the operator and easy manipulation within a schedule. Media Ball also eases the introduction of enhanced content to operations where the business and traffic systems may not natively support the new types of material or programming. Morpheus is based on a Microsoft.Net backbone, which is used to provide network resilience and automatic failover in the event of hardware or network problems.

Sundance Digital
In April, Sundance Digital introduced the Pathfire Content Manager, an interface to the Pathfire delivery system. The Content Manager interfaces with Pathfire’s Automation Connect gateway to manage the transfer of new media from Pathfire’s cache server to a facility’s transmission server. The Pathfire Content Manager is available as an option for Titan, FastBreak Spot Play, and FastBreak.
In the area of monitoring, Sundance Digital has introduced the Sundance Sentinel, a SNMP package that provides a single interface to “back room” software modules, allowing operators to monitor various Sundance components within their systems from one interface.
For the company’s Titan and FastBreak automation systems, Sundance Digital has introduced the News Recorder, which automates content segmenting during live video recording to the video server. Program segments may be marked via tally or GPI input using a specially configured workstation. Auto-segmented clips are immediately accessible for inclusion in playlists for re-broadcasts.
Sundance Digital introduced a new version of its NewsLink system at NAB, NewsLink v2.0. The system delivers automation for prime slot newscasts, off-prime newscasts, and cut-ins. New additions to v2.0 include control of cameras, audio, and switchers. Stations also get to choose the desired amount of automation on a show-by-show basis.