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New digital alternatives demand multi-format test, measurement tools

Ease of use, multi-format and multi-layer support are critical requirements for test and measurement in today’s changing broadcast world, according to Tektronix’ Jon Hammarstrom.

Who would have thought that the transition to digital transmission would foretell a broader industry trend where distribution avenues, protocols and demands are in a constant state of change rather than being an end point in and of itself?

But that’s just what is happening in television today. Handheld devices, cell phones and the Internet are only a few of the newly emerging distribution avenues broadcasters must explore. Throw HDTV into the mix, the drive to minimize costs and maximize results, and increasing reliance on centralcasting business models, and the level of complexity skyrockets.

High Definition Technology Update decided to touch base with an authority in test and measurement to gain insight into strategies for maintaining continuity and quality of service in this state of flux. We turned to Jon Hammarstrom, video market development manager at Tektronix, for some answers.

HDTU: Given the state of flux at television stations with the analog to digital transition, what tips can you give for signal test and measurement to serve these disparate needs?

Jon Hammarstrom: When the DTV mandate came, the expectation was that the majority of license holders wanted to keep their licenses and comply. As expected, they didn’t convert their infrastructure all at once. They converted their infrastructure as their capital budgets allowed. There were and still are many hybrid facilities in the United States.

The analog infrastructure has been in place since the ‘50s. It was supplemented in 1993 or 1994 with then state-of-the-art digital technology. In many of the more competitive markets, stations have recently taken the opportunity to try to set themselves apart from the competition. HD is one of those service differentiators.

A broadcaster is expected to maintain the continuity of service and quality of service needed to keep customers in front of their televisions despite the rapidly changing technology environment. As a result they need easy-to-use, multi-format, multi-layer test and measurement solutions.

HDTU: What about new distribution avenues opening up to broadcasters, such as cell phones, handheld computers and the Web?

JH: Ten years ago, (SMPTE) 292M required specific digital test and measurement equipment. New challenges are arising quickly now, including the need to create test and measurement for DVB-H and IP for transmission of video to handheld appliances or distribution via the web. With each next generation codec developed to support the seemingly unending entry of new compression formats, there is a new test and measurement challenge.

Today, broadcasters have a need for test and measurement devices for DVB-H and IP transmission of video to handheld appliances or distribution via the Web.

T&M solutions need now support a much wider variety of formats and protocols. The numbers are increasing rapidly as a result of the expansion of video based services across a broad spectrum of applications and market segments. There was a time when the biggest variations that T&M equipment had to deal with were between NTSC and PAL. Today our clients are routinely dealing with protocols as new as DVB-H and compression formats ranging from MPEG-2 to H.264 or VC-1. Our challenge continues to be how we can keep our clients ahead of the implementation curve.

The test and measurement vendor that can deliver equipment for a wide variety of formats across multiple layers, capable of supporting a variety of protocols will be the most successful.

HDTU: How do you do that?

JH: Our latest development in compressed video analysis tools enables our clients to quickly isolate the source of a fault and take corrective action. We improved the “speed to insight” for the engineer trying to find and correct intermittent problems. We have provided the ability to automatically trigger on a fault condition, capture, analyze and debug. We capture 200MB of data to debug.

That’s a new paradigm from the perspective of analysis and debug. The tool also supports the industry’s broadest range of protocols and compression formats.

Tektronix tools enable the user to monitor in baseband, analog or SDI, or in the industry’s widest choice of compressed formats. As a result we feel our clients have the tools required to look at all of the layers in a transmission environment and separate, narrow down and identify the source of a fault and fix it - faster than ever before.

The more complex the broadcast environment, the more important it is to have T&M tools provide information, not just data, said Tektronix’ Jon Hammarstrom..

HDTU: From your perspective, are broadcasters up to speed in knowing what test and measurement practices best meet their needs in this new digital environment?

JH: Customers struggle with where to look and deciding what is an important characteristic to monitor, especially when looking at compressed video. Not unrealistically, their T&M priorities are often driven by budget.

As they diversify services, clients’ environments get more complex. Their problems get more complex. The ability to locate faults and the ability to watch several –may be as many as 100 streams- leaving the plant makes having multi-layer, multi-format T&M capability very significant today as opposed to just a few years ago.

In the broadcaster’s digital environment, video is not just data but includes a variety of critical interrelated timing characteristics that require careful monitoring to ensure continued high quality of service.

HDTU: How can technology help?

JH: From a best practices perspective broadcasters should acknowledge the need to deal with large, complex multi-layer environments, often supporting multiple protocols from the point they consider expanding services or designing a new network. Take T&M requirements in consideration from the start and invest in making your human assets more effective.

Systems are more complex today. There is concern in the market that skill sets from analysis to debugging are changing rapidly and knowing how best to address that is very difficult.

If you have a fault, you don’t want to sit an MPEG engineer in front of a demodulator until it happens again. Put a test and measurement device there that can trigger when the fault occurs, capture relevant data and provide sufficient analysis to point your engineer in the right direction, or better yet debug to the point where they can identify the source of the fault and correct it. The more complex an environment is, the more important it is to have your T&M tools provide information, not just data.

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