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Pharos partners with SGL for HBO Asia

Pharos and Software Generation (SGL) have announced details of a recent contract for HBO Asia. The Singapore-based broadcaster has re-equipped its playout facility to provide more channels and to support new HD services.

HBO started the project in 2008. Russel Grute at Pharos explained: “HBO wanted to use the same number of staff to get more channel to more countries.” As part of the refurbishment, HBO also wanted to add support for HD services. “Since we started the project, they have added about two more channels every six weeks with no more staff” Grute said, “and they launched the first HD service Oct. 1 this year.”

The system is designed around an Omneon storage and processing platform, SGL FlashNet archive management and Pharos Mediator and Playtime content management and automation. Channel branding is provided by Pixel Power Clarity and Orad 3D Play.

Media is delivered to HBO Asia as tapes and, increasingly, electronically as files. SD content is handled in QuickTime-wrapped, 50Mb/s IMX MPEG-2 format. The new HD material is ingested using the Apple ProRes 422 codec at 220Mb/s. Following QC, a high-resolution copy is archived and then reversioned for various markets.

More than 1TB of data is processed daily by the new system because thousands of transfers are required to feed the 12 SD and new HD channels. HBO Asia chose SGL to archive both its transmission and post-production content. SGL’s FlashNet archive system sits between the Pharos Mediator content management and workflow systems and a Sun StorageTek tape library. HD source masters are stored in the ProRes 422 format. Mediator predicts what rate material is restored from the archive in preparation for playout to avoid contention in the restore process. To reversion content, SGL recalls both the media and project. Using Final Cut Pro, HBO editors create versions to fit the censorship rules for each target market.

“Pharos Mediator uses FlashNet to manage and maintain the data tape archive subsystem, which helps support the complex lifecycle of HBO Asia’s multilingual programming from ingest through to transmission,” Grute said. “Using FlashNet and Mediator’s integrated transfer management, the archive system is seamlessly integrated with the other storage subsystems. These include Omneon Spectrum ingest servers and MediaGrid online storage, new Apple Xsan storage for compliance and promotions editing and the Omneon transmission servers. The existing FlashNet installation already served the busy multichannel workflow at HBO Asia, and it was expanded while live on air and during the network’s recent HD migration.”

As media flows though the broadcast processes, several transcode steps are needed to create proxies and playout files. HD content is transcoded to long-GOP 50Mb/s XDCAM HD format for playout. HBO uses a mix of Omneon ProXchange and Rhozet for the transcoding process.

The ProXchange transcoding runs on the MediaGrid storage array. Mediator manages metadata linking the five or more versions to the original master. “Mediator mediates the priorities between the traffic and scheduling systems with the broadcast,” Grute said. “It doesn’t wait until playout to assemble the schedule; Mediator’s job is to be a slave to business priorities.”

More recently, Pharos has added the promotions workflow with Final Cut editing. Once promos have been compiled, text and graphics are added using Orad 3DPlay with data from Mediator. This allows HBO to easily promote movies across multiple channels and time zones.

There is also a substantial workload to author and deliver subtitles for each movie. Subtitles are inserted into the MPEG transport stream with a Cavena system. Pharos manages the workflow and controls the subtitle system via Cavena’s API.