Digital workflow is a common aim for broadcasters across the globe. On the one hand, they would like to realize the increased efficiency of the integration of different departments. On the other hand, given the ongoing economic challenges, they also need to make sure that the level of investment does not outweigh the benefits.
When it comes to broadcast transmission, the solution needs to ensure as much of the workflow as possible is automated. The automation system may, for example, be required to handle multiplatform content in addition to HD formats and conventional SD broadcast material, while at the same time managing both legacy-based hardware and software driven equipment. Yet, broadcasters also need to match plans for growth with scalable, future-proof technology for the successful development of their station.
What's the solution?
To manage these multiple technology challenges, it is necessary to select a system that can easily be adapted to a changing workflow. Abit's compact automation system Showit achieves this by seamlessly linking playout, recording and archiving workflow, combining live feeds, prerecorded material and special effects all registered in a heavily optimized database. The small platform is capable of providing workflow and playout automation for up to three transmission channels.
How does it work?
To realize overall frame-accurate broadcast, the communication to all of the devices needs to be synchronized, and Showit achieves this through the utilization of a centralized architecture with a real-time operating system. This means it is possible to configure and easily change workflow. The system can logically link any type of device at a conceptual level through the incorporation of a range of templates, allowing the addition of any new device like a server, mixer or router at any time.
Tight real-time integration of a particular brand of device (regardless of whether that is a media management, storage or archive system) is incorporated in software modules that operate in real time close to the external communication link. In this way, the nondevice-specific, top down arrangement means the system is essentially future-proof.
Each interface operates in accordance with high-level control algorithms so upgrades to logical templates assigned to each physical device are automatically reflected down to the applications it interfaces with, making changes to peripheral equipment a simple process.
The protocol driver for communicating with each specific device is maintained separately and operates at or close to the external physical connection. Integration is simplified as no control logic is included at this level, and as a result, the system can manage and control any current system or one that is yet to be created.
Optimal workflow configuration is achieved by the creation of flexible routing tables, allowing high availability workflow through the physical router and mixer while applying rule-based control embedded in the application software or operator commands from the workstations.
This centralized architecture finds the integrated broadcast automation software running on a master control processor while the communication servers communicate over a high-speed VME backplane, with Serial and GPI signals controlling the peripheral equipment over physical connections. The software running on the communication servers (protocol driver) runs on a real-time operating system that maintains low level synchronization of logical tasks and communication using the station time signal as a reference, resolving frame accuracy issues.
The centralized architecture allows a single channel to be broadcast on multiple channels, enabling last-minute changes to be reflected across the broadcast spectrum while taking into account varying factors for each stream, such as commercial regulations, time zone differences, transmission path timing characteristics, opt-out scheduling and control signals for use in interactive services. Tightly coupled control algorithms allow seamless inclusion of branding and commercial placement in both HD and SD in accordance with the primary schedule or under the control of the production staff, up to the time of transmission.
In the past, large computer systems were required with extensive software development to provide a supplier delivered solution. Now with the combination of newer and faster processor cards, high-level flexible workflow algorithms rather than device-driven transmission control provide a solution that meets broadcasters' specifications and evolving aspirations. The understanding that the specification is the start and not the end is imperative in the broadcast industry. The combination of Showit and the company's partnership-driven approach can now contribute to achieving digital workflow while still keeping budgets under control.
Rob Leishman is marketing manager for Abit.