Discovery Networks Europe opens new tapeless playout center

Technical control position at Discovery Networks Europe

Discovery Networks Europe wanted a purpose-built transmission facility located in its new European headquarters in west London. The network contracted Ascent Media to build and operate the facility, which opened last week.

From the new center, Discovery originates and uplinks 36 feeds to 104 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The system can be expanded to 60 channels. Existing channels are being moved from the old central London facility to the newer one.

By starting with a ground up design, Discovery has been able to take advantage of new technologies that will eliminate most of the tape handling that has made broadcasting so labor-intensive. It also will make the transition to HD transmission much simpler.

Master control designs follow two layouts: one is the single large control room, and the other is separate pods handling 8- to 10 channels each. Discovery has adopted the single large control layout. The focus of the operation is the large master control area that can be seen as visitors arrive in the foyer. The control desks are arranged in front of a huge curved wall that monitors all the channels.

The wall consists of Barco back-projection screens driven by Evertz MVP multi-display processors. Each channel is shown as a column, with the server outputs at the base, a switcher output and an off-air picture at the top. The operators can see at a glance where a problem lies if the off-air picture is lost.

The technical design uses Omneon servers, Omnibus automation, and a Storagetek data tape library. Programs are ingested from videotape, but the rest of the operation handles video and audio as streams and files. Ten ingest rooms are used to encode the tapes. These rooms are set up for quality control. Audio is handled embedded in video. Voice-overs arrive on minidisks and additional language tracks arrive on DAT or DTRS tapes. Audio is captured and encoded as WAV files using Protools. Discovery broadcasts in up to 22 languages, so videotapes only carry the primary language. The program tapes are checked in and out, and cycled though the ingest stations with Xytech tape library management.

Discovery uses two video bit-rates. Content is ingested and archived to LTO tapes as MPEG-2, I-frame only, at 50Mb/s. Program files are transcoded to 20Mb/s long-GOP MPEG-2 for the playout servers as required by the playout schedules. Front Porch Digital provided the transcoding from I-frame to long GOP MPEG. As well as broadcast-resolution video, content is converted to 430kb/s WM9, for proxy viewing using IPV encoders. For regulatory compliance, a low-resolution recording of each channel is stored for 90 days.

Masstech provides a low-maintenance tapeless solution, which is also used by staff for general viewing purposes. The StorageTek data tape library is based on the LTO format. With 8500 slots, the library can hold about 85,000 hours of video.

The transmission schedules are prepared with Pilat, and then loaded into the Omnibus automation system, which runs the master control. Programs are managed with Artesia digital asset management, and Front Porch Digital controls the tape archive.

The facility features Omneon ingest and playout servers. For ingest, a 10-port system with 10TB of storage holds work in progress before it is archived or aired. The playout server has 52 ports and is made of two linked servers. The server system is mirrored with a second 52-port system. A third group of servers are used for program quality control.

All video cabling and infrastructure can support HD so that Discovery can upgrade when ready. All audio is embedded, so cabling and infrastructure is SDI. The master control is switched using Miranda Imagestores with DVE. A 512x512 NVision video router provides video routing.

Files are moved over a Gigabit Ethernet network. A group of Cisco routers and switches form a 1024 port media network. Unlike most IT installs, Ascent used video-style patch panels for Ethernet rather than patching on the back of switches.

The move to a file-based playout will transform the workflows for Discovery, giving it a new flexibility to add channels and upgrade to HD, without the upheavals required with legacy methods.

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