The evolution of multiviewers

Multiviewer technology evolved from its origins in signage as video walls and large Jumbotron-style screens that were used in stadiums, arenas and presentations. These early displays were CRT video cubes and a variety of CRT, fluorescent and LCD technologies for the large indoor and outdoor displays. With the introduction of flat-screen technology for video and the image quality meeting acceptable standards, the displays began to appear as monitors in program origination, master control and network operation control rooms. Flat-screens became larger, and multiview technology appeared to maximize the use of the large screens and found its way into production control rooms and remote production vehicles.

There are a number of obvious benefits in using multiviewers as well as a considerable number of other not so obvious benefits. The use of multiviewer technology reduces the number of physical monitors. Using fewer screens for the same number of images reduces the power and HVAC requirements in the control rooms.

Changing technology

Multiviewer technology continues to evolve. It is introducing new concepts in monitoring and consolidating many features and functionalities that previously required a lot of outboard gear. The integration of audio metering, under-monitor and clock displays allow each source to have an audio meter if needed, an under-monitor display instead of white tape and multiple clock displays, which are just appearances in the multiview controller. As broadcast and production technologies become more IP-centric, multiviewers take on the additional role of monitoring the network and servers.

During the introduction of multiviewers into broadcast and production monitoring, they were separate devices and added outputs to the router and required a separate controller. This added cost, engineering, cabling and infrastructure. Still, there are considerable benefits: They occupy less space, need less power and do not generate the heat of CRT monitors. Space savings, while expanding the monitoring capability in control rooms and remote trucks, are substantial.

Using a multiviewer in a production control room or remote production truck provides the ability to have multiple configurations that are easily changed using a management dashboard in the image processor. There can be multiple profiles for different productions in a truck serving different productions needs for multiple users without having to do major repatching or rerouting.

Multiviewers are powerful tools that are now being fully integrated into routers. They are now cards in the router frame and use the same input cross points. The immediate benefit is that all of the sources on the router are available to the multiviewer without needing additional router outputs. This is a considerable cost savings in equipment and infrastructure.

Remote monitoring

A recent addition to the feature set in multiviewer technology is the ability to monitor servers and computers. This is a powerful addition in the arsenal of tools needed in today’s monitoring environment. Previously, one had to add a large number of computer monitors or rely on a KVM, and both required an operator to remember to check on applications that were running various processes.

Now, a multiviewer using remote monitoring connection tools (i.e. VNC) can display the screen of a server or computer. No different from signal monitoring if the operator sees a problem, they will route the signal into the quality control monitor that has test and measurement tools in the same path to diagnose the problem.

In the file and streaming ecosystem, in addition to the signal, there are dashboards and status screens for each application. If the operator sees an issue, he or she can use the KVM to call up that server or computer and either diagnose or take some type of corrective action to resolve the issue.

This means that software applications or servers that have dashboards for management or that show the status of the processes they are running can be monitored in a display frame on the multiviewer similar to more standard video feeds. A single display screen can show the rundown on the traffic system, the playlist on the playout server and the program material video with audio metering, the under-monitor display showing the ID, and the rasterized screen of a test and measurement system. Some systems use Web browsers to access their status and management screens. This means that there are computers with browsers dedicated to these systems that need to be displayed.

Monitoring has become significantly more complex. In production, recording to a server requires the server to be monitored the same as the video. Playback means tracking the rundown on the playlist. These are all on server or computer screens.

The multiviewer allows edit and graphic rooms to display on a single screen a lot more things. The multiviewer display can monitor running processes, without requiring multiple computer screens or multiple windows open on a craft production machine. In an edit room, having the audio meters displayed with each source is helpful as well as the under-monitor displays.

In master control, distribution goes to multiple platforms in many formats other than SD/HD-SDI. The traditional master control room had a variety of test monitoring tools. If there were problems, different types of alarms and alerts went off. Now, as the majority of these systems have become software applications, alerts are only flashing colors on computer screens. There are new software tools required for quality control management of files and streams. While these may run in an automated mode, once there is a problem, unless there is a display screen showing the application, an operator will not realize something is not right. The management screen needs to be monitored in the event of an alert. How do you monitor the return feed from a website? How many computer screens are required to monitor this?

The master control room needs more extensive monitoring technology. Multiviewer technology responds to meet these new requirements enabling master control to monitor all the signals, streams, servers and computers. This includes all the computer-based test and measurement tools.

Utilizing the power of a multiviewer, the master control now resembles a network operation center, displaying the screens of playout servers, traffic systems, Ethernet network traffic, streaming delivery and management servers. The management of transmission systems are on servers or accessed via browsers.

The multiviewer is a multifaceted tool with a considerable amount power to meet current monitoring requirements.

Gary Olson is managing director, GHO Group.

Gary Olson