What’s New in Routing?

Harris Platinum IP3 router

JOHNSTON, IOWA—Routers are not particularly glamorous or exciting, but since they are in most cases the foundation to the audio and video signal flow through the plant, I tend to want them to be simple, stable and dependable. When we retooled Iowa Public Television for digital, these were the qualities we looked for that led us to select our current Utah Scientific router system.

Although IPTV is not currently in the market for a new routing system, I think it is wise to stay on top of what is available. I often approach this process by looking at what we currently have, how our workflow is changing and then trying to determine what we would want to do if we were purchasing one today.

One opportunity that I see in designing a facility today is the combination of two high ticket systems into a single package: the router and the multiviewer. A number of manufacturers now offer routing and multiviewers in the same package and if you look at the function of the two systems, the combination makes perfect sense. IPTV’s current Evertz multiviewer has been reliable but is getting up in age and we’ve discussed about whether to replace it in the near future.

Looking into this led me to a story about the new Harris Platinum IP3 router. Initially, I was just interested in seeing how they integrated the multiviewer into the router package since our installation involved an array of distribution amplifiers. The Platinum router incorporates the Harris HView modules into the router frame providing the ability to monitor all of the audio and video inputs to the router and drive a multitude of monitors without the need for external distribution amplifiers which for me was kind of a nice feature.

One of the features that I liked in the IP3 was the signal path layering. When we did our planning at IPTV we made the decision to be a discrete audio facility, partially because at the time, embedded audio was still struggling with some glitches. I was confident that the technology for dealing with embedded audio would improve but the main reason we went discrete was that our creative staff was simply much more comfortable with discrete audio and in a facility the size of ours, there weren’t any significant cost savings to be realized by going embedded. The layering within the IP3 is very similar to what we currently have except that they have added a third data layer for metadata which I believe will become critical over time.

For more information, I spoke with Kerry Wheeles, Harris’ director of product marketing at Harris. One of my first concerns was about this data layer and how the router would handle embedded closed captioning. Since we are working diligently on ensuring that closed captioning makes it through our systems to air, I wanted to know what the IP3 would do with closed captions embedded in the digital video passing through the router. Kerry told me that in the current version the router doesn’t touch the closed captioning but passes it straight through. Harris is currently looking at 5 or 6 possibilities for utilizing the data path. One that is in development is an input decoder module that would allow the router to accept IP or ASI input signals and route them to any baseband output. Another potential for the data path is the ability use it for insertion of metadata such as closed captioning into the output.

Sustainability in a system such as a router is of paramount importance. Given that the router is the foundation of most facilities, the idea of installing a system that becomes obsolete or unsupported within a few years of purchase is untenable as no one wants to replace a router too frequently. In addition, the system has to be serviceable without too much disruption. The IP3 inputs are clustered in groups of 9 while the outputs are in groups of 8 or 16 depending on system configuration. Smaller grouping lends itself to disabling fewer sources or destinations when a card needs to be replaced. Another interesting feature that I will look at in more depth at the NAB Show is the ability to perform and test system updates without disabling or disrupting the operation of the router. Software updates continue to be one of the most troublesome chores in any modern facility and the idea that an update could be installed, tested and—in the event of a failure or unforeseen side effect, be reversed—is quite interesting.

Probably the thing that most intrigued me about looking into the IP3 was not so much the technology but the company. When Harris announced that they were looking to sell their broadcast division, many of the folks who have been in the industry for a while remember when Harris and RCA were the giants. I am sure that concern over whether Harris would survive played on the minds of many broadcasters when considering investing in new equipment. The IP3 seems to be an indicator that the new Harris will continue to meet the needs of broadcasters.

Bill Hayes is the director of engineering at Iowa Public Television. He can be reached via TV Technology.

Bill Hayes

Bill Hayes is the former director of engineering and technology for Iowa PBS and has been at the forefront of broadcast TV technology for more than 40 years. He’s a former president of IEEE’s Broadcast Technology Society, is a Partnership Board Member of the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) and has contributed extensively to SMPTE and ATSC.  He is a recipient of Future's 2021 Tech Leadership Award and SMPTE Fellow.