Broadcast Glue

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

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“We foresee a scenario where traditional broadcast infrastructures based on industry specific transport and interface mechanisms will be gradually replaced by more generic mechanisms, such as Ethernet and IP. Signals, which today are handled by dedicated routing systems, will in future become packet-switched and handled by generic IP routing/switching devices”

Although digital interface technology is an often overlooked compared to its more glamorous siblings, it is a vital element for every broadcast environment. Whether you are designing a newsroom, an outside broadcast (OB) vehicle or a complete transmission facility your choice of digital interfacing products is critical. In this article Peter Schut, chief technology officer at Axon Digital Design highlights the growing importance of these low profile products.

In a broadcast world that is ruled by standards, nothing really seems to be standardised. Engineers talk about the HD-standard as if this is some clear benchmark but in fact there are 32 separate HD standards. The ability to interface separate production components into a single cohesive workflow is critical. Digital broadcast infrastructure products play an important role in this process, as well as reducing power consumption and indeed weight within a production system.

First developed in the early 1990s, modular AV signal processing, monitoring and control products, which collectively became known as ‘glue’, play an increasingly important role in many broadcast production architectures, especially ones where weight and power consumption are important considerations, such as OB vehicles.

Many equipment manufacturers have developed ranges of infrastructure products but some see them as peripheral ‘me too’ products, which can be used to leverage bigger component sales into a broadcaster. In my view, there are two critical questions that a broadcaster should ask before selecting their supplier: is that company able to develop the full functionality that modular processing products provide, and can it respond to our specific needs and provide products that support a customer’s specific production workflows?

Changing signals

We live in times of dynamic change in the broadcast industry. In a relatively short period of time we have evolved from standard to high definition and now on to stereoscopic 3D and 3Gbs production with 4K clearly on the horizon. For your broadcast infrastructure products to work efficiently within this rapidly changing technological landscape, the supplier needs to maintain investment in research and development, ensuring that their products are fit for purpose in any production environment. Axon’s Synapse signal processing product line, today close to 350 products based on a single form factor, is an example of dedication in this area.

Despite our relatively small size, Axon is major supplier of digital broadcast infrastructure products in a number of market segments, especially HD OB vehicles. One company that has worked with Axon over many years is OB specialist, Telegenic. Axon’s Synapse system provides the glue for Telegenic’s new three vehicle fleet of 3D capable OB trucks.

“These 3D vehicles represent a new and very different approach to OB production,” explained Mike Spencer, chief engineer at Telegenic. “There is a lot of extra equipment and new people, such as convergence operators and stereographers, who need to be included within the truck. It’s a different workforce that is involved so we must adapt the truck to host these new operators. It’s a whole new ball game and the learning curve has been steep.”

Within this new environment, with all this new equipment and new operators, concepts such as minimising power consumption and the miniaturisation of equipment are critical. “In this respect, one company has made a really significant contribution to developing the enabling technology that we needed to realise these trucks,” Spencer commented. “Axon’s Synapse modules hold everything together in the vehicles. They are incredibly powerful, adaptable and compact cards which we have used for some time.

“Before 3D, we used Synapse cards for SD-HD up- and down-conversion within our 2D vehicles. Now, we are using them for a wide variety of very different purposes within 3D production. For example, we use Synapse modules to produce 3D side-by-side images and also to create various ways of monitoring our 3D workflow,” he explained.

Throughout each of the three Telegenic vehicles Synapse modules are integrated within the main workflow for signal distribution, synchronisation, up- and down-conversion, 3D signal processing to compensate for mirror rigs and distribution, and audio embedding and Dolby E processing.

“Our relationship with Axon stretches over many years,” explained Spencer. “When we first started talking to Axon and other manufacturers about 3D it was an entirely new language. Axon was one of the best at understanding our needs: their team is very bright and generates very good ideas. Even now, they are constantly listening and taking ideas on board,” he stated.

The winter games

Another Axon customer is ANO Sports Broadcasting (Panorama) from Russia, which has selected Axon to provide Synapse modular processing equipment for a new multi-vehicle fleet of OB trucks.  The fleet will be used as part of a massive new broadcast infrastructure project being built to enable millions of viewers in Russia to watch the XXII Winter Games and the XI Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi in 2014, as well as the XXVII World Summer University Games in Kazan in 2013.  

Axon modular processors are used in a broad range of applications with the OB vehicles, including the up-conversion, down-conversion and cross conversion of 3G signals. Also, Synapse modules support the distribution of video and audio signals throughout the vehicles as well as the embedding and de-embedding of audio signals. Axon miniaturised technology controls the synchronising, legalising and keying operations within the fleet and finally, Axon’s SynView forms the standard multi-viewing platform on the vehicles.

In response to the customer needs AXON has developed two new Synapse modules for this project. The first sees an adaption to the company’s GQW220 3Gb/s, HD, SD-SDI to QWXGA converter to provide advanced 4:3 masking capabilities. Meanwhile, the GDL200 is an entirely new dual standard legalizer for digital signals with full framesync capabilities.

On any scale, this is a massive project and Axon has been able to support it on many different levels. The company has worked directly with ANO Sports Broadcasting on the construction of 12 OB vehicles. In addition, Axon is working closely with German systems integration company, Broadcast Solutions GmbH, to provide Synapse modular processing equipment for two new HD OB vehicles which will also be used on the project.

One vehicle is configured as a large master control room for ANO Sports Broadcasting’s extensive fleet of OB trucks with five discrete areas providing feed/line control, supervisor area, server control, audio control and a main technical area. A second support vehicle contains a complete flight-case based eight-camera production unit. Also, the vehicle includes a 2.4 meter SNG System.

In both trucks, Axon has installed a number of different 3Gb/s capable broadcast infrastructure modules from its Synapse range. These will fulfil a range of signal processing requirements from analogue video D/A to dual-channel up conversion.

All basic SD/HD up, down and cross signal conversion and synchronisation – the fundamental infrastructure that binds together the vehicles’ production workflows – is supported by Axon’s GXG010 module. The GXG010 is a low latency up, down, cross converters with 16 channel audio transparency. The GXG010 is compatible with 270Mb/s, 1.5Gb/s and 3Gb/s for full 1080p/50 or 1080p/59.94 use.

Another key component in the vehicle’s production workflow is the Axon GQW220 quad split modules since within the MCR vehicle they control 160 picture feeds which are simultaneously viewed over a bank of ten 47-inch monitors.

“Our customer, ANO Sports Broadcasting, is a highly ambitious broadcast service provider with a great vision of the future,” commented Stefan Breder, CEO at Broadcast Solutions. “To match their vision we needed technology partners that share this vision and Axon is such a company. Already, Synapse is found in many of the ANO Sports Broadcasting OB vehicles and it meets all of their requirements for advanced broadcast infrastructure products.”

The future for broadcast glue

At Axon, it concerns us greatly when we see other manufacturers downgrading the role of broadcast infrastructure products - some will even provide it free of charge as a sweetener to enable them to leverage other bigger ticket item sales.

Irrespective of where Axon is today, we remain entirely focused on the future; a future that will soon see major changes in the broadcast industry. Axon is committed to developing a future vision which ensures our customers’ businesses will remain relevant and profitable in years to come.

We foresee a scenario where traditional broadcast infrastructures based on industry specific transport and interface mechanisms will be gradually replaced by more generic mechanisms, such as Ethernet and IP. Signals, which today are handled by dedicated routing systems will in future become packet-switched and handled by generic IP routing/switching devices.

Today, the total cost of ownership of IT infrastructures capable of supporting high quality real time video is already at the level of conventional infrastructures. And this will only get better as the current trend in cost-erosion of IT-based technology continues. The eventual transition to IT-based workflows and architectures is inevitable.

Already, Axon is prepared for this transition. When customers’ need them, we will be able to offer the new video/audio processing platforms that feature one or more high-speed Ethernet ports that are dedicated to real-time compressed and uncompressed input and output of video and audio. And of course these modules still feature the existing/traditional interfaces so a seamless integration of legacy equipment is guaranteed.

The industry standards to enable this transition already exist, creating a level playing field for these new IT-centric products. Broadcast infrastructure products might be small in size and also cost but their role in evolving broadcast workflows is critical. Our advice to any broadcaster is the same – think seriously about your broadcast infrastructure products – if they are right then you are a long way towards creating a truly efficient workflow.

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