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Automation offers the ties that bind

The automation and control-system vendors are exhibiting ample dexterity as they erect the bridge between the old broadcast environment and a new emerging world, where re-purposing content and asset management are surfacing as top priorities. Broadcasters large and small will encounter a number of new automation and control tools at NAB.

But first, consider how these three automation vendors view their role in this dynamic marketplace. "An automation company can be looked at in lot of different ways," says Alan DeVaney, president of Crispin. "Over the past four to five years, with the firm industry commitment away from tape to hard-disk storage, we see a need for new software to consolidate the process with a much greater emphasis on database and asset management."

Joe French, executive vice president of Encoda Systems' automation group, says that by providing a near real-time exchange between traffic and automation systems his company is beginning to eliminate flat file transfers. "We're breaking down a historical barrier in the process, which has hindered the management of material and content across all boundaries," he adds.

Crispin will demonstrate the means to control multiple channels using multiple devices, such as video servers, all from a single control point and the means to control multiple channels in a centralcasting mode. Its new System 2000, which comprises RapidPlayX2000, DevicerServer 2000 and AssetBase, works in harmony to provide frame-accurate control of devices, while executing the traffic schedule.

System 2000 controls video servers from multiple vendors, as well as character generators, master control switchers, routers and tape decks. Crispin now addresses real-time device control, server space management, on-air playback, traffic, data transfer, including auto-dubbing, and databases using Microsoft's SQL7 database engine. Crispin automation not only handles the operational side of the facility but news playback, as well.

Broadcasters can control news playback, as well as commercial and program playback, from a single control point using the same System 2000 modules. A single control point will be shown by Crispin with a LAN connection to AP News for news rundowns via MOS, their integration into a playlist and the execution of the play-to-air of news stories.

"We are centralizing all the controls on our Windows NT-based device server," says Devaney. "All the devices in a facility are assigned a unique Dynamic Link Library (DLL), which insulates our applications from any vendor modifications to the device in question, among other things." He adds that this DLL-based approach allows for the rapid addition of new devices to the automated environment, as well.

EncodaSystems will show its DAL Playlist Manager and Channel Manager solutions for single stations, centralized operations and large-scale multichannel facilities with 1,000-plus channels, among other things. Getting broadcasters started with a file-based environment, while providing an upgrade path, is accomplished with Windows 2000-based DAL Playlist Manager, a limited automation system for video servers and VTRs.

"The use of networking topology has come a long way," says French. "The ability to pass FTP files around allows the automation companies to create a more efficient and highly adaptable environment for the broadcasters."

Business and technology models are being re-engineered, and, with Encoda's DAL LinkServer, for example, broadcasters are being given the opportunity to redefine how traffic and automation systems are able to respond to each other over a single, unified stationwide database. For large station groups and O&O clusters, Encoda is offering a flexible centralcasting platform, which combines the best of the CJDS and Drake Automation/DAL lineups.

The trend towards file-oriented, video-server-based facilities is enabling mid-sized facilities to lay the groundwork for future expansion.

"On-air origination is generally not the only issue," says French. "We created a graphical user interface (GUI)-based application which is not only easy to learn and deploy, but it is also extensible and can be grown into a distributed environment."

Jim Moneyhun, president of FloriCal Systems, sees two basic models for central-control systems for broadcasters. The master control is either at a hub or central site with storage, or control and storage are shared between the hub and the remote sites. FloriCal's latest versions of AirBoss and SpotCacher, used by Groupe TVA in Montreal, along with CNN Domestic and CNN International, will be demonstrated at NAB.

"It gets more complicated when you have to address multiple device controllers off a central playlist and do it frame-accurately across multiple time zones," says Moneyhun. "We are doing this now and accommodating all path delays in the process. We offer broadcasters an opportunity to do the job right without having the added expense of a second automation system."

Moneyhun says that, despite the industrywide effort to eliminate duplications wherever possible at all levels in the broadcast sector, "duplication is still too widespread."

FloriCal is moving into the desktop cuts-only and audio NLE area with the CueBrowser, which handles time-code coincidence with high-resolution assets. EMC will show FloriCal with Avalon Consulting Group software in its booth at NAB. Together, the companies are involved with Groupe TVA and the Australia-based Newcastle Broadcasting Network (NBN), where the network-distribution platform includes DVB-ASI MPTS (multiple program transport streams). The NBN hub will receive video files at 1.5 Mbps over a 10BaseT Ethernet from remote sites that will use Vela Research encoders.

Harris Automation (formerly Louth) will show multiple solutions at NAB for large stations seeking a coherent centralization scheme and for smaller stations, which want to ease into the digital transition with an affordable, scalable and forward-looking platform. In the area of media-asset management, Harris is partnering with France-based Question d'Image (QDI).

"For our Global Media Transfer (GMT) tool, we are adding an extension to move media files from Fibre Channel to the WAN," says Brian Lay, director of product marketing for automation. "Another part of our WAN strategy revolves around our XML-based Network Device Control Protocol (NDCP), which has evolved to address the increasing emphasis on real-time TCP-IP-based interfaces."

Harris is rolling out AirNews, a news integration solution, as well, which will push Harris beyond on-air playout. AirNews uses the Media Object Server (MOS) Protocol, allowing the newsroom system to talk to the automation system. For multichannel operations, Harris offers LinkList, which allows for the simultaneous changing or editing of multiple playlists at remote sites in hub-based operations.

"As we see more video servers and NLEs in the newsroom, this is putting more emphasis on the automation system for real-time control of devices," Lay says. At Tribune's ChicagoLand TV, for example, Harris links AP/ENPS to playout via Sony Newsbase.

"The newsroom producer controls on-air playout with commercials integrated into the playlist in real-time," adds Lay.

Odetics Broadcast will have four stands in its booth at NAB highlighting archive management, multi-path distribution, centralcasting and the future enhancements to its AIRO system. Among other things, Odetics is now delivering automated ingestion of satellite feeds tightly integrated with AIRO's metadata-management capability. Auto-archiving to the latest generation of DLT storage devices, powered by Quantum/ATL, and simultaneous encoding for video distribution to any desktop via standard TCP/IP networks will be demonstrated.

"The digital-media supply chain is all about empowering any advertiser to connect with the viewer, while seamlessly, reliably and cost-effectively managing the content as it moves to and from each link in the chain. In essence, that is the crux of TV-media broadcasting today," says Steven L'Heureux, Odetics president.

Odetics will also demonstrate an HDTV daytime automation option, which can be far more cost effective than expensive HD-related storage requirements where HD content can take up 12 times the storage capacity necessary to store the same content in SD format. Odetics counts WRAL-DT Raleigh as one of its major HDTV clients.

Omnibus Systems Inc. arrives at NAB with its own lineup, along with solutions from its Advanced Broadcast Technology (ABT) Division, including the ABT MultiBrowse stand-alone desktop browse system (for smaller stations) and media finger printing.

The Omnibus Colossus multichannel automation and control system sits at high-end facilities. Colossus has already been selected by Starz/Encore for its new facility in Denver and by the BBC for its next phase of its UK-based digital channels.

Another star attraction, besides the joint Quantel/Omnibus news and sports production system INSPiration, is the Omnibus HY-BROW, a desktop system which can allow a TV journalist to scan browser-based content and then perform frame-accurate editing directly with content on the high-resolution video server.

"HY-BROW is not just for news, although it was initially developed to enable journalists to view media and make EDLs. You can use it in much the same way for promos and interstitials, as well," says Omnibus CEO Andy Ioannou. "We approach the requirements of broadcasting today and in the future from the broadcast perspective, rather than the IT perspective. We believe that true asset- and media-management solutions need to be fully integrated with all broadcast technology and operations."

Tools such as CacheManager, an element in Colossus, with its sophisticated scheduling routines and media and content management, allows broadcasters to conserve when it comes to server-related resources by efficiently deploying smaller, and therefore less expensive, mirrored servers in place of unnecessary transmission devices. Omnibus has also released GAMMA, which is a suite of applications that provide comprehensive asset, media and content management.

Following its merger with Philips Broadcast, Thomson Multimedia Broadcast and Network Solutions group arrives at NAB with Thomson Automation, which now incorporates Philips Automation Products Division. There, the emphasis on multichannel real-time accuracy has triggered the creation of several XML-based open standards, such as Automation MetaData Protocol (AMP), Rundown Notification Protocol (RNP) and Asset Cue Protocol (AQP).

"We developed RNP with scheduling systems in mind so that they can take advantage of the metadata provided by AMP," says Roy Moore, Thomson Automation group general manager. "AQP allows for seamless content transport and more efficient file transfers between multiple video servers and digital archives."

Along with a new line of platform-independent playout workstations, customers can benefit from the seamless integration of AMP with software from Ascential Software (Informix) Media360 and others, as well as a new Java-based application with RNP on the back-end running in XML.

"We stress versatility and WAN ability in control of all devices where the only limitations are found on the peripherals," says Moore. "It is all about a complete business and work-flow integration."