Home shopping gets hi-tech

QVC Japan went on air April 1 using robotic cameras, a virtual studio, server-based technology, automation, nonlinear editing and a near-line robotic archive system. Located in 12,000 square feet in four stories of the World Business Garden in Chiba, the new broadcast facility was designed with an easy upgrade path to HDTV.

"I've been trying to build a video-server-based system for over five years, but this is the first time we were able to get all the elements together," reports QVC Japan Vice Chairman David Frey. "This was much more complex than your typical automated system, providing full automation and media management of 6,700 hours of video."

Frey adds that one of the biggest needs QVC has is for flexible systems that allow the network to track sales, replace sold-out products, augment a product line that is selling well and build a library of full-motion product demonstrations (more than 30,000 per year). "Everything we do is Oracle-based, including our order-management system, warehouse-management system, on-screen graphics and automation system," he says. "Not all the interfaces are currently in place, but we are phasing them in."

The first floor of the new facility houses a large studio, the main production-control room, central equipment, a product-prep area, and dressing/makeup rooms. The second floor has a smaller studio, a full working kitchen, a three-walled cyclorama for the virtual studio, and a master-control/media manager's area, which serves as the control point for asset management. The second-floor production-control room is capable of simultaneous production, serving as a back-up control room and able to produce a second feed if necessary.

Also on the second floor are four Quantel edit seats (one with the advanced paint option), a graphics area using VizRT graphics and an Alias Maya graphics software package. A server room houses a Quantel Clipbox that supports the edit suites and on-air playout.

"The live feed is archived to an ADIC near-line robotic tape-storage system, utilizing six DVCPRO50 tape machines that are capable of storing approximately 7,000 hours of programming," reports Marc Bressack, vice president of sales for AF Associates, the Northvale, N.J., systems- integration firm that handled the project.

The server room also houses the media prep/ingest area, where information is digitized for the server. Full station automation was developed by Nippon Systems Development to control ingest, playlist creation, playout, segment recording, and archiving/asset management.

The virtually tapeless system is based on CCIR 601 digital component video. "We went with a Grass Valley wide-band routing switcher, an NVision AES audio router and an NVision data router," explains AF Senior Project Manager Steve Sabin. "We chose a Radamec robotic pedestal system with multiple control points. The camera complement consists of Ikegami HDK-790 and HDK-79s high-definition cameras with Fujinon lenses."

The live control rooms are virtually identical, except that one uses a Grass Valley Kalypso two-M/E switcher, and the other utilizes a Grass Valley 1200. Other major components in the control rooms include Grass Valley Gveous DVEs, an Image Video under-monitor display tally system and VizRT character generators.