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NAB 2008: Smooth Operators

While broadcasters' investments in high-definition production gear to launch HD newscasts have drawn much attention over the past year, many stations are also quietly overhauling the guts of their plant, replacing and/or upgrading master control switchers, routers, playout servers and automation systems to handle high-definition and multichannel playback. Those are the items they'll be looking for at the NAB convention next week. (For complete coverage of the 2008 NAB Show, click here.)

It's one thing to be able to broadcast live HD pictures from the studio, but quite another to play out high-definition commercials and support HD station branding, while perhaps simultaneously feeding a secondary standard-def multicast channel.

For example, Sinclair Broadcast Group is converting master control operations to HD in eight of its markets by this spring to be able to play out hi-def commercials and syndicated content.

“Everyone talks about the DTV transition, thinking that's it's almost over,” says Del Parks, Sinclair VP of engineering and operations. “Well, the RF [transmission] side is almost over, but the studio side is just beginning. And that's just as expensive, if not more expensive.”

Engineers shopping for master control gear at NAB will see more improvements to existing systems rather than breakthrough products. Key themes are increased high-definition support, such as the 3 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) products offered by all the major routing vendors; more interoperability between file-based products to make it easier to transport digital video around the plant; and tighter integration with automation to make operations as lean as possible. Here's a sampling:

Utah Scientific

Utah Scientific, which made noise at last year's NAB by introducing an IP-based router, has a bevy of new products including two master control switchers, the MC-4000 and MC-40, and a high-end router, the Utah-400/XL.

Utah's MC-4000 is a full-featured master control switcher and branding engine. The 3-rack-unit (RU) package can hold two complete signal processing channels and offers switchable HD/SD operation. Each processor channel has four keyers that can be fed with internal logos or external key signals, a built-in two-window squeezeback effects generator, and internal audio and video clip stores.

The MC-40 is a standalone, 1 RU package aimed at downstream keying, logo branding and EAS applications. It contains the MC-400 channel branding board along with an 8-input board that allows the MC-400 to be used separately from a Utah-400 routing switcher. It can be used as a standalone master control switcher with four sources or downstream from a router to get additional sources on-air.

On the high end, the Utah-400/XL router is now the largest member of the Utah-400 router line and is designed to provide a single platform for all digital router applications where extremely large matrix configurations are required. The 3 Gbps-capable router is readily scalable from 288x288 cross-points to 1056x1056 and beyond using a single family of matrix building blocks, and can support a 1056x1056 matrix in just 40 rack units of space, without the need for special cable/connector arrangements.

“It's the densest router introduced in the industry,” says Utah president and CEO Tom Harmon.


NVISION will unveil a new generation of large-matrix, 3 Gbps multi-format routers with increased system features and twice the density, with capabilities up to 1152x1152 cross-points. It will also introduce the NV5100MC Multi-Channel Master Control Switching System, a modular product designed to let stations tailor their master control to their current operational and budget requirements, and upgrade features and functionality as needed.

A key benefit is NVISION's “full-video preview” feature, which provides an independent processing channel that a master control operator can use to preview video sources, keys, logos and squeezeback effects.

OmniBus Systems

Automation vendor OmniBus will show its updated iTX Version 1.2 software-based playout system. The system combines specialized software with commodity hardware and is designed to act as a video server, master control, and graphics and logo inserter with automation, ingest, editing and content management built in.

OmniBus will also introduce iTX GFX, a real-time 3D graphics plug-in option that can update and render content in real time and is designed for news and results-based programming including sports, election coverage and data-fed business statistics. Incorporating technology from 3D specialist firm rtSoftware, iTX GFX enables the creation of advanced, resolution-independent graphics software for both SD and HD output, with the ability to update graphics in real time with external data.

Adding new capabilities like GFX is a natural evolution for iTX, says OmniBus chief technology officer Ian Fletcher. While the system was initially positioned as a low-cost way for stations to launch new channels—what Fletcher calls a “bottom-up approach”—the product has found the most traction with major networks like CBS and satellite providers like DirecTV.

Sundance Digital

Like its corporate parent Avid, automation vendor Sundance Digital won't be formally exhibiting at NAB, but will instead be conducting off-site customer meetings in Las Vegas and participating in the PBS technology conference before the show (Sundance is the most popular automation system among PBS stations). One of the new products it will be pitching is FastBreak NXT Automation-Entry Level Edition, which takes technology from Sundance's high-end Titan automation product and scales it down for one- or two-channel operation.

Designed for small-market broadcasters and public access channels, FastBreak NXT ELE Automation integrates comprehensive database management with frame-accurate control of video servers, tape transports, switchers, routers and other common peripherals to control the complete broadcast transmission process. A standard configuration consists of one Air Station control interface for the on-air lists, and a Media Prep Station for managing content on video servers with an integrated SIDON (Sundance Integrated Device Operations Network) device server to control peripherals through a TCP/IP-based machine control architecture.


Video server and storage supplier Omneon will show a new way to transport content between multiple Omneon devices with ProCast CDN (Content Delivery Network). The new product leverages the technology of Castify Networks, a French firm specializing in content distribution management that Omneon acquired last December.

The acquisition of Castify was aimed at improving file-based workflows for broadcasters, says Omneon VP of business development Geoff Stedman, who notes than an increasing number of Omneon customers have either multiple Omneon servers in a facility or wish to link remote Omneon devices in multiple locations.

ProCast CDN is designed to support site-to-site content transfers as well as multi-site content distribution, and includes modules for network management, WAN optimization and priority scheduling. Stedman says it is a powerful alternative to file-transfer protocol (FTP) technology: “This gives you a tool for managing the transfer of information from point A to point B, and to most efficiently use the pipe you use to connect sites.”