PBS taps Omneon

PBS, following the lead of one of its member stations, has chosen Omneon as video-server provider for its new technical operations center (TOC) in Alexandria, Va.

When Keith Massie, WHRO-TV Norfolk, Va., chief technology officer, decided that his station would take a leap with the Omneon Media Server, he had little more than faith that the decision was right. The subsequent PBS decision gives Massie and WHRO-TV a sense that their faith was well-placed.

John Tollefson, PBS Engineering and Technical Services vice president and chief technology officer, says the decision to go with Omneon was hard. PBS began evaluations of servers from 13 different manufacturers in January, and a technical analysis got that number down to five right after NAB.

"From a technical point of view, most of the 13 could provide the base needs," Tollefson says, "but the issue came down to what do we think is going to happen in the future, projecting our needs and where the [supplier] is going."

The main concern for both Massie and Tollefson was that Omneon is relatively new to the server market. But that could be an advantage, Tollefson says, because it doesn't have a lot of legacy servers or technologies to deal with.

The implementation of Omneon's servers at PBS is part of an effort to make it easier to monitor and control the feeds sent out by PBS, feeds that can sometimes number as many as 14. The problem with a tape-based environment is that, by the time a problem is noticed and fixed, it's often time to move on to the next program or interstitial.

"We want to move the technical checking upstream," says Tollefson, "so that, by the time content is on the server, you know it's perfect, and you just play it out."

PBS has already installed automatic monitoring systems, and a Harris automation system is in place for the digital streams.

The new facility will also have three ingest rooms, Tollefson says, adding that the servers and a nearline archive should be on line by first quarter 2003. "Tape or file transfers will be done by producers onto the server," he says, "and, once approved, the files move onto the main servers."

The tricky part of the improvement is making sure it interfaces with human beings and the operations side.

"Something may seem perfectly logical from a technical point of view," Tollefson explains, "but the impact it has on the operators and how they have to do something or how the data comes into the TOC might be different."

Like PBS, WHRO-TV is dealing with multiple feeds, handling broadcasts for 12 separate channels: the station's analog and digital signals, six ITFS channels to local school districts, and channels fed to local cable companies. The station has used servers in the past, but the Omneon Media Server system will place all of the station's 12 feeds on servers.

"We had a lot of people running around a lot of tapes," Massie says of the VTR days. Those days will be gone in a matter of weeks. The new master-control operations should be completed by Newington, Va.-based Communication Engineering (CEI) by October.

The 9-TB Omneon server will be able to store 700 hours of video. HD content will be stored on Sencore-type servers that can handle an ASI stream. A 23-TB Sony Petasite as nearline storage will also be in the mix. The Omneon server will have eight record channels and 16 playout channels.

"What we'll have that we haven't had in the past is a more file-agnostic system," says WHRO-TV Chief Engineer Bob Boone, referring to the ASC VR30 servers and Sony VTC1000 servers that are also used at the station. "The Media Server will be able to ingest and play out multiple file formats to MPEG or whatever we need."

WHRO-TV will manage its primary channels through Miranda's Oxtel Series Imagestore master-control system, and each channel will be processed through an individual channel unit, says Boone. Miranda's Kaleido K2 video wall will be used to help with monitoring of the programs playing out.