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Routing gets smart

When you're handling up to 18 cable channels from one digital facility and must access each one independently, the need for sophisticated signal routing is significant. So where do you find such a system that can automatically control the necessary functions with a small staff?

That's the question engineers at Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s Turner Entertainment Networks faced a year ago when they agreed to work with Philips Broadcast (now Thomson Multimedia Broadcast Systems) on development of a new routing-switcher control system.

The result is a $2 million project that will accommodate TBS Superstation, TNT, TCM, Cartoon Network and other Turner Entertainment Network feeds for the U.S.-domestic and Latin and South American markets. The system will be installed this November, with operations set to begin in October 2002.

In the process of this collaboration, Thomson has developed a modular routing-switcher product line called Trinix, which will handle both standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) signals from the same rack. It's expected to ship later this year.

"Among a number of features, we need to execute deterministic [frame-accurate, on-demand] switching on a large number of cross points simultaneously," says Clyde Smith, vice president of R&D at Turner Entertainment Networks. "This requirement would stress the ability of most of products today." A test of the prototype system at Philips' Salt Lake City R&D facility, he reports, indicates that the project is on schedule.

Turner also specified that the system had to work with the company's Probel automation system and that its modules be "hot-swappable": Software upgrades must be handled quickly while the system is on-air. This is done to free up bandwidth for creation of new channels and for adjusting the data rates of existing ones.

"We said the system had to be able to download new software within 10 seconds or it wouldn't work for us," Smith adds. Even Philips' existing Jupiter control system could not meet that requirement. "And automation was key to operating the system the way we wanted to."

The need to accommodate HD signals also is important to Turner's system design. The capability will be used, Smith says, "when appropriate in the future. We see a lot of potential in high-definition programming, and we're building for it now."

Another requirement was the capability of monitoring and controlling the network via Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and HTTP (Web-based content). This allows routing-switcher status to be checked on any computer in the building or remotely, as well.