Switcher for the rest of us

In an effort to replicate its analog market share in live digital production, Grass Valley Group is introducing the Zodiak digital switcher, which offers many of the high-end features of the company's flagship Kalypso Digital Production System but carries a smaller price tag.

Affordability was a major factor that made the analog GVG model 200 and 250 the veritable workhorses of the industry, and the company is hoping that a $125,000 price will prompt those small to mid-size TV stations that have to be digital by May 2002 to consider Zodiak as the center of their production facilities.

Whereas GVG's Kalypso, starting at $185,000, has been popular with a number of Fox O&O stations and mobile production companies (National Mobile Television recently purchased a system for its newest high-definition truck), GVG Director of Product Marketing Jay Shinn says Zodiak is designed to appeal to broadcasters that want the performance of a multiple-M/E, flexible digital switcher but can't afford it.

Indeed, Zodiak offers much of the technology built into the Kalypso switcher but with a smaller footprint. "In terms of the basic software architecture and a lot of the technology, we borrowed heavily from Kalypso," notes Mark Narveson, product-marketing manager for digital-production systems.

And because Zodiak was on the drawing board early in the development of Kalypso, once that technology proved reliable, GVG engineers could quickly build a smaller version that could be used by a broad section of the market.

"When Kalypso was being beta-tested, one of our early users was a station group that wanted several Kalypso systems for its signature stations but couldn't afford them for its smaller-market stations," Narveson explains. "They've been eager to have something as powerful as a Kalypso but at a much smaller price point for stations with limited budgets. So we've been talking about this for a while, and, as soon as the hardware started to come together for Kalypso, we began to look seriously at building Zodiak."

Comprising three or four circuit boards, the Zodiak comes in 2.5- and 3-M/E versions, with each M/E supporting up to four keys for graphics, animations or station logos over a background. It also provides a utility bus for external masks and video-wipe transitions. As with Kalypso, a DVE is integrated into each keyer. Similarly, each M/E includes a wipe generator for transitions and a simple pattern generator for each keyer, as well as support for Grass Valley's E-MEM-effects memory system.

The ability to output two or more feeds from the same device is a goal of many broadcasters these days. Zodiak accommodates this by providing a customizable "clean-feed" system for serving multiple audiences with the same program feed. This allows a user to output a second channel for, say, a second language without the need for a second external keyer.

"Where two M/Es tends to be more for post-production applications and four M/Es can be usually found in high-end live productions, there's a sweet spot, we believe, for a wide range of live users that just want to get those keys on-air," says Narveson. "We see applications like sports stadiums and mid-market news and variety shows, where you don't need the expense and multiple features of a big M/E switcher."

The new switcher will be shown at NAB in Las Vegas, although it won't begin to ship until fall. For stations with an existing Model 200 or 250, the Zodiak control panel drops into the same console cutout, a legacy strategy GVG hopes to continue.

"A lot of people still have the Model 200 or 250 analog switcher in service," says Shinn. "They've had them in service for more than 10 years in many cases. We see Zodiak offering that kind of longevity."