Switching Gears

Call it a Net gain. The Belo station group has moved some stations from satellite to an IP-based video delivery system. The Internet strategy means significant cost savings, while demonstrating that a relatively young technology is ready for prime time.

"The stations can do live interviews over the system and send content between each without a satellite feed," says David Boyd, chief engineer of Belo's Texas Cable News channel (TXCN), located next to Belo's headquarters in Dallas.

Belo currently has its five Texas-based stations using video over IP, alongside its Washington, D.C., bureau and KING Seattle. All the facilities are on Wiltel's IP network, which delivers up to 45 Mbps of connectivity. And there is no noticeable delay when doing live interviews.

The reasons for the IP shift are practical. Satellite time can be expensive, and, with the Wiltel connection, the pipe is already paid for. Every time a station uses it, the value it delivers increases. (Though satellite works well when broadcasting to multiple stations, it's not as cost-effective for point-to-point feeds.) The stations use Cisco Catalyst 4507 routers to connect to the Wiltel network. The routers have special ports that automatically give the connected video device enough bandwidth to deliver a video signal. Tandberg TT6120 processors are used to convert the video signal to and from IP. Sony BDX-E1000 and BDX-D1000 encoders and decoders are also used.

There is, however, one drawback to IP. Broadcasters object to its less-than-optimal reliability. But Boyd says the group has worked around the limitations with solid teamwork. The key is for the video side to partner with the IT department.

Boyd also advises stations interested in IP delivery to secure a strong network provider. Belo network engineers visited Wiltel's plant to check out the redundancy and network architecture. "We could lose our service if the Internet provider loses service, so getting a stable provider is important," he says.

One piece of equipment that aids stations in that effort: ILC's MaxView network control software. It handles the scheduling and management of the system, letting stations schedule delivery of video content with the help of a Windows Explorer browser. It also gives the engineers point-and-click control of diagnostic tools.

"A producer or the news desk can get control of a video feed without calling an engineer," says Boyd. "That's a lot more efficient. They don't have to worry about the quality of the signal. In the past, a producer had to coordinate receiving a feed with the ENG center. It's a paradigm shift for sending and receiving video feeds."

In fact, Belo is already looking to next-generation technologies.

The company anticipates IP-based video delivery spreading to other Belo stations, so it is investigating MPEG-4 AVC or Windows VC9 to reduce the required bandwidth for a video feed. "We'll be able to send feeds with only half of the current bandwidth," says Boyd. The result? A system that ups its own efficiency.