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Two bangs for the automation buck

For North Texas Public Broadcasting, DTV is providing an opportunity for its stations to increase their educational programming and provide new services for viewers. But, for a PBS affiliate organization on a tight budget, spending a lot of money on staff increases wasn't an option, and neither was paying top dollar for an automation system. So the broadcaster turned to Sundance to provide automation for KERA-TV in Dallas and kdtn (tv) in Denton, Texas-both run from the same facility.

Sundance Automation-practically next-door in Irving, Texas-is providing the station with a cost-effective solution tailored to meet the stations' needs. The system is set up around the SeaChange MediaCluster server, which has the capacity for eight record channels, 12 playback channels and 200 hours of storage, all under the control of Sundance's FastBreak automation software.

The Texas station is also using Sundance's Sales View software, which lets the sales and the production staffers view low-resolution video from their desktops. As the station automatically digitizes material into the server, it creates an MPEG-1 version of the video that can be viewed from any desktop on the network. Sundance's Intelli-Sat's Broadcast Recording Manager automates the station's scheduling and recording of incoming satellite feeds.

"It's been online for several months. It's doing extremely well," says kera/kdtn Chief Engineer Rick Owen. "It's a very good marriage of what we consider one of the best video servers on the market with a pretty straightforward automation system with a good interface."

Sundance's Air Station control stations are located at various points in the facility. From the control stations, users can operate all functions of the system. Each element in the event list, for example, can be triggered as a manual event, a clock-hit time or a follow event-when the next event automatically starts at the completion of the previous event. The Air Station can also control a master-control switcher to provide smooth transitions between the events.

Working with a routing switcher, any Air Station can be switched to control any channel. This ability is especially helpful for the overnight shift at the station. "We operate with one person, and we are able to consolidate the control system into one workstation," says Owen.

So far the biggest challenge has been redefining the operational procedures and duties, says Owen. But it also helped jump-start the staff.

"Our operators' jobs are evolving into managing playlists to digitize material and making sure that they have the right file to play out on the server," he says. Because it has been an "evolutionary" process, kera/kdtn is adding new equipment almost weekly. One of the latest purchases is a master-control switcher by British company Oxtel, which integrates DVE operation and multilevel keying and offers full audio control.

Another key element of the stations' operation is the Motorola DTV encoder through which KERA-TV and kdtn will run their digital channels-ch. 14 and ch. 43, respectively. The station plans to run a combination of four standard-definition channels and one high-definition channel.

"We have not tried to integrate so much with the legacy equipment," Owen says. "We're not trying to control tape machines on the air or BetaCarts. We tried to pare down our system to maximize the use of the SeaChange server to make it easier for the Sundance automation system to control it. We're reducing the complexity of what the automation system has to deal with."

Kera/kdtn is looking forward to taking the next step: adding a nearline archive system.

Owen wouldn't say exactly how much the station spent on the system, but he says it was "considerably less than 1 million," including the automation package, video server and data tape archive system.