by Pavlin Rahnev, CEO, PlayBox Neo
The following is the full-length feature article published in the April 2020 edition of the online magazine InBroadcast.
The broadcast media industry plays a key part in the life of every nation as an information source, especially during times of national emergency. Global concerns about the coronavirus epidemic have elevated the importance of that role to a higher level than ever. So how to maintain normal broadcast system management at a time when the citizens of almost every nation are being advised to avoid all but essential travel?
As many channel managers already know, and others are discovering, there is a practical and effective solution which goes beyond online group meetings with onsite colleagues. It can be implemented quickly, is field proven, fast and easy to operate and CFO friendly.
When PlayBox commenced as a company in 1999, the aim was to develop a full broadcast-quality presentation and playout system based on a standard computer platform. Most vendors at that stage were still promoting own-design hardware and firmware hybrids which in many cases were astronomically expensive and upgrade-hostile. Launched in 1981, the PC platform had already become powerful enough to support image editing, audio editing and decision-list-based video editing – provided you had a reasonably high-spec model.
Our first products were offered as software for PlayBox-approved versions of the PC platform. We soon recognised that 'PC platform' was a very broad-brush expression embracing high-end desktops with fast processors right through to low-end laptops in which energy efficiency had priority. We therefore resolved to integrate our products into a proven platform, leading right up to our latest generation AirBox Neo Channel-in-a-Box servers.
AirBox Neo today comes complete in a choice of server sizes. These can output baseband SD, HD or UHD SDI as well as UDP and RTMP IP streams. Simulcasting of SDI and single or multiple IP streams is also possible. Each can be used standalone or in combination with others to support any desired number of channels. Every installation can be configured from a range of Neo-series software modules and optional accessories. The system can be preprogrammed to function round-the-clock in fully-automated mode while retaining the freedom for operators to make schedule alterations or insert live content between prescheduled content.
Virtual device control
Approximately 10 years ago, we introduced an option which allowed broadcasters to host their programme archives content at the distant end of an internet connection. All they needed under their own roof was a desktop or laptop computer capable of running a web browser. The core installation could then be located at the broadcaster's choice of remote playout centre in another city, another country or even another continent. Programme scheduling, ad sales, content management and monitoring could all be performed exactly as normal wherever the administrator chose to work. Internet speeds as that time were fully adequate to carry command data but challenged for long-form video and audio file despatch.
Augmenting AirBox Neo, Multi Playout Manager (Figure 1) is a fully assignable monitoring and control system with rights management for multiple AirBox Neo channels from one or more internet-connected PCs locally or from anywhere in the world via IP. It allows multi-channel playout service providers to monitor and control all channels locally and assign full or restricted rights such that authorized staff can remotely monitor and control TV channels from their PC or tablet. Operators with sufficient rights can even make live changes to the output when needed. An AirBox Neo GUI can be seen at the top left of Figure 2. The centre GUI shows Multi Playout Manager.
Virtual content delivery
Programmes and commercials used to travel between sites on video tape which then had to be ingested on compatible playback desks. Global investment in telco infrastructure over the past decade has reached the point where not just device control data but complete high-quality video and audio files can be delivered quickly between practically any two points via standard IP links. Playout centres supporting multiple customers obviously invest a direct optical link in order to handle a consistently high concentration of data traffic. Quality control is an important consideration for any broadcast channel. AirBox Neo checks all content to ensure that video and audio lev-els conform to internationally approved technical standards and that there is no break in signal continuity. Any defects detected are automatically brought to the attention of the playout administrator. This eliminates the need for an operator to eyeball ever second of every programme before or during playout. AirBox Neo also monitors hu-man issues, drawing attention to a missing file even filling in with a substitute if necessary.
Cloud2TV, which we introduced in February 2019, encapsulates all the key features of our playout and workflow in a SaaS-based configuration. Cloud2TV incorporates an intuitive web-based control interface with administrator-adjustable rights assignment, TV channel management, action-logging and notifications. The lower right GUI in Figure 2 shows an example Cloud2TV GUI. Each Cloud2TV software application functions individually but in close coordination with the others to provide a full set of broadcast services supporting the workflow of an entire TV channel. Specific Cloud2TV applications are assigned to content ingest, graphic editing, media browsing with metadata handling and clip trimming, quality control and verification, trans-coding, playlist management and audit logging. Cloud2TV can be administered securely from any location.
It is standard practice in broadcast system design to replicate all critical components so no single element can take a station off air. This is fairly easy to achieve but some channel managers prefer the less capital-expensive option of using a subscription-based service such as our Cloud2TV to provide the same degree of redundant protection. This has advantage of being off site so immune from unpredictable events such as loss of mains power, flooding, earthquake or social disturbance. Here again, Cloud2TV can be securely administered by an authorized manager from any IP-connected location.