Stepping on the HD express

Multi-format production switchers aid in cost-effective HD migration.
Grass Valley Kayenne HD Video Production Center.
Grass Valley Kayenne HD Video Production Center.

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Multi-format production switchers provide the key to smooth and cost-effective HD migration, argues Andy Giles.

In many ways, the challenges facing today’s Middle East broadcasters mirror those of the rest of the world. Currently, there are no widespread HDTV transmissions although E-Vision recently announced the commercial rollout of HDTV with five channels, and no governmental mandate exists for a digital switchover such as the one just experienced by the U.S.

However, consumers’ growing demand for premium HD content, such as the English Premier League is making the potential return on investment more attractive for pay providers as they begin to consider rolling out more content in HD.

For direct-to-home broadcasters in the region, new competition is looming in the form of IPTV and cable services that are planning HD offerings in some cities.

As the dazzling picture quality and surround sound of Blu-ray discs continue to raise viewers’ expectations, they will fuel demand for broadcast HDTV services. Therefore, it is fair to say that for most Middle East broadcasters, the switch to HD is no longer a question of if, but when.

The large quantities of existing SD content (and SD content sources) present a real impediment to any HD migration.

Most of today’s existing stations have significant capital tied up in technologies for SD production including cameras, with vast archives of SD content that they want to continue incorporating into broadcasts.

Since an immediate and complete equipment change-out is far outside the budget for a typical station, the challenge then focuses on how to leverage the existing investment in infrastructure and content to support the conversion to HD.

Likewise, as stations commission HD-ready studios and outside broadcasting vehicles in anticipation of a future switchover, they still must be able to work in SD and incorporate legacy SD content without compromise.

Production switchers – those workhorses of live broadcast production that mix multiple video sources and apply digital effects — may be the unlikely heroes as broadcasters struggle to balance HD migration with financial and technical realities.

The key is multi-format capabilities, which put the switcher at the core of a strategy to maintain or upgrade an SD infrastructure today that can be easily and cost-effectively migrated to HD when the time is right.

 

By seamlessly mixing any combination of HD and SD material into a broadcast without any loss of signal quality and resolution, a multi-format switcher can enable a station to make a smooth and gradual transition to HD production without having to immediately re-equip its operations with all-HD video sources.

The station can start out in SD mode, and then switch to full multi-format mode using software only with no operational disruption. The switcher buys time to purchase HD equipment when and if the budget allows, enabling the broadcaster to continue using its investment in SD equipment to produce high-quality HD output.

When evaluating switchers for an eventual HD migration, broadcasters should take a few key points into account.

First, take care to distinguish a true multi-format switcher from those that merely offer the ability to switch between HD and SD, or those that have been crudely adapted to offer some form of up, down-, and cross-conversion processes to handle sources different from the switcher’s current operating standard.

Too often, these adapted switchers will add unacceptable latency to the video stream that can create lip-sync and shot matching errors.

A true multi-format switcher addresses latency at the architectural level by simultaneously mixing content in any format or standard with absolute “zero timing” on all inputs, and no differential delay between sources.

Scalability is another important switcher consideration in a phased SD-now, HD-later approach. The switcher should offer an easy and inexpensive software upgrade path for making the transition, and it should be easy to expand with additional inputs, control surfaces, and M/E power.

Also, in a multi-studio or station group layout, the switcher should provide networking abilities that enable studios to share resources on a daily basis – further strengthening the switcher’s return on investment.

Robust 3D digital video effects (DVE) capabilities integrated into the switcher architecture, and a built-in clip store that can accommodate a large volume of clips and stills are other highly desirable features.

To summarise, a multi-format switcher provides a compelling and economical path to HD broadcasting in today’s financially challenged times, one that has seen wide adoption in the global broadcasting community and is now getting significant notice among regional broadcasters.

Rather than a burden to be carried, these broadcasters are increasingly viewing the HDTV revolution as a prime opportunity to respond to consumer demand, reach larger audiences of viewers, and tap into the wealth of HD content that is now available worldwide.

Andy Giles is head of sales for Snell, Middle East & Africa.

 

Product Focus:

Snell’s Kahuna Multi-format Switcher
Billed as the world’s first and only true multi-format SD/HD production switcher, the Kahuna from Snell utilises a proprietary technology called FormatFusion which enables simultaneous SD and HD operations in the same mainframe and on the same control panel.

With FormatFusion, the Kahuna offers total freedom for inputs and outputs, enabling any of 80 inputs to be assigned for SD or HD feeds with no restrictions.

Working as a part of each M/E, this enables operators to incorporate content into HD productions from both SD and HD sources such as handheld camera feeds, graphics or archives, plus provide additional SD and HD outputs.

This vastly simplifies the HDTV transition for broadcasters by eliminating the need for external HDTV up/down/cross-converters in the live production environment, as well as the cost and the signal path delay associated with these products. Thus, the Kahuna not only reduces cost and complexity, but enables a low-latency infrastructure with significantly fewer timing errors.

The Kahuna has the smallest size mainframe, lowest weight, and lowest power consumption when compared with other large switchers, and it has been integrated with dozens of third-party products including routers, servers, automation systems, and controllers.
 

Furthermore, the Kahuna is fully software-upgradeable. The system can be installed initially in SD-only or HD-only form and, when required, converted instantly to combined, multi-format SD/HD operation.

FOR-A’S 3Gbps-CAPABLe HVS-5000 SWITCHER SERIES
FOR-A will demonstrate its HVS-5000 switcher series, which supports the 3Gbps signal standard, enabling broadcasters to easily and affordably migrate to the emerging 1080p high-definition format.

In addition to HD and SD signals, this switcher series supports: 1080/60p, 1080/59.94p, and 1080/50p. This line of switchers expands on FOR-A’s flagship HANABI series of switchers and offers three new model choices: the HVS-5300A with 2 M/E, the HVS-5300 with 3 M/E, and the HVS-5400 with 4 M/E. All switchers in the series are designed for both live and post production.

And all models come standard with a touch panel controller. Users can operate all switcher functions through this feature, including editing the still store and sequence timeline and making colour correction settings.

An optional up-/down-/converter card also supports mixed input from HD and SD signals. Supported HD formats include: 1080/60i, 1080/59.94i, 1080/50i, 1080/24p, 1080/24PsF, 1080/23.98p, 1080/23.98PsF, 720/60p, 720/59.94p and 720/50p. The HVS-5000 series also supports SD formats such as 525/60 and 625/50.

The HVS-5000 series offers switching between HD and SD and between varieties of HD formats. An optional up-/down-/converter card also supports mixed input from HD and SD signals.

Supported HD formats include: 1080/60i, 1080/59.94i, 1080/50i, 1080/24p, 1080/24PsF, 1080/23.98p, 1080/23.98PsF, 720/60p, 720/59.94p and 720/50p. The HVS-5000 series also supports SD formats, such as 525/60 and 625/50.

The switchers can be tailored to meet a variety of applications and can scale to fit an array of existing configurations.

The HVS-5400 switcher for example accepts a maximum of 96 inputs and can supply up to a total 48 outputs. The HVS-5300 accepts a maximum of 96 inputs and 44 outputs. The HVS-5200 can accept up to 96 inputs and 40 outputs.

The HVS-5000 switcher includes a vast array of functions. Users can operate the four M/E’s on the HVS-5400 separately through the independent control feature, in essence, transforming one switcher into four.

Each switcher comes standard with four-channel keyers for each M/E. In addition, two common DSK are freely assignable any function, which can be upgraded to four channels.

A 2D DVE and chroma key for each keyer come as standard features. A high-quality chroma keyer can be added as an option . In addition to the standard keyer DVE, a 3D DVE can be added. The HVS-5000 Series can have up to eight channels added.

Setting up effects such as picture-in-picture is simplified through an addition of a DVE effect to each M/E bus. This ability to customize features also allows transition of images with either a wipe effect or a mix effect. The HVS-5000 series can be equipped with an optional colour corrector. That allows process control, colour adjustment and clipping of colour information.

The new switcher series from FOR-A is now shipping.

Echolab unwraps Atem
Echolab Inc.’s Atem is a 1 M/E 3Gbps 1080p/60 production switcher that features four upstream and two downstream keyers as well as Echolab’s SuperSource crosspoint and Stinger transitions, making it possible to build a composition of as many as 11 layers.

Atem offers maximum flexibility by virtue of 10 mixed-format inputs with built-in synchronisation and scaling, so that every input accepts SD or HD signals, while two of the inputs accept computer signals, enabling the switcher to fit seamlessly into any production environment.

In addition to programme, preview and three auxiliary outputs in the switcher’s native format, Atem has two analogue auxiliary outputs with internal down/cross conversion for SD distribution.

More Atem features include inexpensive monitoring of programme, preview, and eight other sources via a built-in multiviewer; an easy-to-use internal clip player for animated lower thirds, backgrounds, or short clips; built-in 2D DVE for DVE transitions and animating objects on screen; and an FAA-certified operating system for 24/7 reliability and 10-second boot time.

“While other video switching devices claim to be 3Gbps-ready, Atem supports 3Gbps 1080p/60 right out of the box, meaning operators can produce images in the highest resolution possible today or be ready for it tomorrow,” said Nigel Spratling, CEO of Echolab.

Grass Valley Kayenne HD Video Production Center
Grass Valley’s Kayenne is a new family of production switchers that integrates the most powerful features of the Kalypso and Kayak models and adds new advances that enable high-end creativity as well as streamlined production workflow for HD projects.

Among the many hardware and software innovations Kayenne provides are six keyers per M/E, 20 channels of DPM, including a 4-channel eDPM with two combiner outputs, Source Rules which associate keys with a source, a Device Control Module with jog wheel interacting with its Q-MEM cue library, and Define E-MEM providing finer control of E-MEM effects.

The Kayenne Video Production Center offers up to 96 inputs and 48 outputs in a single frame. It has a new modular control panel. The hot-swappable panel modules can be removed and replaced quickly, without impacting on-air production. The panel’s ergonomic design provides instant access to the many new features.

All of the buttons on the panel are RGB buttons so that colour designates M/E, key, source, and function. Also, two rows of configurable OLED source name displays per M/E stripe provide increased legibility with the clearest and brightest displays available.

The new Grass Valley Kayenne Video Production Center will begin shipping in Q2 2009.

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