In the first of our broadcast facility walkthroughs, Showtime VP broadcast operations and technology Mike Whittaker, shows off some of his favourite kit installed in the company’s Dubai-based operations centre.
MIKE WHITTAKER, VP BROADCAST OPERATIONS AND TECHNOLOGY, SHOWTIME ARABIA.
Following an 18-year stint at the BBC as a sound engineer, Whittaker joined Showtime Arabia at its new purpose-built home in Dubai, following the company’s move from London in 2004.
The tapeless facility has undergone further development during Whittaker’s tender, the most significant of which has been the development of two HD studios and three transmission suites commissioned for the operator’s EPL coverage.
SHOWTIME TECHNOLOGY HIGHLIGHTS
• Twin Calrec Zeta desks
• Multiple Axon units for aspect ratio conversion, interfacing and distribution
• Sony LMD monitors
• Miranda KALEIDO-ALTO-HD image processors
• Tektronix waveform monitors
• Pixelmetrix monitoring
• Sun SL3000 archive
• EVS Live Slow Motion
“This is one of my favourites,” says Whittaker pointing out the AXON aspect ratio convertors (ARCs), “because it lets us offer widescreen channels.
“We were the first in the Middle East to do this and it was the culmination of 18 months work. The ARCs are so important, we need to change the aspect ratio so it continues to look good. Widescreen services can produce ugly letterbox displays or squashed images if not handled properly.”
Widescreen movie channels, HD sports coverage and an HD movie channel have all been rolled-out in the past two years with plans for further HD channels on the horizon.
After gaining the broadcast rights to the English Premier League, Showtime invested in two identical HD studios for Arabic and English pre- and post-match coverage.
The Miranda KALEIDO-ALTO HD image processors can produce high quality outputs in 1920 x 1080 resolution, in DVI or RGBHV. They can be used in a 4:3 or 16:9 ratio as required and together with the aspect ratio markers, can aid the adoption of widescreen.
“There are two reasons why this is one of my favourite toys. I started my career as a sound engineer at the BBC and the BBC uses Calrec desks. They are also fantastically reliable and flexible. This desk can be completely reset and crashed while you stay on air. This was my personal contribution to the building, I insisted that we have the Calrec Zeta desks,” says Whittaker.
“Our previous server was great but it was becoming increasingly harder to support, so we have invested in a more standard archive technology, which is the Sun SL3000 (not pictured).”
The room housing Showtime’s archive and hundreds of other pieces of rack-mounted equpment is maintained at a chilly 18 degrees celsius. Alarms sound at 25 degrees celsius.
“If we have a problem we can go back and have a look. If we have an on air problem we can go back and look at it and then work out what the problem was,” explains Whittaker.
“This is just one part of a major upgrade that we have done across our monitoring systems,” he adds.
“We used to use regular STBs but we are switching to professional Tandberg receivers and we have Pixelmetrix hardware too.”