Customised broadcast graphics applications provide greater benefits to broadcasters than out-of-the-box solutions. Danny Ljubisic explains.
The importance of graphics has increased dramatically in the broadcast industry over the last 10 to 15 years.
Once little more than an afterthought, graphics capabilities are now an absolute necessity for broadcasters. Of all the equipment in a broadcast facility, it is the graphics equipment that generates the 'eye candy' - the pleasing visuals that grab and, hopefully, hold the viewer's attention.
Graphics also play a significant role in creating and presenting the 'image' of a station. The level or richness of accompanying graphics to any broadcast presentation can elevate a small station to the look and feel of a high-profile network broadcaster.
The opposite is also true: poor graphics, no matter how large or important the network, can make the programming seem cheap, unimportant or even invalid. As a result, there are now some channels that build their programming around graphics alone.
These channels - comprising graphics that relay data consuming the entire broadcast screen - are often called 'information channels'; that is, channels that deliver a variety of information including news, weather, finance, sports and more.
With the growing importance of graphics, there are now many powerful character generators (CGs) on the market. Today, broadcasters can choose a reliable, easy-to-use and truly customisable graphics solution. Building or programming one's own custom application has many benefits.
For one, custom programming allows the end user to be in control of the overall application. Obviously, an operator wouldn't consider trying to type quickly enough to keep up with the large quantity of data generated by a financial stock market feed, for example.
Therefore, most CGs are engineered to enable the user to connect the CG to data sources - whether they are in the form of a database or a feed.
This connectivity is possible because the manufacturer of the CG has done the work to deliver that data directly to its graphic engine core. You can do the same, provided you have access to the graphic engine. This means you don't have to wait for the manufacturer to incorporate support for a new data source or one of your own feature requests.
Another benefit is that most large-scale or enterprise software applications (broadcast or otherwise) are presented only in English. That is, the user interface, menus, buttons, etc., are all labeled in English.
While many products do have localised versions, they will not have a localised version for every language. Programming your own application enables a user to create all the menus and buttons in any language they choose.
This is valuable in countries like the Middle East where Arabic is preferred to English. And by using RAD (Rapid Application Development) tools such as Visual Basic 6 or .NET, building and changing the GUI becomes a drag-and-drop exercise.
No matter how much a user likes coding for the power and flexibility it provides, it cannot be denied that a picture is worth a thousand words (or codes).
Therefore, it is very helpful for a user to have tools that allow them to review their work, or see a generic template of what their data will end up looking like. Once this template is created, it is much easier to simply apply the real-time data to the 'visual' template rather than describing the entire graphic scene through code.
This type of interoperability creates two key benefits. First, it separates graphics from programming. Graphic artists are able to use a tool that is more familiar to them to design a leader board or a five-day weather forecast, for example.
The programmer writes an application that collects real-time data and sends that data to the template, which will update the names and positions on the leader board or update the temperature and weather information.
Because graphic development is separated from code development, you can multi-task your team - both graphics and engineering can work on separate parts of the project simultaneously.
The second benefit is that with a custom application, the updating of regular items, such as weather layouts, is automated.
Furthermore, in a custom graphics application, the operator typically controls the graphic output directly, meaning that the custom application is running on the same system that the operator is working with.
However, it is possible to have one operator drive multiple graphic systems using a remote application that the graphic operator can run on a laptop or workstation.
This laptop application collects the data from the database and instantly sends it to multiple graphic systems. Each system gets updated data to apply to its own pre-built graphic look (template) and outputs the desired graphic.
This type of setup is often referred to as a client/server application and reflects the workflow of broadcast automation systems.
Other benefits range from enhancing other graphic devices - such as working with CGs and graphic products including digital signage to automate or enhance certain aspects that are not directly included in that product - all the way to functioning as a standalone product to deliver real-time information in a continuously automated fashion.
At the end, creating a custom application gives a user tremendous control over the product.
Danny Ljubisic is product manager for Harris Inscriber Graphics Products