Blackmagic Design’s regional presence has been steadily increasing over the last 12 months or so. Having strengthened its ties with Dubai-based distributor MediaCast during 2012, its presence in the Gulf has seen distinct exponential growth, aided by an ever-growing product portfolio from the smallest SD to HD miniconverter to its eagerly anticipated Blackmagic Cinecamera. Its reach in the region beyond the Gulf itself has also been steadily growing, as evidenced by its recent work with Pakistan’s Geo Television Network (Geo TV)
Geo TV is Pakistan’s largest television broadcaster. It also operates a broadcast facility in Dubai Media City, with Samacom providing uplink services for the channel’s broadcast around the region on Asiasat 3, and its popularity among UAE viewers was confirmed when it won 2009’s Masala Lifestyle Award for Best TV Channel.
It has been bringing viewers the latest in news, entertainment, sports and youth programming for more than ten years. With five news stations in major cities throughout Pakistan and various recent upgrades to its workflow, Geo TV is leading the country’s HD revolution.
At the forefront of this upgrade is Afaq Ahmed, chief technology officer at Geo News, a division of Geo TV. He’s been responsible for overhauling the broadcast infrastructure at Geo TV assisted by Blackmagic reseller Ion Audio Visual.
At the center of the newly adopted HD workflow sits a variety of Blackmagic Design products, including several ATEM 2 M/E Production Switchers as well as an ATEM 1 M/E and ATEM 2 M/E Broadcast Panel.
The Switch to Digital
“When we started in 2002, GEO was still operating a partially tape based workflow,” said Ahmed.
“Now it wasn’t until 2008 that we decided to make the switch to an entirely file based architecture. Anyone who’s done this already will know that this isn’t an easy switch. Since making the transition we have slowly been introducing things like tapeless cameras, optical fiber and HD enabled hardware.
“Now, while we have the ability to produce content in HD, our final output is broadcast in SD. That is down to the fact that most of the national broadcasting infrastructure in Pakistan is still geared towards SD.
What we do is down convert the HD content to SD for distribution in Pakistan, the US, UK and indeed the UAE, but we will see that change over time. Having the HD enabled hardware means we are better prepared when that change does happen and ensures we are future proof,” said Ahmed.
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Having the Right Tools in place for the Future
According to Ahmed, the master control room at Geo News in Lahore is the most critical of all of their studios, as this is where the output from multiple stations is collected before graphics are overlaid and the digital feed is distributed via satellite. This all important process incorporates an ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel with ATEM 2 M/E Production Switcher.
“We are using ATEM to input video, control cameras and graphics, which is everything that the viewer will see during the broadcast of our daily morning news show, ‘Geo Shaan Say’ and evening talk show ‘Khabarnaak’.
“More recently, we installed a second ATEM 2 M/E Production Switcher and 2 M/E Broadcast Panel for our new 24 hour news channel ‘Geo Tez’, which is broadcast from our Karachi studio,” added Ahmed.
The HD studio at Geo News uses three digital cameras, a CG and playout server connected to the ATEM 2 M/E Production Switcher over SDI for live recording to a tape deck.
Each segment is edited in Final Cut Pro and then transferred to the playout server, which is connected to the ATEM 2 M/E vision mixer and an external CG to create mixes and effects. The feed is then either sent back to the playout server or to satellite transmission for broadcast.
“The studio setup for all live and recorded programming is essentially the same. The only difference is the down conversion stage, which is done via DeckLink cards in a recorded scenario or the ATEM Production Switcher in a live scenario.
Adding the ATEM Broadcast Panels to our workflow made sense because it allowed us to have full control of the switcher, while adding lots of functionality to the switching process. I think having a control surface panel is essential for a fast paced newsroom environment, when quickly accessing an effect, mix or wipe really counts.
“Furthermore, the ergonomics of the panel are very intuitive and I found it easy to get to grips with it soon after the installation. It’s a nice design and all of the controls are well positioned for quick access,” said Ahmed.
A Fibre Foundation
“Blackmagic Design’s products are some of the most vital pieces of equipment that we use. Not only are we using the production switchers and DeckLink cards, but we’ve also built a fibre distribution system throughout the studio complex using around 100 Blackmagic Design OpenGear and Mini Converters.”
He adds: “There are a lot of changes happening at Geo TV, including new studios, new stations and new distribution networks to mention just a few. So when we decided to build the foundation for our upgraded studios, we went with optical fibre as the backbone because fiber is easy to manage and can send signals over long distances without losing any quality.”
Bridging Quality and Price
When deciding on what products to implement into Geo TV’s studios, combining quality and price is of the upmost importance to Ahmed.
He explains: “We first saw this combination of high quality and affordability exemplified in Blackmagic Design’s ATEM Production Switcher range.
Not only did we get a high end broadcast quality switcher with built in multiview, lots of effects and transitions and all the connections that we needed, but it was also a fraction of the price compared with other switchers.”
- ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panels
- ATEM 2 M/E Production Switchers (also used for live down conversion)
- Final Cut Pro
- DeckLink cards (for recorded downconversion)
- Approx 100 Blackmagic Design OpenGear and Mini Converters