Making multi-path, multi-frame routing a reality

Kerry Wheeles & Paul Greene take the route less travelled.
Broadcast infrastructure, Harris Broadcast, Analysis, Broadcast Business

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The router has long been the unsung hero of the broadcast infrastructure, gathering together the multiplicity of signals and directing them to and through the processes and workflows of the facility.

Given the complexity of today’s installations – in traditional TV and in new media – it is inevitable that simply connecting source A to destination B is no longer enough.

The modern router should be compact while switching very large numbers of circuits, clean enough to be used on air. It should switch multiple signal types, saving rack space: modern facilities have space limitations that make separate routers difficult.

It should have options to incorporate signal processing, such as frame synchronisation or audio embedding. It should be easy to set up. And, above all, it should be reliable.

Harris Broadcast has a long history in router technology, and with a number of firsts. These include the integration of signal distribution, frame synchronization, multiviewers, audio mux/demux capability, advanced I/O options for MADI and fibre and the first large router to offer Clean/Quiet capability for on-air switching applications. It is now introducing the Platinum IP3 router, to meet all today’s challenges and more.

IP3 is compact and powerful. A single 28U frame can switch up to 576 x 1024. Transparent inter-frame connections mean it can scale to 2048 x 2048 or more. It uses Harris Clean/Quiet technology for on-air switching, with the ability to switch a large number of crosspoints simultaneously on a frame boundary.

The original Platinum was built around a dual-path architecture, which gave it completely independent audio and video paths for every input, output and crosspoint. That meant both embedded and discrete audio can be switched alongside video, without increasing matrix size x.

With the Platinum IP3 the concept is developed into a triple-path architecture. The third layer can be used for data, which might include programme-associated metadata, graphic elements or pure IP signals.

Following the Selenio media convergence platform, it is another important element in the migration from an architecture based on traditional baseband signals to a world in which content and metadata is moved as files.

To support the triple-path design the new router introduces faster processing and increased bandwidth. These design elements also enable the ability to expand through multiple frames.
Critically, routers can be expanded without taking them out of service.

Many broadcast facilities cannot operate if the central router becomes unavailable, so upgrading and expanding can mean taking the whole station off the air. This is not the case with the Platinum IP3.

Very large routing systems involve multiple separate frames due to physical limitations for signal capacity. Traditionally, this requires external distribution amplifiers to allow incoming signals to be routed to multiple frames. To expand into additional frames the user must disconnect each input from the first frame, run it to a distribution amplifier, and from that to the original and new frame or frames.

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The IP3 design builds distribution amplifiers into the routing frame, employing a single-wire connection to bridge each input module to the next frame, without breaking signals from the first. An intelligent output module design ensures that each new input, regardless of which frame it enters, is available to all destinations.

This architecture provides seamless expansion between multiple frames, reducing cabling and without going off air. Furthermore, the common architecture preserves the initial investment – and ensures no limitations for future expansion.

Primary and secondary switching is accomplished on the main crosspoint board and the individual output cards. All switch timing is controlled by the onboard frame controllers, ensuring that all upstream switches are made before the final destination switch is thrown. Redundant crosspoints protect all critical signal paths. The architecture shields all video, audio and multiviewer crosspoints, eliminating any single point of failure.

This inherently stable architecture is supported by a sophisticated power management system. Power loads are shared between multiple supplies so that in the unlikely case of a failure, remaining power supplies instantaneously take over the load with no loss of signal integrity.

System cooling is achieved through distributed speed controlled fans located on both the front and rear of the frame. Airflow is designed to function properly without baffles even in a partially loaded system, and the router is optimized for proper cool operation even if the front cover is removed. The device is extremely reliable for mission critical applications.

A new approach has been used to set up the router database. The control system has been flattened and optimised to remove reliance on levels within the switch system. Each signal type is identified by the its attributes, creating a simpler approach for routing and timeline management.

The same design philosophy applies to the connection of control panels which are identified centrally, eliminating the need to worry about IP addresses. To connect to other systems and automation networks, the new Platinum IP3 router uses the same protocols as other models in the Platinum family, ensuring it can be implemented without further engineering effort.

Modern integrated system design tends to be based around service-oriented architectures, which in turn calls for simple, dynamic updating of software-centric devices and operations. The new router design addresses this by enabling updates to databases and sources without taking the system down.

Users can make firmware updates, test new software and recall specific operational settings without interruption. It also simplifies troubleshooting, allowing for quick layout changes or bypass options to route around problems.

A logical mapping system enables systems integrators and users to quickly and intuitively make proper connections. This provides a more error-free environment for operators since all controls are presented based on the source and destination selected.

For example, if there is a proc amp in the signal stream selected between a source and destination, the control system presents the operator with the parameters for that particular proc amp, eliminating the need to search for the proper device.

The router supports multiviewers, frame sync and other processing internally, using generic slots and thereby allowing expansion of the functionality at any time in the future. The Platinum IP3 also accommodates combination cards within any slot, allowing users to take full advantage of the triple-path architecture.

This could include routing video inputs over one router path, and demuxing audio from those inputs over a second path. In this example, IP3 users might simultaneously route metadata from these signals over the third path, using built-in encoding and decoding capability, all without sacrificing video matrix size in the same frame.

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While competitive systems use dedicated crosspoint outputs to feed their multiviewers, the Platinum IP3 architecture accepts the multiviewers within the frame. Since they are inherently downstream of the redundant pair of video crosspoints, they are protected from any single point of failure the same way as the main outputs.

It also means that the multiviewer can see signal processing like changed audio configurations. The triple-path architecture demuxes audio signals on the inputs, and routes the signal through the audio path to the output slots. This allows the user to monitor those audio signals on the integrated multiviewer, providing a clear understanding of what is going to air.

The requirement for a modern router was defined as compact but capable of handling large numbers of circuits, of multiple signal types, with integrated signal processing and monitoring, simple to set up and reliable. That is the aim of the Harris Platinum IP3.

It is also forward-looking. That is not just in the move towards IP architectures, but to protect against future developments including large-scale stereoscopic 3D adoption, or of 4k or higher resolutions.

Decisions on these and other questions will be made for creative, quality or business reasons. They cannot be governed by limitations in core technology. So the architecture of the Platinum IP3 is designed to cover coming standards. Already Harris Broadcast is demonstrating the capability of carrying, processing and routing high bandwidth graphical elements approaching 10GB/s.

While no device is completely future-proofed and ready for anything, the core design of the new platform is certainly more than capable of meeting any present day needs and beyond, for fixed and mobile facilities, anywhere in the world.

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