The very idea of a small box doing the job

With increasing regularity, multichannel video operators are experimenting with new ways to deliver programming and launch new channels with the least amount of capital expense and human resources. The current low-margin economics and highly competitive environment dictates it. This has led to the emergence of the so-called “channel-in-a-box” (CIB) category: a 1RU or 2RU system that is basically a video server on steroids. They offer the ability to automatically playout preprogrammed clip lists, insert commercials at exactly the right time, add a channel or network ID logos and graphics, and even adjust audio levels.

Another equally important benefit has been to help playout facilities around the world migrate their SD operations to the HD world cost-effectively and add new features easily. Initial concerns about reliability have also been overcome with the latest generation of server technology and software.

The very idea of a small box doing the job of a traditional automation system costing many times more to install and maintain was initially met with resistance from many automation system vendors (many of which now themselves offer CIB systems), but as next-generation playout centers and individual barker channels began to consider the integrated system technology, the trend could no longer be ignored. Broadcasters and program distributors need more automation capability to run their digital TV channels, they just dont want to pay a traditional master control operator to do it.

Recognizing the sales potential, today there are more than two-dozen companies that offer some type of automated channel playout device (some traditional server vendors, others new to the category). All provide the benefits of simplified operations with fewer user interfaces for greater efficiencies, reduced rack space and lower power consumption (two critical issues for large playout facilities) and easily expandable functionality.

All of these systems,managed dedicated server which address new file-based operations and the need for flexible business models, will be on display at the IBC convention in Amsterdam, Netherlands, next month.

Is automated playout from an unattended box an innovative new approach? Rush Beesley, president of RushWorks, doesnt think so. He says his company has offered low-cost, high-performance television production, automation and video streaming systems since 2001. For Beesley, a veteran broadcast engineer and founder of commercial insertion and automation system provider Sundance Digital, automated playout is not a new idea at all.

From 2001 to 2007 RushWorks systems (using software licensed from an overseas vendor) supported from one to four channels of automated playback of MPEG-2 files. The single chassis communicated with routing switchers via serial protocol and supported multiple GPI in and out ports. It also supported one on-screen display or crawl.

Then the company expanded the idea to include full-power broadcasting; LPTV stations, Public, Educational and Government (PEG) channel playback on cable systems, and Internet streaming. They wrote their own software starting in 2006, and rolled out the A-List Broadcast Automation and Streaming System in about a year, along with the complementary VDESK Integrated PTZ Production System for meetings, events and houses of worship. Then they migrated to Matrox OEM cards that support input and output, as well as several layers of graphic compositing that eliminated the need for outboard graphic devices.
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