Al Aan TV has been modernising its broadcast infrastructure gradually in a bid to migrate to a full HD facility. Raad Haddadin, Head of Tech, updates Vibhuti Arora on the progress of the project Dubai-based broadcaster Al Aan TV is upgrading its broadcast infrastructure with the objective of achieving a full HD transmission in the […]
Al Aan TV has been modernising its broadcast infrastructure gradually in a bid to migrate to a full HD facility. Raad Haddadin, Head of Tech, updates Vibhuti Arora on the progress of the project
Dubai-based broadcaster Al Aan TV is upgrading its broadcast infrastructure with the objective of achieving a full HD transmission in the near future. The phased upgrade has already seen the completion of Al Aans power and electromechanical revamp, as well as the switch in aspect ratio although the rest is yet to come, according to Raad Haddadin, Head of Technical at Al Aan TV.
We began the revamp with the idea of improving the image quality and user experience. We took the phased approach and embarked on the project beginning with the aspect ratio switch to 16:9 on February 1, 2014 on all main TV platforms. This switch has been planned for more than a year. That was the first step of our modernisation project, he says.
16:9 is a standard aspect ratio, which most of the channels follow. Most televisions and computer monitors currently available have an aspect ratio of 16:9, which fits the high-definition television shows. There are several regions in Al Aan TVs footprint that still use CRT monitors, however, for which the 4:3 aspect ratio is more suited. This made the transition challenging in the beginning because the graphics and artworks had to cater to both formats.
Its falling in line now, says Haddadin.
All of the graphics support both aspect ratios. It would have been easier for us to have the 16:9 ratio but we cannot possibly drop this category of people, who still have CRT monitors, he explains.
The next step was to replace the infrastructure to make everything HD-ready.
In the last two years, we have worked in the broadcast domain and replaced all of our automation and playout servers to ensure they are HD-ready. These include Harris Nexio, Isilon archive, and the latest Avid HD-ready products. With the installation of new equipment, we also worked on the upgrade and modification of the workflow, explains Haddadin.
The choice of each of these products enables the channels operations to continue uninterrupted in a multi-format environment that supports SD, HD and 3G. The content can move seamlessly between formats and aspect ratios.
This affords more flexibility for production from the studio whenever we begin our HD migration, where a mixed standard environment is to be expected. Having said that, we are also ensuring that our technology is future-proof. The best broadcast quality is possible through HD 1080P broadcast equipment and systems and we have those ready at Al Aan TV. So whenever we decide to migrate to full HD, the infrastructure will be prepared to handle it, explains Haddadin.
The project implementation has been undertaken in phases and the team worked on each part separately to ensure the transmission could continue without interruption.
Before embarking on the project, everything from the air-conditioning, and power distribution was revamped to sustain the new equipment.
The project includes two fully equipped HD studios that are kitted out with Sony cameras and switchers, and a master control room (MCR) that is primarily fitted with Harris solutions. In addition, an end-to-end Avid solution drives Al Aans newsroom.
Sony HD cameras have replaced the old Sony SD ones and the gallery equipment has also been overhauled. Al Aan now boasts full HD/3G studio equipment. The studio and news gallery are equipped with a new Yamaha digital audio mixer the DM2000 VCM as well as the Sony 3ME multi-format video switcher. The studio presently houses eight Sony HXC100 cameras although it is wired for ten.
The studio makeover also involved replacing the entire lighting grid.
The lighting is controlled from the studio gallery. The entire grid was replaced with Arri cool lig
hts and LED lights. In addition to that, two new Strand light Philips 250ML lighting mixers, and two Strand dimmers were installed too, says Haddadin.
MCR, automation and playout
Al Aan TVs refurbished MCR is built around a Harris Nexio AMP3801 HDX integrated server platform for managing digital content. Right from ingest to transmission of SD (525i, 625i) and HD (1080i, 1080p, 720p), the content is managed on the same chassis. Harris Broadcasts ADC handles automation to cater to Al Aans content management workflow requirements. ADC controls and delivers content by incorporating the benefits of asset management with the efficiencies of automated operations.
The playout system has four bi-directional channel servers that allow for the simultaneous ingest and playout of six channels, all on the same shared storage system. This enables the channel to have more flexibility for the playout operators.
Also installed are the Avid ISIS 7000 shared storage and Avid AirSpeed 5000 for ingest and playout. The shared storage runs on standard Gigabit Ethernet technology as well as two system director servers that provide a location to coordinate file access modes (read/write), file locking, range locking, performance data collection, logging, file lookup, and directory change tracking for client systems. The studio recording and playback are also wired to enable expansion to a tapeless solution with the Avid ISIS 7000 central editing system enabling ease of editing and programme playback.
Al Aan TVs Avid solution also includes iNews Command, the Avid Interplay engine for metadata and production management and Avid Interplay Central for web-based and mobile editing. The Avid Newscutter and iNews solutions are both part of the editing and NRCS workflow.
In addition to the above, Vizrt V3.3 with PC platform using HP Z800 workstations are deployed.
The editing department hosts five edit suites with Avid Media Composer systems and the branding is handled by Miranda Image store 750 master control switcher.
In addition to that, all audio and video glue cards have been replaced by the 2RU Densité 2 housing frame, which can simultaneously process 3Gbps, HD, SD, and analogue video, as well as AES and analogue audio.
The new frames can host up to 20 cards in a single 2RU frame easy to be configured by front panel or remotely via Ethernet.
This has saved us rack space as the new frames can be stacked without additional cooling spacing. We are also in the process of replacing the old SD router 128X128 with the new HD Miranda Nvision 8144 144X144 router, informs Haddadin.
As for archiving, the channel is in the process of archiving its media library by converting the recordings to the new format.
A Spectra T200 LTO tape library has been installed to store digital archives. In addition to that, SGL FlashNet software has been deployed to enable the movement of data from the news and production domains to the LTO tape library.
T200 tape library is configured with four LTO six-tape drives and 190 tape slots enabled. This will provide Al Aan TV with approximately 475 TB of storage capacity to store the digital archives across 190 tape media slots.
Vantage and X50 are being used for file-based and video-based conversions controlled by iMotion, which is provided by Harris Broadcast and sets the workflow rules to manage the media movement.
The road ahead
Al Aan has already expanded its services significantly outside the UAE with TV and radio services in Libya and Syria.
The channel also has a huge presence online and claims to have 7.7 million page visits a month on its website. Al Aan TV has also launched mobile apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices to reach out to its audience on the second screen.
The move to HD will further improve the channels quality of broadcast and enhance its profile in the region.