Technical preparations are under way at MBC for the launch of the networks HD bouquet on July 1. BroadcastPro ME brings you the details from Andy Palmer, group director of technical operations at MBC. MBC Groups ambitious plans to launch a High Definition (HD) version of its free-to-air (FTA) bouquet on July 1, 2011, […]
Technical preparations are under way at MBC for the launch of the networks HD bouquet on July 1. BroadcastPro ME brings you the details from Andy Palmer, group director of technical operations at MBC.
MBC Groups ambitious plans to launch a High Definition (HD) version of its free-to-air (FTA) bouquet on July 1, 2011, has meant making significant technical changes within its Dubai facility. For one, the move has seen the broadcaster bring forward its tapeless, file-based workflow strategies and undertake corresponding investment in equipment.
“Were going on air with seven HD channels on July 1 on a new satellite, offering MBC 1, 2 and 4, together with MBC MAX, ACTION, Drama and Alarabiya in HD to our audience, and we have had to bring forward some of our investment in tapeless workflows to meet this challenge,” explains Andy Palmer, group director of technical operations.
“There are already several tapeless workflows in progress at MBC in order to provide HD and we will build on that in the next 18 months to ensure that everything is file based. Recently, we moved the whole of the post production process and compliance editing into a file-based environment.”
As part of this transition, the broadcaster also elected to make strategic shifts in its transmission control, ingest and media management areas from solutions presently installed at its facility to others that it claim provide greater operational efficiency and functionality in a cost-effective manner.
The Group recently renewed its automation and server solutions; it replaced its existing Harris ADC automation system with Neptune playout automation from Pebble Beach Systems (PBS) and also migrated from the SeaChange platform to Omneon Spectrum.
“We were primarily looking for additional functionality on the automation side and there are a lot of modern automation systems available today that allow for easy media movement and media management. Neptune has helped us put our first toe in the water without having to invest in media asset management immediately although we are in the middle of an RFP process for a MAM solution as well,” explains Palmer.
Solutions from three major players were initially assessed and one was discounted early in the process because of concerns about reliability. Following extensive on-site evaluation and operational preference, Neptune was ultimately selected, says Palmer.
“When you narrow down to the two major players in the field, it comes down to the system the people will prefer to work with; technical functionality at that point becomes a given. We examined the market and ended up looking at both Pebble Beach and Probel. Our automation staff preferred Pebble Beach because of the functionality and the training and they were more comfortable with it so we went with it,” Palmer explains.
Neptune, therefore, sits at the heart of the MBC system workflow providing intelligent ingest, playout and fully file-based workflow management. It also provides a sophisticated content management facility.
Included with Pebble Beachs Neptune automation is its Anchor media management functionality. Together, the solution features a total of seven playlists to play out a mix of server-based and live programmes. It also comes with a redundancy configuration that includes seven active parallel backup chains, with some mirrored devices. The system includes three preview lists.
Samir Isbaih, who project managed the operations for PBS in Dubai says the companys “highly developed Anchor content management functionality was one of the major factors influencing the sale”.
“Anchor is responsible for media movement between servers and the near online storage. It restores any media required for the playlists which may be missing from the server but is available on the near line storage, and also allows rule-based media movement of files between partitions on the near line storage.”
At MBC, Anchor Media Management manages transfers between two Omneon servers (newly installed as part of this project), near line storage with multiple partitions, low res management and a deep archive library.
In addition, transmission, ingest and preview processes are controlled from 11 client workstations.
Explaining the choice of Omneon transmission servers, Palmer says: “We bought an Omneon Spectrum server for transmission. This is what we are using now and will use in the future when we are fully tapeless. We chose this solution and our HD file format to give us maximum flexibility and to launch more channels more cheaply in the future.”
The present workflow sees Neptune interfacing with Broadcast Master traffic and ingesting media onto Omneon Spectrum servers from tape or a live feed. Metadata is also imported and generated at this point. Once material has been QC (Quality control) passed by the operator, Neptunes automated content management passes the transmission-ready clips to nearline storage, whilst those requiring editing are transferred to different folders on the same storage for further manipulation before being passed as transmission-ready.
Schedules are loaded automatically, with Neptune prioritising the restore to the main and backup Omneon servers based on the material which is required on air soonest.
To date, PBS claims to have provided operational training to more than 40 operators at MBC, while engineering training was carried out last month.
In addition, the UK-based company adds that both online and on-site support is being provided regularly to the end user.
“We have a very interactive relationship with the end user, both from our headquarters in the UK and in the form of onsite visits to undertake commissioning and training,” says Isbaih.
From July 1, the new installation will enable MBC to offer its free-to-air HD bouquet to viewers through Technosat set top boxes (STB) as part of a deal it signed with the STB dealer two months ago. The deal, however, is not exclusive. The Technosat HD STBs were chosen because they are the most affordable in the market with state-of-art advanced technology for the HD satellite reception, and the first of its kind in the MENA region.
This workflow also incorporates Vizrt Content Pilot template-based graphics, DigiCart audio devices from 360 Systems, NVision mixers, and an interface to MBCs electronic programme guide (EPG).
MBC was so impressed with the solution that it has ordered a Neptune Lite automation system to be installed in a test area at the facility.
Palmer confirms the order.
“The team at Pebble Beach Systems has been exceptionally helpful and friendly throughout the process, and owing to our excellent working relationship, together with the advanced content management functionality that Neptune offers, we have elected to place an order for an additional Neptune Lite automation system which we plan to install later this year in our test area. The current Neptune system will actually go on air controlling the playout of all of our SD channels in mid-June prior to the HD launch. Commissioning is already completed and the final training sessions are going on as we speak.”
Pebble Beach says the whole solution is scalable. In fact, the company foresees working further with MBC in the future.
“We anticipate a contract to increase the channel count to 12 in the next few months. MBC may also choose to upgrade to Pebble Beach Systems next generation Marina automation as its HD service progresses,” says Isbaih.