Samacoms brand new 16-channel High Definition playout system will enable it to offer end-to-end services to clients and strengthen its position as the Middle Easts largest teleport. In an exclusive interview with Vijaya Cherian, the du team, systems integrator Tek Signals and key supplier Pebble Beach share details of the project Dubai-based Samacom, the largest […]
Samacoms brand new 16-channel High Definition playout system will enable it to offer end-to-end services to clients and strengthen its position as the Middle Easts largest teleport. In an exclusive interview with Vijaya Cherian, the du team, systems integrator Tek Signals and key supplier Pebble Beach share details of the project
Dubai-based Samacom, the largest teleport in the Middle East and North Africa and the ninth largest in the world, will go on air with a brand new, fully-automated 16-channel High Definition (HD) playout system from its facility in August. Samacom, which uplinks more than 220 channels from its facility, is the uplink arm of telecom operator du. It is responsible for uplinking more than 90% of the channels that originate in the United Arab Emirates while also facilitating playout for several international channels including some in India and the United Kingdom. This project was undertaken by Abu Dhabi-based systems integrator Tek Signals in conjunction with dus team.
The new playout will enable the du team to offer a more comprehensive end-to-end solution to its clients.
At the heart of the new playout system is Pebble Beachs Neptune automation system, which is a different solution from what du previously operated. Other key parts of the workflow include Tektronix Cerify content verification, Rhozet transcoding and Omneon servers.
The requirements of our clients have changed substantially since Samacom began its playout operations in 2001, explains Ahmed Abdullatif Khalid Al Muhaideb, vice president of Broadcasting and IPTV Services Technology, du. Al Muhaideb worked for more than 18 years with state broadcaster Dubai TV before moving to Samacom.
Although the system was quite state-of-the-art back then, today, it seems quite rudimentary owing to the lack of regional language support, HD support and so on. The new system is capable of delivering HD, provides unicode support which means multiple languages are no longer an issue and we also have rich graphic functionality. Additionally, we had to look at other requirements that were likely to come up in the future and based on this as well as the price-performance ratio, we chose the solution that we thought best meets our needs.
The new installation is presently designed to operate 16 channels but can be expanded to accommodate 100 channels or more. It brings more functionality to du empowering the uplink facility to offer end-to-end solutions to customers.
There are several improvements over what we previously had. We did not have a comprehensive monitoring function on the previous system, for instance, explains senior engineer of Broadcast Playout Systems Technology, V. Jaya Kumar.
Now, we have an integrated monitoring system that allows us to monitor every aspect of the system whether they be servers, services or applications. This gives more confidence to our operations team and clients as well.
He also points out that the team previously worked with islands of systems rather than an integrated solution.
Working with discrete systems was definitely not ideal from an operational point of view. Also, while our playout and graphics was always automated, our Quality control (QC) was undertaken manually. With the new QC system, the work can be completed in one third of the time and this can save money while allowing us to operate more channels with our existing resources. Besides this, of course, HD capability and multiple language support was key. Previously, we were stuck with just a few languages. Our clients are not necessarily all from the UAE and may want to operate the playlist in their respective languages. Unicode support enables us to run different fonts from different languages on a single platform.
The new workflow exists alongside the old system and in some cases, has been integrated.
Samir Isbaih, regional manager Middle East, Pebble Beach Systems elaborates where the new workflow takes over.
Du continues to use the same workflow for both ingest and media delivery. They will still receive media from different locations and in different formats whether they be tape or FTP into a central storage and then, we come in with the whole playout chain. Neptune primarily handles the media management and playout side of things. They couldnt scale up the previous system so one of the main benefits of the new system is that they can scale it up as much as they want.
Isbaih adds that several broadcasters in the UAE including MBC and OSN have Neptune installations at their respective facilities.
Besides the fact that this is a seamless, fully redundant playout automation with no single point of failure on the automation side, this system also enables du to provide Disaster Recovery (DR) services. Should there be a breakdown at any broadcast facility, a client can quickly move its content and uplink from du.
The new workflow itself is fairly simple. The ingested media is delivered onto an Omneon MediaGrid central storage server, where the Neptune system automatically detects its arrival and instigates the QC process, which is handled by the Tektronix Cerify content analysis platform. Neptune then checks these files for Pass or Fail status, and the files are transferred either into the Transmission Ready folder, or into an Edit folder if it fails to meet QC. Cerify generates a full status report on all media so that the specific nature of any reported errors can be identified.
In addition to instigating the QC process when new media is detected on the MediaGrid, Neptune also generates low-resolution copies of all new media via a Promedia Carbon transcoding solution.
Working with low-res files saves a lot of time and money, explains Al Muhaideb.
Viewing, adding metadata and simple editing is faster and efficient when done on low-res files.
Operators at du have access, via five desktop PCs, to segmentation, viewing and cuts-only edit functionality using Pebble Beach Systems Razorfish application. Using the Omneon API, operators can also generate a high resolution clip from these low-res clips without the need to use craft edit resources.
Main and backup Omneon playout servers each provide 16 playout ports, and the Neptune automation system also features fully redundant main and backup Device Controllers and Database Servers with automatic failover, and no single point of failure.
Neptunes comprehensive alert system reports, for example, lost communication with the server, missing subtitle files and port failures. It also offers a range of ways in which these alerts can be communicated, for example via an audio file, via GPI, by means of an email alert, or by nudging a window in the UI to immediately notify the operator in the event of a problem.
Schedules are received from dus playout customers in XL format and automatically translated for use by Neptune, which then moves all required media into the main and backup transmission server, having scanned through the possible locations for media and automatically restored the required files if appropriate.
Each of the 16 playlists controls both the main and air protect playout servers, with coloured icons on the main playlist indicating the status of the main and backup server ports at any time. Neptune manages a complex graphics workflow, with Now, Next, Later graphics automatically populated using the automation API and updated in real time.
As dus clients also reside abroad, it wanted to have a facility whereby its clients could remotely access the system and make changes to their playlist and server ports at will.
Du has always worked with Omneon servers. When it needed more, it chose Omneon again because we have had a good experience with the product and the support from Harmonic is remarkable, points out Jaya Kumar.
In this case, we just chose the latest version of Spectrum MediaDirector, which is a higher bandwidth server. Pebble Beach, however, is a new experience for us but its a more modern automation system that has an elaborate workflow and can handle multiple requirements.
Muhammad Methar, director of teleport operations adds that du was careful to go with Pebble Beachs tried and tested product rather than its latest offering.
We didnt go for the latest Marina solution although we have it in the contract that we can upgrade to that once it is more widely used. We specifically chose Neptune because it is a solid solution. We also chose Pixel Powers graphics solution.
Perhaps one of the most important requirements with this install is flexibility.
Scalability is a given in any installation today but flexibility and a future-proof technology that anticipates at least some of the new requirements that clients are likely to have in the future is key for us, explains Mohaideb.
And while we may have installed a similar system, our requirements are very different to that of broadcasters. If we have 16 different channels, you need to remember that they cater to 16 different clients who have totally differing requirements. So one channel may be graphics heavy, the other may be more basic but may require SMS and chat bars and still others may require last minute ad inserts. Client requirements are varied and this system needs to have the flexibility to accommodate each of those requirements, he adds.
Systems integrator Tek Signals claims this is a fairly unique project in the Gulf region.
This is an example of an IT and broadcast install, explains Ali Rasheed, broadcast IT manager, Tek Signals LLC.
The client wanted a sophisticated front end utilising the latest broadcast and IT technologies in terms of thumb nails, advanced graphics systems and interactive functionality to cope with client requirements. Besides the standard broadcast environment, we have a complete compliance recording system in place. Other than that, the backbone is an Evertz router with a multi-viewer system on the Q-Link basis. This is a new technology introduced by Evertz. We also use an Evertz SPG with network NTP protocol, where timing is locked over the network. All of the engineering machines are on KVM. This provides the user with a single point of centralised control while also being connected over the network to provide clients with remote access capabilities. Each client can remotely control their playout channel from their own facilities with appropriate rights and restrictions, he adds.
The project was awarded to Tek Signals in February 2012 and commissioning and training was undertaken last month.
Substantial integration had to be undertaken with the existing workflow.
We had to integrate the existing Omneon sever with the Omneon MediaGrid centralised storage. The centralised storage and automatic control check the existing files in terms of quality control and are being moved to the new set up. By the end of the commissioning, most of the data would have been migrated to the new system.
This was a turnkey project for us. The whole installation was undertaken with in-house engineers and technical resources. Around 20 people worked on this project. We have a three-year support in place for this project and will entertain a high level of serviceability for them as part of this project. We will have dedicated service engineers to go from our DMC office although they wont be based at their site, he adds.