Playout systems continue to improve function integration with an emphasis on play to air, but the robust functionality of the channel-in-a-box system raises questions of its utility in other applications. Andy Warman asks if these systems can be used for something other than scheduled channel playout Focused on the playout market, channel-in-a-box (CIAB) systems have […]
Playout systems continue to improve function integration with an emphasis on play to air, but the robust functionality of the channel-in-a-box system raises questions of its utility in other applications. Andy Warman asks if these systems can be used for something other than scheduled channel playout
Focused on the playout market, channel-in-a-box (CIAB) systems have found a home in economical channel rollouts that are easier to manage, control and maintain than those that rely on conventional one-box, one-function playout systems, and their use for premium channels shows that they’re here to stay.
With many of the same requirements as their counterparts in Europe and beyond, broadcasters in the Middle East stand to benefit from the use of CIAB systems for schedule-driven playout.
CIAB systems largely evolved from one of three origins video server platform, graphics system, or schedule-based automation system other than those built for CIAB from day one. Systems that evolved from a video server or graphics system typically have core technology targeting more than just scheduled playout. Indeed, classic video servers could be applied to many different workflows. So the concept of using this underlying technology for other purposes is plausible.
Systems built on existing automation systems may have access to workflows and technology on the control side that is viable beyond schedule-driven playout. Other system elements must be examined for suitability with less predictable workflows.
For CIAB systems built from the ground up, determining utility in other applications is a more subjective exercise. They lack a legacy of existing intellectual property that could inform or limit future use and development. While some niche applications lend themselves more easily to a fresh approach and design, other applications can prove enormously complex or entrenched in a workflow or process that deters newcomers.
In exploring the use of CIAB technology beyond scheduled channel playout, we focus on systems derived from video servers. Because CIAB technology implies live and clip-based video, graphics, switching and effects, and often rolls in external device control, the potential application of these capabilities deserves detailed examination.
One key feature of CIAB systems is ease of replication. Requiring significantly less equipment than solutions based on single-function devices, CIAB technology allows users to introduce new services more quickly, even in applications other than schedule-driven playout.
For playout systems that are not schedule-driven, control protocols must be flexible and allow for last-moment changes without perceivable latency. Its no good having long cue times, the need to cache content from a central storage system, or pre-processing of graphics. Likewise, if setup or reconfiguration is difficult, or if tricky or cumbersome methods define and modify effects, layers, switching and audio routing and mixing, then it can be difficult to change workflows as system usage evolves over time.
In the Studio
In a studio environment, some CIAB systems can function as a small switcher, provided there is a reasonable number of inputs and that all the key control elements are responsive. The switcher element can then be extended to enable access to the graphics and clip playout components. Because this puts a great deal more functionality at operators fingertips, the control surface needs to be agile or, at the very least, configurable. wAdvance preparation should ensure that clips and graphic templates can be recalled quickly. Buttons can be programmed to play the same clip; recall the same logo or graphic sequence; or provide mix effects, DVE, switching and more. The CIAB system interface makes it easy to create and manage different setups for different use cases.
If the objective is to record the switched output of the CIAB system, as well as graphics and clips, the record event can also be integrated into the control surface. Even if the CIAB machine itself has no ingest port, it should be able to control an external device and link it to the user interface.
Many of the principles that apply to CIAB reuse in the studio also apply for live events. However, here the way in which complexity is hidden and functionality is presented is more important. After all, reaction time is an issue for dynamic live events.
Rather than switch inputs on an upstream router, operators can switch the live inputs available via the CIAB system. If the live inputs can be passed into the DVEs, then a selected live shot plus, for example, a studio anchor shot can be combined with the various DVE effects. Other possibilities include employing standard graphics templates, with logos like “Live” and “Breaking News” keyed on and off.
When CIAB systems support key and fill inputs, complex graphics capabilities can be handled by a different operator upstream, with the final mix running through the CIAB hardware. In this case, all graphics can be external, or some can come from the CIAB system.
What happens when the operator wishes to step in and out of the schedule to cover a live event? Conventional wisdom says that the air chain for playout is separate from the systems used for live and studio workflows. CIAB systems make it possible to change that dynamic.
Because the CIAB hardware can execute the functions that make up both the live and playout workflows, it can essentially become a shared resource. A handshake mechanism enables the operator to take manual control at a scheduled time for a pre-programmed event, or when the master control operator breaks out of regular scheduled programming and assumes live control. Control can be switched back to the CIAB system, either with a return to the schedule at a predetermined time, by switching back to automated control at the next event, or simply joining an event in progress.
The simplicity of this approach is compelling, particularly for media management. Media can be maintained in one place, with graphics and clips available for both live and scheduled workflows. Operators also realise greater continuity with lower thirds, RSS and database feeds remaining uninterrupted, rather than being driven from alternate sources.
Because some CIAB offerings can perform multiple roles, users have the opportunity to employ a hybrid system that is capable of both live and scheduled playout. Such deployments offer a deeper level of function integration (greater workflow collapse) and enable playout of more dynamic channels, unconstrained by a simple playlist.
Whether or not individual operations choose to combine the CIAB system with other systems used in live and studio environments, the fact remains that it offers amazing value. The already budget-friendly CIAB system is capable of many things, and it offers users the opportunity to add greater richness to the channel, now or in the future.
Andy Warman is Director of Product Management, Media Servers and Storage at Harmonic.