Getting fit for prime time
The ongoing challenge in developing channel-in-a-box solutions has been getting more of the broadcast chain into a single environment. A further challenge has been handling the richness of modern broadcasts and maintaining a complete and full feature set that successfully addresses an evolving industry.
As with any other functions in a channel-in-a-box solution, switching and branding functions must mimic the historic functionality to which broadcasters are accustomed. (See Figure 2.) From the control and operations perspective, these functions must offer the same technology and power. Though a different type of enabling technology is bringing new cost benefits, this difference is abstracted from the user, whose experience of key functions, such as switching and branding, remains very much the same as with traditional systems.
On top of switching and branding, the advanced system functionality that today makes the channel-in-a-box system fit for prime time includes format-agnostic processing of SD and HD material, along with the ability to manage those processes required to prepare pictures, sound and ancillary data for secure, frame-accurate, high-quality SD/HD playout. Integrated format conversion for up/downconversion and aspect ratio conversion is key to handling multiformat material from varied sources smoothly, on a single timeline and in a single playlist.
Routing and mixing capabilities within channel-in-a-box give broadcasters the tools to handle multiple layers and sources with ease and to add transitions seamlessly. Advanced 3-D graphics, DVEs and keyers add further visual sophistication to the output, allowing broadcasters to give a channel a dynamic, cutting-edge look and feel.
Audio processing functions such as voiceover input support and mixing into the output with program level adjustment ensures top-quality results. Ancillary data support — in particular, subtitling and closed-caption support for SD and HD — reduces the amount of external equipment required to deal with legacy content while ensuring correct insertion of HD captions.
The addition of high-performance SAN storage to channel-in-a-box solutions has aided in optimizing media distribution workflows, as well as overall playout system performance. By reducing the need for media transfers, shared storage eliminates common bottlenecks and facilitates simultaneous playback and recording of files by multiple channel-in-a-box systems.
Dynamic resource assignment in channel-in-a-box systems has dramatically increased their flexibility in single and multichannel environments, allowing broadcasters to configure the signal path for any presentation style, both now and in the future. In terms of playout reliability, the usual requirements apply now to channel-in-a-box systems, some of which feature RAID storage, dual redundant power supplies, dual redundant mirrored playback, guard sources and multi-site and multi-system synchronized redundancy. For prime time, the channel-in-a-box needs comprehensive facilities to equal the features of traditional systems. Some feature multi-system synchronized redundancy. (See Figure 3.)
Over the years, channel-in-a-box solutions have become more sophisticated in supporting both full channel playout as well as ancillary services. Still, there remains quite a spectrum of capability in this space, and not all systems are equal. “Channel-in-a-box” is a widely used term applied to both the most basic solutions and to the complex solutions that today integrate fully into broadcast systems.