The BT Broadcast Services (BTBS) switching platform is one of the largest in the world. Based in central London, it manages more than 1 million switching operations every year, and virtually every picture on British TV screens, be it directly or via a third party, passes through it — from facility houses, production companies, advertising agencies and financial institutions to news providers and broadcasters.
Client services are monitored by an operator using a screen that displays the monitoring equipment output signal and a screen that can show up to 16 different motion video images.
As the broadcast industry has evolved to require more than just switching, the company recently decided to completely redesign the center in order to additionally offer a comprehensive monitoring service. Building began in June 2002, and the technical installation, carried out by systems integrator Megahertz Broadcast Systems, started in November. By February 2003, the new International Media Centre (IMC) had been commissioned and handed over to the operators. Operations between the new center and the old then ran in parallel, with a phased changeover of personnel, until the end of April, when the old control center was closed. The total cost of the project was E$8 million.
The center is now the hub for monitoring UK fiber links, cable, satellite and IP signals. It has the ability to connect around the world, and can monitor up to 3000 services per day. The majority is via fiber, of which there are direct links between Lon- don and smaller centers in Paris and New York, and on to Los Angeles, Washington, Hong Kong and beyond. There is also a short hop of fiber to the London Teleport, which is used for satellite links.
At the heart of the center lies the Central Control Area (CCA). This is designed to allow problems to be flagged, either visually or by text alarms, and dealt with before the customer even knows. The CCA looks like a cross between Mission Control at Houston and the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. It is overlooked by two meeting rooms and an observation area. Adjoining the CCA is the equipment room and a 1-camera studio for occasional use.
Desk 7 is used for bookings, which can either be impromptu or larger-scale events such as Wimbledon that require forward planning and a certain amount of air traffic control.
At the front of the CCA is an 8-cube videowall that has an audience of 10 curved desks arranged in two rows of five tiers. Each desk supports a number of fixed positions and an occasional use position. It is usually operated by two teams of two people. Desk 1 is for outside broadcast monitoring. Desk 2 is for engineering control. Desks 3 to 6 are customer desks, where client services are monitored by an operator using a screen that displays the monitoring equipment output signal, and a screen that can show up to 16 different motion video images. There is also a datacom monitor for displaying and dealing with text alarms and for communications. Desk 7 is used for bookings, which can either be impromptu ‘Day of Air’ or ‘Futures’ or larger-scale events such as Wimbledon that require forward planning and a certain amount of air traffic control.
Equipment used for outside broadcast monitoring includes a Videotek VTM measurement set and a BES audio bargraph display.
The remaining desks are for switching and scheduling, technical call handling and future expansion. There are 52 positions in all, with room for expansion. At any one time, the CCA is running at around 75 percent capacity, although this is less overnight when Washington takes on more of the traffic.
The IT infrastructure includes more than 120 PCs and 54 workstations, connected to a CCC Network FreeVision system. This is basically an intelligent 128x128 KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) matrix that allows operators from any workstation to control any function of the CCA, subject to their access rights. Normally, operators have two PCs in front of them. One might be for e-mail and office functions, and the other for bookings/scheduling.
While the IMC does support legacy services in PAL, its core business is based on 270Mb/s ITU-R BT 601 (601) signals using SDI with embedded audio. Signals arrive at the center in all kinds of formats, with the highest proportion usually in MPEG-2. Various monitoring equipment is installed to monitor and control these signals in their native format, and the data from these devices is available in the CCA. Normally, services are switched in real time. However, the CCA is wired for six channels of VT and is equipped with four broadcast playout machines to offer local timeshift/playout facilities to clients if required.
Switching and scheduling are handled here, where Synelec back-projector cubes and Megahertz LCD monitors are used.
UK support was a key factor in determining what equipment was recommended. Because the center is a 24-hour, high-profile operation that cannot afford to be compromised in any way, the equipment had to be high-quality and have professional support from manufacturers already known and well-respected in the broadcast industry.
As far as the future is concerned, the IMC project director sees an increase in IP services via satellite and fast Internet, with more PC-based monitoring and analysis of streams rather than visual monitoring of analog images. Whatever the case, in the face of competition from companies such as NTL, Energis, Kingston Communications and other European telcos, the aim is to provide customers with assured confidence in the quality and standard of signals passing through the BTBS IMC.
Stella Plumbridge and Yasmin Hashmi are partners in SYPHA, publisher of The NLE Buyers Guide at www.SYPHAonline.com.
|Megahertz Broadcast Systems: Steve Burgess, technical director|
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|Megahertz: audio monitoring units custom-written alarm software|
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