The typical broadcast control room architecture, just a few years ago, had every single image coming from its own CRT monitor — hardwired and hard mounted in a fixed, hefty matrix.
Today, broadcasters take advantage of brilliant and readily available flat- panel and projection displays, populating multiple images onto each physical screen. The move at once minimizes real estate and energy requirements, while giving operators a sleeker viewpoint.
The multiviewer is a relatively recent concept, but it is hard to imagine one that has had a bigger impact on the day-to-day working lives of broadcast engineers. The product has evolved rapidly as we enter its third generation.
The standalone device represented the first generation, which took a number of inputs and created one output. The second generation integrated the multiviewer with the router. This had clear advantages as signals were already being managed inside the router. It seemed logical to add the multiviewer hardware within the frame.
This laid the ground for the third generation, which offers complete freedom to set and instantly change the layout in any combination of sources and geometry.
How far we have come
Today's control room signals come in different formats and resolutions, and users should have the ability to set their monitoring preferences to work comfortably.
The HView SX Pro has been introduced as this third generation of multiviewers comes to fruition. Specifically, this multiviewer brings highly flexible monitoring and control into the live production environment. Live production has changed dramatically over the last decade, with 10 cameras now considered a small production. Many productions today call for more than 20 cameras plus recorded sources. This is a challenge for monitoring in the studio gallery and (even more so) within the confines of a mobile production truck.
Live production is a highly pressurized environment, and the director and TD must be comfortable with the monitoring layout. Looking across a monitor stack throughout a long production is tiring and frustrating. And, not being able to find a key shot can be the difference between a great show and a disaster.
There are three points to consider in live production environments:
Hardware needs to be as compact as possible with space at a premium;
Images must be precise, whatever the resolution, to minimize operator fatigue and eyestrain; and
Screen layouts require quick setup, with instant recall to minimize downtime.
This is why the HView SX Pro takes care to highlight three workflow-minded design aspects: smaller, sharper and smarter.
The Harris Platinum router typically hosts the HView SX Pro on boards within the frame (though standalone installations are supported). This saves space and energy consumption by sharing the router's existing power supplies. The boards are doubled in density for greater space efficiency. Audio embedding and de-embedding, as well as frame synchronization, are also internally supported — reducing external connections and I/O requirements.
The multiviewer modules provide both HDMI and HD-SDI outputs (three of each). The HDMI outputs are ideal for local screens, and the HD-SDI outputs can be guided back through the router and sent anywhere in the facility.
Though compact, the multiviewer retains the ability to work with very large numbers of sources. The integrated router and multiviewer installation can support 512 × 512 routing plus 192 monitor outputs.
When it comes to multiviewer installations, picture quality is quite often cited as a concern. By nature, translating multiple sources onto a single screen requires a scaling down of the resolution. In order to maximize image quality, the simple solution has been to limit screen layouts to factors of two in each direction: four per screen, 16 per screen and so on.
Certain devices allow the grouping of some tiles. One example of this is surrounding two quarter-screen images with eight smaller images. Some engineers put relatively few sources on each display, which negates putting many sources close to the operator — a multiviewer benefit.
The third-generation solution uses processing power available inside the router architecture to drive a more sophisticated scaling algorithm. This allows the operator to define any image size for any source and precisely build the layout required, while ensuring that identical quality is achieved no matter the resolution.Compounding this design challenge is that scaling must not add to latency through the system. Live production operators make decisions that require immediate display and must show instantly if the director calls for the cut.
The Harris-developed MicroFine scaling solution uses a combination of polyphase interpolation with sophisticated filtering techniques. This is combined with adaptive de-interlacing in a fast processing path, achieving the required uniform-perceived quality while maintaining end-to-end latency of less than one frame through the system.
Studio and mobile production companies aim to achieve high utilization. A large truck might, within the space of a week, cover a rugby match, an “X-Factor” type entertainment show and a ballet. Each will have different directors, different requirements for ancillary equipment (multiple replays and motion graphics are more common in sport than ballet) and a different crew.
Each operator will have dedicated monitor layout preferences. The ability to set these preferences quickly and easily, without significant engineering effort, is a great productivity boost. The proper solution hosts various configurations inside the multiviewer alongside a web server, which enables design layout capabilities over any browser.
The design tool allows the user to work on individual screens or treat a multi-screen arrangement as a single display. As previously noted, the SX Pro allows sources to be displayed at any resolution. The variations of screen layouts are, therefore, infinite in theory. Templates are included in order to expedite the speeds to which layouts can be populated and modified.
The multiviewer stores configurations in non-volatile memory. This means studios with regular bookings can instantly recall layouts. Also, the configuration file can be exported to a USB stick or other external system, allowing the transport of personalized settings. The monitor stack appears identical from studio to studio, or truck to truck.
These core attributes represent the third-generation multiviewer for the live production environment. With the continued growth of live sports and event production — from various award shows to the Super Bowl — the live production segment continues to impress as a true growth area of the broadcast industry. Compact, energy efficient, easy to use and offering excellent image quality, the SX Pro is positioned to help broadcasters, mobile production truck operators and production companies working within this field.
Kevin Jackson is product manager, multiviewers, Harris Broadcast Communications.