The new master control facility is remotely operated and completely unattended.
At the end of 2007, WTVX-TV in West Palm Beach, FL, and systems integrator Burst teamed up to design and build a remotely operated and completely unattended master control facility for the station and its low-power counterparts, WTCN-LP and WWHB-LP. Six months later, this unique facility, located at the station's transmitter site in the wetlands west of Port St. Lucie, FL, was fully operational, using the same interfaces that would have been selected for an on-site operation.
When Four Points Media purchased WTVX at the end of April 2007, it became necessary for the station to build its own master control facility. Previously, CBS owned the station, and programming was switched in Miami at the CBS O&O WFOR-TV studios. Four Points Media explored several possible solutions for the new master control scenario before moving forward with the systems integrator's plan — to build the master control facility at the station's transmitter site and tie it into KUTV-TV, another Four Points outlet in Salt Lake City. This scenario proved to be both financially and technically sound; it enabled the KUTV engineering crew to remotely manage operations while allowing WTVX to maintain its local presence in West Palm Beach.
The project required a PC-based interface that could control an unattended and remotely controlled master control facility. The entire design was driven to accomplish this goal.
The station's new master control is operated from the KUTV master control room in Salt Lake City, despite the fact that the entire master control facility is located at the its transmitter site near Port St. Lucie. The interface for the Salt Lake City-based master control operator is an off-the-shelf computer.
In West Palm Beach, the station has a sales office, post-production capability and a small studio. Programming is received via satellite at the transmitter site and can be transmitted live or recorded to the Omneon server to be aired or file-transferred to the sales office for post production.
Because most of the systems at the master control site are computer-based, nearly everything can be seen remotely via IP. The systems that require KVM access are also viewable via KVM over IP. Media arrives at the site via satellite or by MPLS WAN, which uses Telestream's Pipeline to transfer files to the server systems at the site.
Playout can be live via satellite, delayed via MPLS WAN file transfer or live via an analog microwave link that is expected to be used only in emergencies. The WAN file transfers originate, for the most part, at the station's sales office in West Palm Beach, which is also the point of origin for the microwave link. Here, media can be posted in HD or SD formats and file-transferred to the server for playout at times assigned by automation.
As anticipated, the parameters of the project challenged the team in many ways and called for innovation and creativity. The station's broadcast maintenance engineer, Scott Nielson, was instrumental in addressing challenges encountered during commissioning. The team had to determine how to move promotional feeds received at the transmitter site at Port St. Lucie to the sales office edit bays in downtown West Palm Beach. The solution: After recording feeds from satellite onto the server, a Telestream Flip Factory watches the server for the feeds. Once found, it transcodes the files into smaller size H.264 QuickTime movies and moves them to the editing SAN, where they are ready for editing.
Another challenge involved hosting the station's low-power stations, WTCN-LP and WWHB-LP, in West Palm Beach. These signals are carried via WTVX-DT as subchannels, and then received at their respective sites and retransmitted as LPTV signals from their original transmitter facilities. Everything runs on automation, which is also accessed remotely via KVM over IP.
The team also had to determine how to run the master control from a desktop PC located thousands of miles away. When Four Points sought the ideal solution for its master control facility, it considered nontraditional models based on computer platforms running proprietary software, but at the time, did not believe the technology was ready. Although it was necessary to be able to run the master control facility unattended, the scenario was not without risk. The transmitter site is located in a fairly remote wetland area, at the end of a road that sometimes bears more resemblance to an extended pond. On a good day, the drive to the site from West Palm Beach takes more than an hour; on a difficult day, drive time can double or triple.
Consequently, two factors were of key importance to Four Points. First, the system needed to be a highly reliable, field-tested installation using well-known solutions. And second, everything needed to be remotely rebootable. The team had to design the IP infrastructure to enable full control and monitoring, including KVM over IP connectivity.
The project caused Four Points to choose technologies that could be managed remotely from a network connection. Not being able to touch the front panels of equipment creates challenges. The selection of equipment was done with these challenges in mind. Reliability was achieved by selecting equipment that has been successful in other Four Points facilities, notably KEYE-TV and KUTV-TV.
The remote reboot issue was solved by using remotely controllable power strips from Liebert. Nearly everything in the system can have its power interrupted from Salt Lake City or West Palm Beach by accessing the power manager from a desktop computer. In addition, the entire system, including the transmitter, is on a master UPS and generator.
The design of the facility was a collaborative effort involving all of the disciplines in engineering at WTVX, KUTV and the systems integrator. Because KUTV's engineers had the core pieces of the WAN under their umbrella, development of the plan for the data network systems at the WTVX transmitter site fell to specialists there. The data system is critical to the system's reliability, so it was made redundant where possible. The systems integrator and station owner engineers exchanged information constantly during the design process, resulting in a system that worked correctly when it was powered on.
Alan Scott, IT manager at KUTV in Salt Lake City, noted that all control, monitoring and spot ingest is done via a 6Mb/s network connection. Cisco routing switches, MPLS WAN technology and HughesNet for backup allow the deployment of a flexible and robust network environment.
Burst received approval to proceed with the design on Sept. 27, 2007, and completed its installation of facilities ahead of schedule on Jan. 28, 2008. Satellite pads were ready to be poured the same day, and satellite system installation followed rapidly. Media transfers and training began immediately, and the station went live with the new system on Feb. 24, 2007.
The new facility allows most master control operations to be handled by experienced operators considerably distant from the site, and local programming is still developed and produced in West Palm Beach. The economic model for this scenario allows Four Points Media to serve the South Florida community without spending money on operations that do not require a local presence.
Upon completion, Kipp Greene, director of engineering for Four Points Media, noted that the traditional centralcast model was not attractive due to the high cost of fiber and the difficulty of microwave in the area. The station owner opted to make the transmitter site the TV station, and connect all the pieces using conventional WAN technologies in order to make the station much easier to rehub in the future.
As the group grows, it is not locked into one location; instead it can move control and monitoring around the station group. This flexibility provides enormous advantages to the bottom line.
Locating the equipment at the transmitter site also allows the sales office to relocate when and if it becomes attractive, maximizing branding and public exposure opportunities, and keeps high-rent space to a minimum. It also allows the station owner to cut its signal transport costs by two-thirds. If it loses WAN connectivity, content keeps flowing to the transmitters.
While the completion and successful operation of the master control facility is a point of pride for the engineering staff, its great advantage is the significantly reduced cost of operation and much greater flexibility for future operational planning. The collaboration between the systems integrator and Four Points enabled rapid consideration of the adopted technologies, accelerated the design process, and was key to the on-time completion of the project. WTVX and its sister stations now serve the West Palm Beach market with an unusual and successful technology paradigm.
Tom Norman is a senior engineer for Burst.
Doug Houston, VP systems integration
Tom Norman, sr. engineer
Dave Stengel, proj. mgr.
Letha Koepp, admin. proj. mgr.
Christian Freeman, lead wireman
Danny Rowland, wireman
Four Points Media:
Kipp Greene, dir. of engineering
Keith Betts, transmissions engineer, WTVX
Alan Scott, dir., IT, KUTV
Scott Nielson, sr. engineer, KUTV
Technology at work
Avocent DSR8035 KVM over IP switch
3560 Layer 3 switcher
CompuSat satellite control system
Digital Alert Systems DASDEC EAS system
EASI Sat satellite antennas
Ensemble Designs Avenue series terminal equipment
5600MSC and 5600ACO2 sync and test generation
9625 series branding and EAS insertion
HughesNet Satellite WAN
Liebert MP-SS138 (CPU) and MP-C5131 (power strips) power management
Omneon Spectrum video servers
TT1290 satellite receivers
Encoding and multiplexing with nCompass control
FlipFactory transcoding workflow automation system
400/64 routing switcher
MC-400 master control switcher