The Los Angeles Broadcast Center (LABC) transmits nearly 700 channels to DIRECTV customers across the nation. The broadcast operations center (BOC) at the LABC serves as the final quality control point before these signals leave the building. The BOC monitors video, audio and program-associated data feeds as they are processed through various systems in the facility. These include raw incoming signals, uplink signals, and downlink signals as seen by home viewers.
The LABC’s control rooms utilize Evertz’s VistaLINK to provide operators with a graphical representation of all rooms’ monitor walls, enabling a single operator to monitor any room from a single station.
With so many signals, monitoring is obviously crucial to the company’s operations. Early this year, DIRECTV installed Evertz 7761AVM2-DC video and audio monitoring systems to enhance its signal monitoring capabilities. These frames send SNMP data to a central monitoring system known as VistaLINK, which presents signal status in an easy-to-read format, and provides monitoring and configuration control via a simple client application for flexibility in administration.
The system resides in technical services and broadcast operations. The broadcast control rooms use a client and monitoring application with a 15-inch LCD monitor showing a graphical representation of all broadcast control room monitor walls. Each operator can effectively monitor any room from a single station.
The discrete channel monitoring system offers a marked improvement over the tedious, manual labor of the facility’s previous monitoring environment. Operators now can recognize errors in audio or video signals much faster. Previously, they had to scan through more than 150 channels to ensure that audio and video were present and the associated signals were correct. They had to visually “catch” common technical impairments before restoration work could begin. The Evertz system simplifies the process and reduces outage time by quickly detecting such errors and presenting them to the operator in an easy to digest format. When a channel is in a normal state, the graphical representation on the CPU display is green. When the system detects a service issue such as loss of video, audio or synchronization, the button depicting the service flashes red, accompanied by an audible alarm. This alerts the operator to call up that channel on the “critical stack” portion of the monitor wall for a closer look. Double-clicking on the channel GUI opens a separate text display that lists the description of the issue, time the event occurred and an area where the operator can “acknowledge” the alarm.
The operator then can troubleshoot and call technical services if needed. Once the issue has been rectified on the channel, the system will automatically check a “corrected” box, and the system will show green again.
The monitoring system also monitors its own health. When the system cannot communicate between its main server and a card within one of the server’s frames, an alarm is sent to the broadcast operations and technical services departments to let them know that networking communication has been lost with one of the units, requiring immediate attention.
Both technical services and broadcast operations can alter configurations within the system. Technical services can reconfigure the system to match graphical grids with new corresponding signals during occasional transponder swaps.
The broadcast operations department can add or delete services and change threshold parameters. For instance, if a threshold is set for loss of video at 30 frames, those parameters can be changed if a program is scheduled with still images of longer than 30 frames. The system should not be viewed as a tool that replaces the operator, but as a flexible and reliable way to assist the operator and streamline the error correction process. The system keeps outage time low and customer satisfaction high, so the potential for lost revenue is reduced.
Newton Buchner, Jr. is broadcast operations manager, and Ariel Pangindian is a supervisor in technical services, for DIRECTV’s Los Angeles Broadcast Center.