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Pixel Power: Rock Solid

Friday, 05 June 2020

By James Gilbert | Pixel Power | Published 5th June 2020

It is almost compulsory to start any blog at the moment by saying these are difficult times. What I mean is that we are having to review so many things to work with isolation and social distancing, while ensuring a minimal impact on what we have always been proud to call broadcast quality and production values. But ‘luck’ is when preparation meets opportunity and in the last few years we have been in the fortunate position to help our customers prepare well.

We have had to quickly find ways to work remotely, whether that is in production or in delivery. Remote control of playout automation is an obvious requirement, and that has focused a very harsh light on legacy systems, many of which simply cannot be managed at a distance. Virtualised, software-centric technology is capable of control from anywhere, by its very nature, from a remote facility or a home office.

Broadcasters need new interstitials, promoting new programming created in lockdown, and offering public service information. With on-screen talent working from less than ideal environments at home, good graphics are more important than ever. An ideal system would see an editor working from home create a template which an automated production platform could then populate into all the different versions required.

Obviously I am talking about the technology for which Pixel Power is famous. But the same ideas apply across the board. Broadcasters have to find new ways of working. To succeed, that depends upon two linked factors.
First and most obvious, they need this technology now. We don’t have the luxury of six months research and extensive meetings at NAB or IBC (we didn’t have NAB and no longer have IBC!). We want something that works now – today – that may not work the way we used to, but which will deliver the goods.

That in turn leads to the second point, which is that you have to be able to rely on the vendors supplying this kit. If you are not going to spend months in discussions and developing proof of concept solutions, you have to have 100% faith that what is proposed will do what you want.

You need a vendor that understands your business. We started Pixel Power in 1987 to develop broadcast graphics systems then moving on to master control, automation and playout. 33 years later the company still has a rock solid dedication to solely broadcast solutions. To ensure we really understand what broadcasters and content companies need, we recruit key staff from them: people like Toria Farrell, a former transmission controller and Malorie Delaporte, a former head of systems engineering.

For more than 30 years Pixel Power was a thriving independent business that in 2018 became part of Rohde & Schwarz – another privately owned, engineering led organisation. We share the same values of always working to understand our customers’ businesses and delivering the best engineered solutions whether software or hardware. The combined result of engineering stability allows us to serve our customers with the right technology that helps them move forward: creatively, technically and commercially.

It is too early today to say what the new normal will be. But it is clear that, for broadcasting and media streaming to recover, it will need to be more agile and able to respond rapidly to change. It will rely much more heavily on automation, remote operation in the first instance and later virtualization. Preparing for that new world of opportunity will demand software defined solutions and ever stronger bonds of trust between vendor and customer, to implement effective solutions quickly and accurately.

We understand that, and we are here. Whether you need a quick fix or a long-term strategy, talk to Pixel Power.


Published in Articles

By Nikhil Pereira | Digital Studio ME | Published 27th February 2020

What are your plans for CABSAT 2020?

The great news is that both Pixel Power and Rohde & Schwarz are together on the same booth at CABSAT. We will be there to talk to customers about all our solutions in studio production, post production, delivery and distribution.

Give us more insight into the products and services you will be exhibiting at the show?

We are showing the following areas: Create and StreamMaster Produce graphics creation tools — with a 30 year heritage in graphics creation Pixel Power can show you how your brand can come to life, how you can automate your branding workflows and how to create a stunning new look and feel for both premium channels and across all your channel portfolio. StreamMaster Deliver (channel-in-a-box) and Gallium Playout (complete workflow automation for playout) will be one of the prominent demos on the booth. Full broadcast chain monitoring solution and multiviewing software using the Rohde & Schwarz Prismon solution set. Satellite amplifiers will be the star of the show with the new PKU-100 satellite uplink amplifier.

Who is your target audience and what should they look out for in your offerings?

We are looking for customers interested in innovative solutions where they want to save money or make money in their broadcast network. Customers who are interested in workflow solutions, future proof software defined tools that can scale and change with their business.

What is the USP of your products?

There are many unique selling points of our products and services but one of the most important things to note about Pixel Power and Rohde & Schwarz is that we focus on partnering with our customers throughout the whole journey from first discussion about a new project right through to the ongoing creative, operational and technical support over many years. We are an engineering led business and driven by the desire to deliver great solutions for great broadcasters for great content.

What challenges is the market facing in the market sector your firm operates in?

“Buzz” and the need to be realistic. There is a lot of talk about new standards, new resolutions, new consumer features. But the reality is that most broadcasters don’t simply want to hear about the dream, they want to see the reality of how they can create a steady pathway to that dream over a period of time. In the past decades we have had the ‘time in motion’ studies, the ‘just in time’ movement, the ‘time to market’ period. In the 2020s I believe it’s the ‘time to trust’ decade.

What are your plans for 2020?

We will keep developing and delivering innovative solutions for our broadcaster and telecommunication customers who want to create and deliver exciting television programmes and movies — then help them deliver that to you and me on our screens at home or on the move, in the cinema or the stadium, to enjoy with family and friends.



Published in Articles

By James Gilbert | KitPlus Magazine | Published January 2020 Edition

The first days of 2020 seem like a good time to reflect on what will happen to our industry in the coming months and years.

There are some things about which we can do nothing. The global political situation seems to be in turmoil. Populists seem to stop at nothing, and are certainly not hampered by the need to be truthful; the Middle East is in turmoil (growing rapidly worse as this article takes shape); and of course we still have no idea what the impact will be of Brexit, both for British companies and those based in the EU. All of these and more will be affecting the decisions of vendor companies every day in 2020 and beyond.

But what of our industry? The first point to make is that we are now in the end stage of the transition from broadcasting to content delivery, from linear television to content everywhere. The new model demands much more of delivery systems, yet technical budgets are not growing in step. Indeed, they are shrinking, so content companies are going to be looking for ever-more clever solutions.

Thanks to the growing power of COTS hardware and well-thought through software-defined architectures, both the technology and the solutions are available. The challenge relates to ‘people’.

First, the users of the technology need to buy into the new workflows and operational practices. Simply like-for-like replacement of a playout chain with a software-defined equivalent is not enough: it is definitely not a clever solution. We need to work together to create smarter ways to work, that take advantage of the new opportunities.

Secondly, we are not a young industry. It is something we regularly say, but we need to offer encouragement for the best people to join us. That has to start with STEM initiatives at school.

For all the talk of software-centric solutions, we will still need “broadcast engineers” in the future. It is about more than simply writing code. You may be able to add functionality to social media applications, or secure banking log-ons, but you still need a special set of skills and understanding to engineer a live sports broadcast. 2020 sees the Olympics and Paralympics: there will be very many engineers, with very many years of experience to their names, heading for Tokyo to deliver the quality and intensity of coverage that audiences demand.

Japanese broadcaster NHK will be claiming the headlines for its 8k coverage. But it is also important to remember that in large parts of the world SD is still the norm, and very few ordinary people will watch in anything above HD.

Just as the move from SDI to IP has proved slower than people predicted, this underlines a simple truism we should all remember: if you don’t need to be cutting edge, don’t make life difficult. If your SDI installation works, do not feel the need to throw it out any time soon, to replace it with an infrastructure which does not perform the way you expect it, and which needs additional skills which are still in very short supply.

That also applies to other new technologies for which wild claims have been made but have failed to deliver. There is a growing realisation that the idea of using the public cloud for large swathes of broadcast applications is a real case of the emperor’s new clothes.

That is not what the cloud is for; not what it is good at. By all means, set up disaster recovery in the cloud, to sit there costing very little unless the dreaded day should arrive. But for many customers 24/7 playout in the cloud really does not stand up to sensible financial and commercial analysis.

Having said all that, I am very optimistic for the future. We see good reasons for excitement in 2020, not least a tangible sales pipeline and a successful continuing recruitment programme. We are investing in a stronger team to support the delivery of better solutions.

I know we have been talking about solutions for many years, but it is truer today than ever that media companies want to buy working systems, not point products. They simply do not have the staff to decide what they need to do and evaluate the marketplace.

But systems integrators have to change, too. They are no longer stack and rack merchants, judged on the neatness of their wiring looms above all else. Today’s integrators have to manage the orchestration of the technology into the workflows that are going to deliver commercial and operational benefits.

Broadcasters and content deliverers still want to feel that they are buying the best of breed, and certainly do not want to get locked in to single-vendor solutions. So the need is for smart, capable integrators who can develop this orchestration, creating original software as well as configuring products from multiple vendors.

For companies like Pixel Power, that means we have to have strong resources to support integrators, helping them get the best out of our technology to achieve the desired goals of the end customer.

That, in turn, means that successful businesses will need a certain scale. Pixel Power became part of the Rohde & Schwarz group over a year ago now, and continues to retain its own identity. That seems to me an ideal solution: we have big company resources while retaining specialist skills.

2020 is definitely going to be an interesting year. I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am.


Published in Articles

By Adrian Pennington | IBC 365 | Published 5th March 2020

As more media organisations enforce home working, could the spread of the coronavirus hasten the transition to remote production?

While the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc and hysteria across the globe, the epidemic has accelerated the deployment of remote-working software to such an extent that many businesses may never look back.

“What has changed in the last few weeks is that working remotely is no longer a work-life balance argument, or a nice-to-have, it is now a question of business continuity,” says Daniella Weigner, owner, Cinegy. “Crisis is forcing change right now. This is a catalyst. It is also a major opportunity to get change done.”


Published in Articles

By Adrian Pennington | The Broadcast Bridge | Published 15th May 2020

Playout automation has been enabling fewer people to control more channels for decades but we’re not quite at the point where human interaction can be eliminated altogether. Since most linear broadcasters will either move to a software-based deployment for their channels themselves or give them to a service provider that carries out that transformation for them. The first of a two part article assesses the layout and establishes the benefits of software playout and MCR operations.

For more static or thematic channels which are exclusively scheduled by traffic there is less need for an operator to actively ‘run’ things, but operators will still need experienced staff around to react if there is a problem, or to manage breaking news which would interrupt the schedule.

In the playout environment of managed services provider Red Bee Media, automation is used to assist in the execution of repetitive operational processes, so that human interaction is focused on exceptions to the norm or on complex tasks that humans are simply better at carrying out.

“There are some historically manual operational tasks that now happen entirely automatically and there are some channels that, providing certain rules are followed, can be run with a very light touch,” explains Red Bee Media's Richard Cranefield, Head of Product for Playout Services. “But as many of the channels we deliver inherently need to accommodate multiple live events and late changing commercial content, we need to retain an ability to deal with unpredictability and react quickly to complex and altering scenarios. For that reason, we retain our highly experienced playout staff but make sure they have the support of automated software tools in order to raise the reliability of our output.

Within operations, automation is less about removing people from the equation and more about supporting them in delivering a quality output. It is at the beginning of a new channel’s life, in its deployment, that automation has had most impact on the workforce.

In Red Bee Media’s MCR, automation is used primarily for control and monitoring of acquisition, routing, processing, and distribution whereas it still uses ‘hands and eyes’ for broadcast support, project support, 24/7 service desk and remote assistance with events, studios and news teams.

“Our MCR (and most of the broadcasting industry) is now in a hybrid state, supporting both traditional SDI and IP routing under software-defined control and monitoring technology platforms,” says Kristian Langbridge, Head of Distribution Services, Red Bee Media. “To handle both, you need edge devices capable of converting between the two formats. We won’t be able to fully convert to a software-defined set-up until SDI becomes a legacy format.”

Leaving that aside for one moment, the move to software defined playout and master control is already underway. James Gilbert who co-founded Pixel Power, thinks the lockdown will focus people’s attention on the timing of investments.

“The crisis will adjust the list of requirements for operators shopping for a system. The ability to operate remotely has not been high up the list of considerations until now.”

In the current situation we find ourselves in, a software only approach makes it easier to maintain playout, even if staff need to vacate the building in an emergency.

Evertz reports a number of its customers performing playout from home, which with a hardware-based solution, is just not possible.

All playout systems vendors claim to be software defined and have been tracking this way in their tech development for five or six years. The benefits of a software only approach are just too strong to ignore.

“Upgrades can be effected more quickly and systems are more scalable, enabling broadcasters and media companies to be more reactive to business changes. Integration with third party systems is usually more effective,” says Daniel Robinson, Head of R&D, Pebble Beach. “For solutions which are deployed on virtual machines, the host hardware can be shared with other applications and reused for different applications if, for example, a virtualised channel is decommissioned at the end of a season or event.”

Monitoring by exception can be hugely helpful in enabling efficient operations across multiple channels, reducing headcount whilst not removing the opportunity for human intervention altogether. Having a consolidated view across all channels of any upcoming errors or missing media means that a single operator is presented only with the information that requires attention, enabling them to take remedial action as soon as an issue arises.

Time to market is a key factor. For operators like Red Bee, the benefits of automation and software deployments are felt more at the beginning of a channel’s life. This is not an inconsequential impact. Historically the launch costs of starting a channel, simply in manpower, could be half of the effort dedicated to a basic channel over a five-year period.

When channel infrastructure is built out of bespoke appliances they needed to be unboxed, racked, wired, configured, and tested. At a rough estimate Red Bee reckons an investment of 400 days of effort to get a channel from idea to on-air. In contrast, a refined software deployment can cover the same ground in less than a day.

“Scripts can now launch replicas of a known good channel configuration, for example,” says Cranefield. “Software emulations of appliances from multiple vendors are automatically connected across the existing network and end-to-end testing is also partly automated. We don’t wait for boxes to arrive, no wiremen go into the racks room, there’s no SDI router to expand or appliances to soak test.”

Moving to software only affords a greater range of service flexibility but operational spaces are obviously still physical. In many cases the aim is to emulate the appliance-based way of working in a software world without impacting the operational user experience.

In the MCR, software provides the ability to scale up quickly across private and public cloud infrastructure, add new services and new features without having to refresh expensive hardware.

“It will inevitably reduce the monolithic software stack of many of today’s broadcast solutions into micro services, licensed on a pay-as-you-go basis,” says Langbridge. “This will drive increased competition and ultimately reduce costs for the broadcasters.”

What automation and software deployments have enabled Red Bee Media to do is get greater efficiency and quality out of these operational spaces and the teams that operate within them. Cranefield says that these spaces now have a far less machinery deployed within them, making the rooms cheaper to cool, less noisy and therefore also more pleasant places to work in.

The quality of production output can also be expected to increase as a result of using software only tools. Evertz says its software-defined systems permit customers to increase from one operator per channel, up to as high as one operator per 50 channels, with the human operator providing a safety net to ensure programming is running. That cost saving can be returned back in to the content production, presentation or acquisition.

“It’s worth noting, that the greatest return on investment is when our Mediator-X solution is used to deal with the entire content factory,” says Martin Whittaker, Technical Product Director, Evertz. “That process starts right from the beginning, whether its ingesting or managing production edits or scripts, integrating with Avid and Premiere Pro, processing content through third party automated checks, utilising AI and ML where possible, even producing, managing and delivering packages for VOD and Direct to Consumer platforms.”



Published in Articles

By Adrian Pennington | The Broadcast Bridge | Published 22nd May 2020

Playout automation has been enabling fewer people to control more channels for decades but we’re not quite at the point where human interaction can be eliminated altogether. Since most linear broadcasters will either move to a software-based deployment for their channels themselves or give them to a service provider that carries out that transformation for them, The Broadcast Bridge assesses the benefits and the challenges in so doing. Part II examines the crucial role of IP and the workflows and skillsets needed to operate such infrastructure.

The major premise of software-defined operations is to consign proprietary and hard to interoperate equipment and siloed workflows to history.

IP, and especially uncompressed IP, is the stepping stone. That said, the vast majority of playout infrastructures are still SDI, and a baseband solution is inherently incapable of being software only.

“Key to the transition will be the widespread adoption of open standards which enable interoperability between different vendors’ solutions in the IP environment,” says Daniel Robinson, Head of R&D, Pebble Beach.

Initiatives from AMWA, the Advanced Media Workflow Association who are developing NMOS (Networked Media Open Specification) are helping to drive this forward.

James Gilbert, Pixel Power, agrees, “We need standards and ST2110 only touches the surface of what is really needed to have software-defined best of breed systems in which you can connect video between different vendor’s products. What is not standardised is the control layer and that needs a big amount of work although AMWA and NMOS are working in the right direction.

“Inevitably there will be certain pieces of the puzzle which will stay with the vendor since it will be impractical and inefficient to open it up completely.”

There are many benefits to be gained from deploying a channel in the cloud. For service providers, MCOs, sports broadcasters, and corporates, virtualised playout can deliver an affordable option to deploy or contract IP-based channels instantly without the burden of racks of complicated hardware, and weeks or months of setup and provisioning.

But questions remain about the economic, logistical and technical benefits to the end user, and judging by the high volume of on-premises playout solutions that Pebble Beach install and commission – whether IP or baseband - it’s clear that this path is not one that every broadcaster or media company is ready to follow.

“Adding a virtualised infrastructure adds an extra layer of complexity and specific new requirements into the mix,” explains Robinson. “Don’t underestimate the level of in-house expertise you will need access to in order to implement a full-scale virtualised platform. Make no mistake, you will need to understand every nut and bolt of your virtual environment. In the more traditional set-up you will own the playout device and the vendor will take full responsibility for how that device performs, what benchmarks it complies with etc.

“However, with a virtualised solution, the vendor is simply the software provider, meaning that you, or your nominated representative, have responsibility for the overall performance of the virtualised platform and networks.”

Robinson adds that buying a bare metal box, a certain amount of RAM and a number of CPU cores will give you a reasonably predictable performance under given circumstances, but when you put your application on to a hypervisor, you are adding a whole new layer of software between you and the hardware which has a potentially huge number of ‘tweakables’.

“Don’t forget to check that your chosen hypervisor supports the disk drives and storage you want to use with your COTS hardware. If you need to change your hypervisor will your hardware be supported?”

Failure scenarios and failover contingencies needs to be considered. Who or what will be switching IP streams? If your VM fails, you may lose the transport stream altogether. Can your downstream distribution deal with no stream at all? Where are your IP streams going? Can you test them?

Shift in skillsets and workflows

Moving to any new workflow, whether it is an all IP or an all software architecture, does require new training and/or skill sets. Gilbert finds that operators are usually on board with any change in working practice.

“We don’t encounter resistance to that and part of that secret is involving them in procurement process so they can look at alternate solutions and feedback.

That’s not to say that the lines between traditional broadcast and IT aren’t blurring. In future there will be no distinction. In the past you needed technicians who understood how to hook up video signal and monitor Tektronix scopes. Now its Dev Ops and agile scrum developments to orchestrate solutions from different manufacturers. They need to understand the language of rest APIs as well as how to operate a scope.”

In the MCR, broadcast engineering competence will shift towards Python and C suite, high bit rate media transport technologies SMPTE 2110 / 2022, TCP/IP, and containerisation.

Such skills may simply be part and parcel of the incoming workforce. “Software defined technology will help attract young generations into the industry,” Gilbert says.

Aside from client training, Evertz have also tried to eliminate the learning curve, by creating UIs and feature sets to provide something that feels the same as operators are used to.

“For example, when we come to routing in a MCR environment, Evertz MAGNUM and VUE provides the same source, destination take familiarity, even if in the background its routing feeds up and down from the public cloud,” says Martin Whittaker, Technical Product Director, Evertz.

It is hard to be specific about what workflows might emerge but we can say that workflows are no longer set in stone and they evolve constantly and iteratively. We are now in a world where we are continuously tweaking and refining our operational practice and customer experience.

“Leveraging faster release cycles from the vendors we partner with as well as carrying out a significant amount of development in-house allows us to solve small issues with quick feature releases or small applications,” says Richard Cranefield, Head of Product for Playout Services, Red Bee Media.

It’s important to note that you won’t just need to measure the behaviour of the playout software application; you also need to monitor the behaviour of the entire infrastructure. Simply verifying that video and audio are playing does not give you the full picture. The range of available monitoring options in an SDI environment usually far exceeds those available in the IP domain. Diagnostics can be harder for IP too, so you’ll need to investigate what tools are at your disposal, as well as staff who are able to interpret the results.

“Operational monitoring is also critically important, especially in public cloud scenarios,” Robinson alerts. “As well as monitoring latencies and considering how and where your operators will monitor the playout, you need to consider any control latencies that will need to be added. Playout automation may need to send out control commands taking into account the monitoring latency for the user.”

The transport streams a playout infrastructure generates will go through the enterprise network switches and so can overload the network bandwidth potentially impacting on-air performance. That’s despite the fact that the playout software application may be running on a completely separate network.

Robinson’s advice is to check that the playout software vendor will give you access to the raw data that shows how the application is really performing on the virtualised platform. Among the multitude of parameters that can be measured, the sleep/wake time of processors of certain hypervisors may not be good enough for real time playout, he says. Latencies and behaviour will vary depending on the hypervisor you test.

The principal barriers to achieving a transition to truly virtualised playout and MCR operation are time and expertise, according to Red Bee Media which has gone through the process. Its platform is entirely software-based, including multi-viewers, and alarms and monitoring.

“We believe that you have to emulate all of your legacy appliances in software and not just some of them,” reports Cranefield. “To do so has meant integrating emerging technologies from multiple vendors and taking on responsibility for the performance of the hardware that those technologies now run on. In taking software from broadcast vendors and then running on our own cloud we’ve taken on responsibility for the fabric that everything runs on. The cloud infrastructure is now the part of the system that would have been the PCB in an old-world appliance. Who is accountable for a ‘device’ not working is now much more blurred, so we have had to upskill our engineering and network teams to deal with a greater level of responsibility in keeping the platform working, or understanding why parts of it are not.”

The R&D project that got Red Bee to this position lasted two years and was deliberately not pegged to any customer projects until they’d nailed it.

“Many broadcasters who want to undertake software transformation for themselves will still have to do this work, but they may struggle to dedicate the time and cost of developing the intellectual property required to get it right and can only leverage that investment over their own channels,” he says.


Published in Articles

By TVBEurope Staff | TVBEurope | Published 1st June 2020

Pixel Power’s James Gilbert wonders what keeps his customers awake at night, and thinks we need to “sex up” opportunities for young people

How did you get started in the media tech industry?

I read engineering at Cambridge, and for beer money did some development work for a company making a graphics system, including a 24-bit (“full colour”) framestore. This was around the time of the Quantel Paintbox. When I graduated in 1987 I had an offer to go into digital audio processing, but I had met my business partner Nick Wright, and together we set up Pixel Power, and I have been here ever since. I think it is really important to remind people that we started in broadcast graphics and we have been committed to the broadcast industry for 33 years now. A couple of years ago we joined Rohde & Schwarz because it was a great fit: we are now part of a bigger company dedicated to the broadcast industry.

How has the industry changed since you started your career?

The most obvious difference is that, although Pixel Power was always a software company, at first we had to build our own hardware to support the software. Today we can buy the same workstations as banks and airlines, which are powerful enough to run the very complex software that we produce. But the bigger issue is a change in the sense of the industry, in the way we think. Today the industry is more dynamic, more adaptive: the pace of change is much faster. Because we can rely on the IT industry to do the hardware development, we can be much more responsive to the demands of our users than we were. When we started, decisions were made by engineers because everything was limited by what was technically possible. Today vendors can quickly respond to demands by users, which has meant that we are no longer dominated by a handful of manufacturers, chiefly those with the latest in video tape formats. It is a much more creative, fast-moving industry today.

What makes you passionate about working in the industry?

My interest remains in finding out what keeps our customers awake at night, and finding solutions that will allow them to make better television, more costeffectively. That is as much about people as it is about technology: if the right workflow for today means changing long-established workflows, then it is down to us to create the path to adapt and change. Everyone says that this is very much a people-driven industry, but this is really true: my kick comes from understanding what people need to do and finding ways to achieve it.

If you could change one thing about the media tech industry, what would it be?

That is easy. I would lower the average age. We still haven’t cracked the challenge of attracting new talent into the industry. Not just to my company, but into the industry as a whole. Even though television is self-evidently glamorous, whether you are looking at the latest dramas or the latest Attenborough documentary, we do not seem to be able to sell it to kids at school age, so they are lined up for university with the right qualifications and the right goals. To do that, we have to find the right way to engage young people. We need to show we are not all old blokes in dustcoats, but developers working on solutions to very demanding challenges.

How do we do that? How do you think we crack that challenge?

Who wouldn’t want to be involved in creating the next Blue Planet or Normal People? We have to sell the excitement of delivering things that engage everyone around the world. It should not be hard to ‘sex up’ the opportunities in, say, designing machine-learning driven live graphics as opposed to, say, finding bugs in the ‘like’ button on Facebook. In an ideal world, every vendor would be engaging with local schools to explain what they do and evangelise the industry. Just at the moment – with a lot of business's fighting for survival – that may not be an easy option. If you are a small company of 10 people, then sending one out to do presentations at schools is a huge burden, so the bigger businesses may have to shoulder a big part of the load here. But it surely should be an easy sell.

How inclusive do you think the industry is, and how can we make it more inclusive?

I think we have a pretty good record in inclusivity – we are doing better than many industries. We can point to strong female leadership in our customers, as well as good female role models on the vendor side. Organisations like Rise provide excellent resources including mentoring. But I say it again: if we can get young people coming into the industry, then we can get young women coming in to provide fresh ideas and, in due course, fresh leadership.

Where do you think the industry will go next?

Up until a couple of months ago, my answer would be that there will be more consolidation. Niche companies are great for innovation but not so good at serving a worldwide industry that is used to a high level of service. Now we have the Covid-19 factor to add in, and I am afraid that it will have a lasting effect on companies, particularly those who were already close to the edge. In terms of trends, I think we will see more remote productions. Obviously today we are seeing a lot of content generated from home which would once have been a studio. But interest in remote production has been growing for a while, with sufficient bandwidth over fibre or 5G for multiple cameras from a distant venue to a production centre. Added to automated tools, it is a way to achieve quality production – and quality will always be important – while controlling costs. The industry will also take a fresh look at exhibitions, I think. There was no NAB this year, and we now know there’ll be no IBC. But not going to Las Vegas did not cause the end of the world, so how much do we need the big global events, at least on the scale we have become used to? For us, the benefit of a major exhibition was being able to sit down with potential customers and work through the details of a project, most of the time these meetings were arranged long before we got on the plane. Surely there are other ways to create opportunities for these one-to-one conversations.

What’s the biggest topic of discussion in your area of the industry?

Replacing legacy technology with more agile solutions. That was already the big driver in conversations about playout automation, but Covid-19 has brought home the realisation that software-defined architecture provides much more flexibility and resilience. One of our customers, a major broadcaster in Germany, discovered that its legacy playout system simply could not be operated remotely. Systems that separate control and content, that virtualise workflows, not only give agility but allow management from wherever you need to be. Sadly, we now all know how important that is.

What should the industry be talking about if it isn’t at the moment?

You can guess my answer to that! How are we going to get the best, the brightest, the most enthusiastic talent into the industry, so it can continue to innovate and continue to deliver compelling content in impeccable quality? Recruitment really is an existential threat to our continued success, so we should all be talking about how much time we devote to telling the rest of the world, and young people in particular, how exciting our industry is and how they should come and join us.



Published in Articles

By Feed Staff | Feed Magazine | Published Issue 30 / August 2020 Edition

Pixel Power divulges the practicalities, advantages and disadvantages of cloud playout in the latest edition of FEED Magazine.

The broadcast industry has a habit of lusting over the shiniest, newest thing and jumping for it without taking the necessary steps to get there beforehand. Right now, that shiny new thing is cloud playout, a flexible and scaleable solution for broadcasters wanting to spin up channels faster, deliver traditional and OTT content more efficiently, and ensure a low-cost, reliable disaster recovery strategy (just in case there’s a pandemic or something).

But is it a destination all broadcasters need to go to? If so, how do we get there and what do we need to consider? Pixel Power, a Rohde & Schwarz company, answers these questions and delivers a comprehensive journey to cloud playout, with comments from CEO James Gilbert.


Broadcast technology has evolved to the point where it’s possible to deliver linear and non-linear content from the public cloud. Up until quite recently, a linear playout chain was built from separate pieces of dedicated hardware and controlled using serial or Ethernet cabling. Broadcasters could choose the different components from various manufacturers – a ‘best of breed’ approach – and would expect their chosen automation system to control them and make them work seamlessly together to deliver their required output. As general-purpose computing power increased and became more affordable, it became possible to implement certain functions of a hardware-built playout chain within software; creating ‘channel in a box’playout devices, which were capable of collapsing several hardware functions into a single device. However, graphics, DVE and subtitling would still rely on dedicated hardware boxes, as these functions are more specialised and require extra computing power that goes beyond what an underlying general-purpose computer can provide.

Today, general-purpose computing power is continuing to increase and IP standards for video and audio streams are evolving fast. New integrated playout vendors have emerged with experience in areas like graphics and subtitling, and hardware devices have been completely replaced by software modules, with SDI transports replaced by IP streams. The dedicated hardware is gone, and the complete linear playout chain is pure software. This means that it can be virtualised and deployed in a private data centre or public cloud.


“Cloud means different things to different people. For some, it’s a private data centre, made up of racks full of standard computer servers; for others, it’s a public cloud provider like AWS, Azure or Google, which make their own computers,” explains Pixel Power CEO James Gilbert. A private data centre invariably offers broadcasters more flexibility in infrastructure than a public cloud provider, since it may be possible to install dedicated hardware equipment or even some SDI infrastructure if needed. Public cloud implementation is different: there is no possibility of changing the infrastructure, so the solution must be able to work within the constraints of the specific cloud offering.

But there are many reasons broadcasters are considering deploying some or all of their content delivery in the public cloud. Gilbert says: “If you’re a media business, your focus isn’t going to be on running data centres, it’s going to be on creating content; content that inspires your viewers. You don’t want to be concerned with building and maintaining a big infrastructure project.” The public cloud can be purchased on a usage basis, so there’s no need to invest up front in hardware infrastructure; it can be scaled up or down depending on changing market and business needs; and most public cloud vendors offer a range of different virtual machine types with varying degrees of computing power if more features need to be added. Furthermore, most public cloud vendors offer a wide range of locations, which may be useful for legal, commercial and practical purposes.

If there is a festival or sports event that a broadcaster wants to cover for a short amount of time, they can quickly and cost-effectively launch a new channel in the cloud and take it off the service line-up once the event is finished. In addition, cloud playout simplifies disaster recovery, since a broadcaster can contract a cloud back-up more cost-efficiently than an on-premises playout. This is because a cloud backup has the option to start up and create the operational cost only in the event of a disaster, whereas an on-premises backup needs a dedicated pre-investment for a disaster event. There are some disadvantages – the biggest one being cost. Certainly, for a 24/7 broadcaster, cloud deployment would cost more over a three-year period than hosting an equivalent infrastructure on their own premises. Gilbert explains: “If you’re running a 24/7 operation, you don’t need the kind of flexibility that a public cloud provider would give you to start up a channel, run it for a few hours and then shut it down. It makes far more sense to invest in your own infrastructure, because it will be cheaper than renting it by the hour or reserving it for a year.”


When implementing a cloud-based playout, there are considerations that need to be made. For example, there are many ways to use public cloud infrastructure for your playout. You can rent it and be responsible for the software installing and operation yourself; or you can purchase a fully managed service through a third-party vendor who purchases the infrastructure from the cloud provider. Gilbert enthuses: “For optimum cost reduction and greatest flexibility and control, running your own cloud-based infrastructure is preferred, provided you have the skills to build and manage it.” Deploying to and operating cloud infrastructure requires specific new skills that may not be available in the organisation – although it might be possible to upskill existing staff or seek help from the solution provider to assist with the migration process.

Gilbert says: “You need new skills; it’s a whole new language. It’s important to understand the architecture of the provider and how best to use what it has got to offer, as well as its limitations – because there are things you can’t do in the cloud that you can do on-premises. For example, multicast network is a big no-no in the public cloud. Although, it’s more of a deliberate limitation to prevent a rogue virtual machine engine affecting other customer’s virtual machines in the cloud. It provides isolation and protection, and it’s good practice to have even within a broadcast facility, but it does cause some constraints for those that require that functionality.”

Another consideration is security, since you’ll be putting valuable content and probably consumer information covered by GDPR in the hands of an external company, rather than keeping it in-house on your own servers. But the reality is that the leading cloud providers have very robust security and encourage their customers to use it. “The security team at even a small cloud provider have a skill set and experience far greater than that of a major national broadcaster and there should be comfort in that,” insists Gilbert.

Then there are technical considerations, such as deciding the data centre location. There may be legal or regulatory constraints, such as latency and the availability (or lack of) high-bandwidth connectivity. Choosing the right IP standards for your cloud playout is also a challenge – the standardisation process often lags behind vendor technology offerings, leading to the risk of adopting something that later becomes nonstandard or obsolete.

“A lot of standardisation effort is around ST-2110 uncompressed video, but this is generally not a viable option for cloud playout; cloud network infrastructure is unlikely to support the required bandwidth and packet throughput and the egress cost of the uncompressed video would be prohibitive. A more likely mezzanine format of 30-50Mb H264 RTP MPEG-TS is well-established and a better fit for cloud infrastructure,” says Gilbert.

Monitoring and control also need careful consideration. The automation clients could be cloud hosted, with simple remote desktop access from any location to interact with them; or they could be installed locally, with appropriate connectivity through a firewall to the cloud playout infrastructure. Gilbert says: “If you distribute via satellite or terrestrial, you need to bring your feed back down to the uplink point, so that might be more suitable for local monitoring and control. For internet distribution, it probably makes more sense to keep monitoring and control fully cloud-based.” It’s also unlikely that one provider will give you everything you need, and in any case, it might be wise to choose other parts of the overall solution from alternative vendors. Integration might be required with a scheduling system, a MAM, a transcode farm or a CDN/VOD platform. The ability to draw upon significant computing power at will could support AI add-ons, such as automatically adding metadata to video and audio content in a media library. But whatever the integration, it’s important that the chosen supplier is able to support licensing and implementation on the cloud platform.

Finally, there’s the question of availability. When you have your own equipment in your own rack room, your availability is clear. The picture is not so clear with cloudbased infrastructure and you will need to ask your provider important questions, like does it have sufficient capability to give you what you need to run the channels? Availability might not be there unless you pay for it, perhaps by reserving critical parts of your infrastructure to guarantee availability. In a disaster recovery situation, it’s possible that other local broadcasters or businesses might use the same data centre, so if a natural disaster happens, the data centre spare capacity is likely to be used up quickly.

Moving playout to the cloud is perfectly possible and there are clear and straightforward ways to make it happen. However, despite the end goals being the same, every broadcaster’s processes are different, so careful planning is key. The shiny new thing is shiny for a reason – it is worth getting there, but for the right benefits. Our industry did it before, moving from tape to file-based workflows, and reaped the rewards. Getting the perfect playout solution for you relies on working with trusted partners along that path.


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By David Davies | IBC 365 | Published 25th June 2020

Implementing some degree of cloud-based playout has been a marked trend for a while now, but this year’s momentous events are certain to accelerate developments, writes David Davies.

In the context of the profound changes that have impacted most aspects of broadcast workflows during the past few years, it was surely only a matter of time before playout underwent a similar quiet revolution. That has now arrived in the form of cloud-based playout, which opens the way for broadcasters to enjoy greater flexibility and cost-efficiency, either as a sole platform or as part of a hybrid playout infrastructure that typically includes on-premise facilities.


Published in Articles

Inbroadcast: The Show must go on

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

By Adrian Pennington | InBroadcast | Published 14th April 2020

A review of technologies enabling production companies and broadcasters to deliver high quality content to viewers while optimising costs, resources, and eliminating travel. 

Whilst the world grapples with the emergency outbreak of the coronavirus, we are seeing not only how people modify their behavior but will see how businesses must modify theirs. Events being canceled, travel being scaled back and replaced with teleconferencing. Many corporations have sent staff home to work where it is possible to do so.

This is all made possible because we as a society have already have much of the technology to facilitate flexible working. Give your office-based staff a laptop and access to the internet, and they are ready to sit in their home office or at their kitchen table.

“What has changed in the last few weeks is that working remotely is no longer a work-life balance argument, or a nice-to-have, it is now a question of business continuity,” says Jan Weigner, CEO, Cinegy. “The crisis is forcing companies to reevaluate their ways of working and finally act upon it. The technological infrastructure is in place and we have the tools ready to go – from acquisition over production to distribution, all can be handled remotely and / or in the cloud.”

With bases in the UK, mainland Europe, Middle East, Australia and North America, Never.no’s teams are able to service regional customers without the risk of the virus affecting workflows or production needs. Bee-On is its cloud-based audience engagement platform runs on AWS for access anywhere with a web browser and internet connection, “so there is no need for production teams to be managed under one roof,” CEO Scott Davies says.

“Individual projects can be pre-planned and packaged with audience generated content and dynamic visualisations prior to delivery / broadcast of live or pre-recorded content. Viewers continue to watch, more-so during a crisis, so content producers need to continue programming and deliver captivating content, with audience engagement a priority – Bee-On can help deliver this.”

He adds, “We’re seeing a need for packaged end-to-end solutions that utilise cloud-production and seamlessly integrates ‘off-the-shelf’ graphics and compatibility with native broadcast graphics for a wide range of programming, such as news, live events and popular chat shows. Gone are the days where production is managed and delivered from one hub.”

Demand for Quicklink’s video call management system has never been higher, according to CEO Richard Rees. The firm is releasing a completely browser-based cloud supported workflow with automated Panasonic PTZ camera and lighting.

“A journalist could sit at home and interview someone located elsewhere live to air while a colleague edits the video online (in Adobe Premiere) and in realtime,” says CEO Richard Rees. “That edit could be passed to a control room for wider channel distribution. The whole environment is now virtualised. We believe this is the future.”

VSN has added new capabilities for remote interoperability to its VSN NewsConnect web plugin for news production. This were on the cards for a NAB release but recent events have made them more relevant.

VSN NewsConnect, which brings together a number of third party tools required for news production, now enables users to control multiple studios in different locations, even if the systems used in the studios are different.

“What this means is that a journalist can simply send a news item to any studio and NewsConnect will automatically ensure that the delivered content matches the format requirements of the receiving devices,” said Patricia Corral, marketing director. “This remote interoperability is very useful in enabling news to be repurposed to the requirements of local broadcasters without worrying about technical compatibility.”

Pixel Power’s work is currently mainly based around large projects for refurbishment or replacement of playout and production infrastructure; projects with long timescales, so the current viral outbreak isn’t yet causing any major changes in demand.

“Our technology can be virtualized and deployed in data centre or public cloud, with remote access operation from anywhere in the world,” explains James Gilbert, CEO. “This is not something that can be done as an impulse reaction to the current situation - this capability has to be architected and designed into the product from the beginning.”

Once the outbreak subsides, the evolution of remote, decentralised working practices is likely to accelerate. “The industry is already moving towards remote, decentralised working practices because of the ecological and economic benefits,” Gilbert says. “The ability of staff to work from any location is core to that concept and whilst it is an obvious advantage during the current outbreak where staff may be required to, or choose to, work from home, I do not feel the pace of change will be accelerated - there are already enough drivers for it.”

Collaborative workflows with someone sitting next to you or on the opposite side of the world is in the DNA of storage solutions specialist GB Labs.

“We’ve fostered cloud integration for years and therefore, have always offered a remote workflow,” says Dominic Harland, CEO/CTO. “Obviously, there will be many other challenges with this ongoing situation, but GB Labs is confident that accessing content securely and quickly will not be one of them.

He thinks current events will accelerate solutions to enable a faster response to any future crisis. “The next two/three months is not long enough to develop, test and bring to market anything exceptional, but we are definitely looking at developing new products and new solutions. Whether this becomes a real-world advantage that the customer will want to buy after the outbreak subsides, well, that’s a different question.”

Each Bridge Technologies product has transformative potential in the field of remote broadcast and production, but none so more than its Widglets API. This leverages the full value of data collected by its VB440 - video, audio and ancillary - not only for network performance monitoring but also for a multitude of other workflows and applications. Full motion, colour-accurate, ultra-low-latency video, for example, can be made available from any source to any application or user.

“Being browser based, all that is required is a laptop and a network connection,” explains
Tim Langridge Head of Marketing. “Each geographically dispersed user receives feeds from multiple cameras with multiple waveform vectorscopes and streams via a single HTML5 video monitor view. Not only does this result in incredible technical improvements in production and improved decision making, but also logistically frees up immense amounts of room in OB vans or MCRs – making them more efficient, affordable and adaptable.”

Blackbird has seen a significant increase in sales enquiries since the containment phase began. “Enterprises need effective technology solutions to enable their workforces to operate efficiently whilst working at home or remotely,” says CEO, Ian McDonough. “Blackbird is a fully featured video editor available in any browser and can operate at low bandwidth. It's the perfect solution for the majority of live and file-based video production workflows.”

Essentially Blackbird can be used by anyone, any time, anywhere and this flexibility is enormously attractive to enterprises looking to drive massive productivity efficiencies through their operations. It also runs on bandwidth as low as 2Mb/s which is ideal given the pressure in traffic over the network – a situation which has caused Netflix and YouTube to throttle back their bitrates.

“As teams become used to de-centralised video production and enterprises enjoy significant infrastructure savings together with a flexible globally distributed workforce untethered to source content, we anticipate an accelerated adoption of Blackbird,” McDonough adds.

For live sports workflows, there are few production partners more experienced than Gravity Media. In February it wrapped its 2000th remote production, in this case of a Pac-12 Networks’ broadcast of the USC Trojans 65-56 win over the Washington State Cougars.

This impressive number includes ‘At Home’ centralized productions that were undertaken under the Proshow Broadcast (acquired by Gravity Media in July 2018) and Gearhouse Broadcast brand.

The benefits of this remote approach are obvious, with REMIs offering a cost-efficient modern workflow that is operationally flexible and durable. By centralizing the control room, video switching, audio mixing, graphics, replays and show production can all be done ‘At Home’ in the broadcast centre. This means that smaller, more affordable purpose-built mobile units can be used at the venue. Only video and audio acquisition hardware such as engineered cameras, microphones and announcer headsets, as well as comms hardware, a transmission interface and engineering support are required on site.

Company president Michael Harabin, says, “The potential for creating quality programming at an attractive price has never been greater, and we now have over 2000 proof points that showcase its consistent effectiveness and our ability to deliver.”

Sweden’s Intinor specialises in helping companies overcome the challenges of remote production. “As we are currently in lock-down of travel for personnel, the benefits of remote production could be felt all the more keenly,” says Daniel Lundstedt, regional sales manager. “Instead of having to arrange for operators to travel on location, broadcasting companies could instead work with local talent with equipment all that needs to be shipped rather than staff members.”

Intinor is already able to make going live, from anywhere, very easy, without marshalling a small (but expensive) army to make it happen. It’s all down to the “supreme mobility” of its Direkt link remote production pack. With an Intinor Direkt receiver or router in a control room, captured audio and video from a camera or mixer connected to a backpack can be streamed over public internet to a Direkt router and then re-streamed using other protocols, transcoded or outputed to SDI or NDI.

Mobile Viewpoint has a heritage in remote production solutions, especially for live streaming. CEO Michel Bais says the company has proven to reduce costs for production companies by not having to send a wealth of resource to an event.

“As we see companies trying to reduce their carbon footprint, it has emerged that it is not only cost savings that are driving these innovations,” he tells InBroadcast. “In line with this philosophy, we have developed remote cameras that allow sports games to be live streamed but without the need for a camera crew or an onsite production team.”

With the IQ-Sports Producer, an entire field of play can be recorded with a single 4x4K camera, while AI is used to create a virtual zoom of the play by automatically following players and the ball. Games can be live steamed in real time and with different format versions depending whether it is for web streaming, or for higher quality broadcasts requiring HD-SDI workflows, all at a fraction of the cost of an on-site production team.

vPilot is another AI driven solution from Mobile Viewpoint that can be used for remote newsrooms. A combination of cameras using 3D sensors and audio cues means round-table discussions can bet set-up without the need for a camera team or an onsite director. “Both IQ-Sports Producer and vPilot can be managed remotely with cameras that can be semi-permanently installed to create quality and cost-effective programming,” Bais says.

Net Insight’s plug and play solution Nimbra extends the production workflow to reach remote venues anywhere on the globe, with the same ease of operations as for traditional in-house productions. Users include

Nimbra is a high-quality multi-service media transport over IP platform supporting both native video and audio in addition to standard IP/Ethernet. Built-in video processing, low-latency JPEG 2000 and MPEG-4 encoding as well as unique features for equipment control and synchronisation makes it a great choice for remote production. Users include SVT and TV2 Denmark.

“100 percent reliability is key for remote live production and our solution offers mechanisms to assure the content is delivered with perfect quality regardless of network issues,” the company states. “Enterprise customers can use the solution to deliver live video content to support internal communications and working remotely.”

All of Cinegy’s software solutions lend themselves to flexible working practices. “We have long been a proponent of virtualization and IP – and what is the cloud if nothing more than using someone else’s computer, hosted somewhere else? Says Weigner.

“Give your office-based staff a laptop, access to the internet and access to Cinegy software– locally or in the cloud, and they are ready to remotely produce content using Cinegy Desktop, remotely playout content with Cinegy Air; remotely monitor channels with Cinegy Multiviewer. Whether our customer is at home or at another location and needs to set-up a pop-up channel in the cloud, doesn’t matter.

“Our customers who already embraced our workflows are more prepared and ready to deal with the new business practices that are emerging,” he argues. “Being ready for this business process change is markedly harder than being ready for a technology change. In this case, circumstances are dictating that there must be change. The barriers are being lowered and it is time to embrace it.”


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