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By Contributor | TVBEurope | Published 18th June 2020

TVBEurope recently featured an interview with senior staff at a major playout centre, talking about the “uberisation” of playout, and noting that they now had the capabilities to playout a broadcast channel using only software applications.

As a follow-up, we talk to three vendors who have been leaders in advocating virtualised software platforms, capable of running in the machine room or in the Cloud. Jan Weigner of Cinegy, Adam Leah of nxtedition and Ciáran Doran of Pixel Power, a Rohde & Schwarz Company, gave their views.

“Being a software company is the only thing Cinegy has ever done – we have been saying ‘SDI must die’ for years,” Weigner says. “We never considered being a hardware company. Our first systems used MPEG-2, because that was what was available when we started out in 2006. It just made sense to us to keep the content in MPEG-2 rather than continually converting back to baseband, because every conversion step degrades the signal.”

Doran adds that Pixel Power started out making hardware decades ago because it was the only way to get the performance its software products needed. “As soon as it was practical we moved away from being a heavy metal company. Pixel Power was the first to offer premium broadcast graphics on COTS hardware, and from there we became the first to develop software-only automation.”

Swedish vendor nxtedition started life as a systems integrator, and found that automation systems invariably had gaps between the supposedly fully-functional hardware products. “We wanted to provide our customers with a system that not only worked, but reduced complexity,” Leah explains. “So we developed the functionality in software, because that is the obvious way to do it.

“Systems should be easy to use, and easy to maintain,” he adds. “If you reduce complexity you do not need so many technicians, so you can employ more journalists and creative talent. And if the system is so intuitive you can learn it in a couple of hours, you can be more productive. Our technology is largely used in news production, and being first and fast with the news is always the primary driver.”

While the nxtedition platform is designed as a single-source solution, it does include APIs and the implementation of open standards. For Pixel Power, Doran emphasises that “open standards absolutely has to be the way to go.

“Broadcasters have always regarded themselves as different, wanting specific functionality for their unique operations. With ST-2110, they can continue to demand best of breed solutions.”

Weigner agrees that open standards are vital, but adds a note of caution. “ST-2110 is designed to be used within one facility – other standards exist for the long haul.

“DVB is an IP signal. UDP as a standard is 40 years old. All the building blocks for IP connectivity between facilities and functions have been in place for 25 years or more.”

All three agree that to achieve the necessary performance, software systems for broadcast need to be built on an architecture that minimises the processor demands by only using the precise functionality needed from moment to moment.

Microservices form the foundation of virtualisation, and virtualisation leads inevitably to discussion of the Cloud.

“Cloud is a conversation starter,” Doran says. “People want to talk Cloud, but the reality is that it is more secure and more cost-effective to do it on-premise. The business model of the Cloud is that it costs little or nothing to upload: the costs are in the download. So do the maths.”

Adam Leah of nxtedition adds, “Because video servers get very big, they need to be near at hand. Having them on premises works out significantly less expensive – we did the sums for one of our clients and one third-party server charges worked out at around three times the capital cost, per year.”

He also says that latency is a critical issue. “Broadcasting is very hungry: we need a new frame every few milliseconds. But the Cloud is not about synchronous delivery, it is about scale. It really doesn’t matter if it takes 100 milliseconds or 220 milliseconds to authorise a credit card transaction. These delays can be problematic in delivering video”

“What people really want is virtualisation,” emphasises Cinegy’s Weigner. “The Cloud is just virtualisation running on someone else’s computer.” For an application like broadcast, where processes are pretty constant, then you do not need the elasticity, so why pay someone else to provide a service you could do yourself?

One area where elastic scale is a positive benefit is in disaster recovery. “We have been preparing for the wrong sort of disaster,” Doran says. Planning for business continuity has traditionally been based on a lack of access to the primary facility because of fire or flood, so all the staff get in cars to drive to a replica installation somewhere else.

Covid-19 has brought a different sort of disaster: the staff cannot get to any sort of facility, at least not in the usual numbers. So the ability to access playout from anywhere becomes very desirable.

“German broadcasters, for instance, are looking into a common, shared playout facility,” adds Doran. “If you can access a playout installation in one region, why can’t you access it from home? You only need KVM, and IP KVM has negligible latency.”

Weigner makes the point that the Cloud business model of very low cost uploads plays into this disaster recovery application, as you can have all the content and software ready and waiting for only hundreds of dollars a year, and spin-up playout channels very quickly should it become necessary.

“It is not only about CPUs,” he says. “One of Cinegy’s early projects was about accelerating video using GPUs – we have 20 years’ experience. GPU virtualisation in the cloud tremendously reduces footprint. You only need one CPU cored to run an HD channel if you have GPU acceleration. So you can run an HD channel for maybe 20 cents an hour.”

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE HERE

Published in Articles

Cambridge, UK, 18 June 2020: Pixel Power, the global leader in graphics production and playout automation, has appointed Sarah Deas to its head office team. Deas will provide internal sales support to the sales teams in the Cambridge base and regional offices in North America, South-East Asia and the Middle East.

“I am delighted to be joining Pixel Power right now as the business grows in the playout automation and non-linear content delivery market”, said Deas. “Pixel Power has been a rock solid name in the industry for decades and the transition to being a major player in master control playout connects directly with my 15 year experience in the industry in business analysis and asset management. Developing this further through automated workflows and automation/playout is a natural step.”

Pixel Power continues to invest in staff with in-depth experience in order to deliver precisely tailored solutions to broadcast and media companies around the world. Expert sales support is imperative during the customer consultation process. Deas’s focus on detail in this phase complements the precision designs created by the solution managers that enable the software defined solutions to deliver exactly what broadcast and media customers are looking to achieve.

“Internal sales programmes are critical to ensuring all parts of the process from initial consultation through to deployment are well connected”, said James Gilbert, CEO of Pixel Power. “The current crisis has brought home to broadcasters everywhere just how important it is to have flexible and scalable software solutions if they to react to dramatic changes in workflows and demand. Our software defined installations have been enabling broadcasters to quickly switch their operators to work from home or remote locations. It is this flexibility and speed that is getting the attention of many major media and broadcast companies worldwide who want us to be part of their new normal.

Published in Client News

Cambridge, UK, 1 May 2020: Well known, highly experienced project manager Kit Barritt has joined Pixel Power in the newly created role of training manager. Bringing with him a wealth of experience in creating and delivering training and induction processes to broadcasters and production facilities worldwide, Barritt will bring a fresh slant on training: internal and external; on site and online.

“Pixel Power is at the forefront of the industry as television moves to virtualized and cloud-based solutions,” Barritt said. “The company recognises that this means a shift in skills set, so training is a critical factor in the success of any project. My role is to strengthen training as an integral part of the Pixel Power offering, ensuring our customers achieve their business, operational and technical goals.”

By building training and skills development into the project, Pixel Power aims to ensure the customer and implementation team remain closely engaged, understanding and approving each phase. Through his understanding of solution development – most recently he was project manager on a large-scale station refurbishment in the Middle East – Barritt will ensure timely and appropriate training, adding further to Pixel Power’s reputation for successful delivery, from the initial approach throughout the systems’ lifecycle.

“While Kit joined Pixel Power at a great time for us it’s a challenging time for everyone in the industry – he hasn’t been able to meet many of his new colleagues personally yet! It is clear to us that broadcasting and production will be changed by the current crisis, and we have to be prepared for a new normal,” said James Gilbert, CEO of Pixel Power. “Social distancing has really demonstrated how invaluable automated workflows can be, and how new workflows and operating procedures need to be brought on line swiftly and surely.”

“That is why we are investing in training and support, not least by recruiting Kit to the team,” Gilbert continued. “Kit will not only work with our project teams on major new installations, he will use his experience in online training and skills development. Expect more focused webinars and ‘how to’ quick tip videos from us.”

Kit Barritt joined Pixel Power in April 2020, reporting to Peter Crouch, head of global support and services. Based at Pixel Power’s corporate headquarters in Cambridge, UK he has a worldwide brief.

 

 

Published in Client News

Cambridge, UK, 23rd April 2020: Pixel Power is hosting a massive personalised customer engagement programme with a series of over a hundred one-to-one online meetings over the next six weeks. The aim is to replicate the best and most important aspects of a tradeshow - conversations with customers about their projects and how our technology can help.

“Listening to our customers’ needs is at the heart of what we have always done at Pixel Power – it’s why we are trusted to deliver on what we say we will”, explained James Gilbert, CEO, Pixel Power. “At this time of global lockdown and with all tradeshows either cancelled or postponed, we wanted to find an alternative method to replicate those confidential one-to-one meetings between our customers and technology colleagues”.

“We believe that this ‘new normal’ offers new opportunities too. Software defined, virtualizable playout solutions enable broadcasters to be very flexibile very quickly and we are already witnessing this with existing installations. While this is a challenging time for us all, we are busy helping customers manage playout infrastructure in ways that were just dreams only a couple of years ago. Their investments in virtualizable, flexible master control playout are paying off”.

Showtime Pixel Power is replacing social-distancing with social-connecting while maintaining the physical distancing measures in place throughout the world. The Showtime Pixel Power programme delivers hundreds of one-to-one online meetings that bring together end users, product managers, development engineers and business owners to discuss exactly what they would have discussed at tradeshows like NAB.

Gilbert continued, “Our calendars are filled with online demos, videos and webinars, so the value of our Showtime meetings is connecting with people one-to-one. Mass marketed webinars are useful but nothing beats personal communication. These online meetings are crucial for us to continue listening to our customer’s plans and goals and offer them support and innovative solutions.”

Showtime Pixel Power will run for six weeks. 

Meetings can be booked by contacting

Published in Client News

Pixel Power

Wednesday, 18 March 2020
Published in Clients

Cambridge, UK, 16 March 2020: To underline its strengths in moving users from legacy architectures to software-centric, fully virtualized solutions for multi-platform playout and graphics production, Pixel Power is launching major new versions of its core software technologies: Gallium Workflow Orchestration and StreamMaster Media Processing. Gallium 3.0 and StreamMaster 2.0 each add significant enhancements covering usability, operational efficiency and connectivity through widely recognised standards.

Through its functional-block architecture, the Gallium workflow orchestration platform allows system architects to build carefully tailored solutions to meet precise customer workflow requirements. Version 3.0 adds more than 50 enhancements with significant new functionality and usability improvements. That includes both live and file-based open and closed subtitling; audio watermarking; live, scheduled and delayed recording and scripted configurable triggering of external systems. In line with Pixel Power’s policy of supporting open systems in a flexible way, these triggers can use REST, UDP and XML based integrations.

Pixel Power’s media processing platform, StreamMaster, also sees a significant new version which adds capabilities that are driven by real-world requirements. StreamMaster 2.0 adds UHD support; uncompressed I/O over SMPTE ST-2110; OP47 and SMPTE 2031 subtitle insertion and flexible recording of the main output, input sources or clean feeds including playback whilst recording.  As well as scalable multi-channel master control playout, Gallium and StreamMaster can readily be configured to produce fast turnaround live content for VOD distribution, for example for catch-up and time-delayed channels, while retaining the flexibility to change elements of the output such as advertising.

“It may be a well-used cliché, but we really do take active steps to understand in real depth what our customers will need, now and in the future.” said James Gilbert, CEO of Pixel Power. “We have recruited people for our professional services team who have worked for broadcasters around the world and who know precisely what is required to meet today’s commercial, creative and operational requirements.

“They work with our customers to ensure they are making the most of modern, software-defined technology to create the efficiencies and agility they demand,” Gilbert continued. “They also keep our development team on their toes, ensuring we can support the requirements of future content delivery systems.”

The functional-block architecture that underpins Gallium and StreamMaster means that systems can run in the machine room, in the corporate data centre, in the cloud or in hybrid implementations.

Gilbert concluded, “You choose where you want to host it, based on your business requirements and the flexible, scalable licensing options we offer. Whatever deployment model you choose, we can architect a solution that will provide the same five nines or better reliability.”

 

 

Published in Client News

IBC2019, 13-17 September, Stand 7.A05

Pixel Power has today announced it will be adding uncompressed IP playout capability, based on the SMPTE ST 2110 family of standards, to its already well established StreamMaster playout technology.

The development comes as a natural progression of incorporating new standards within its software defined technology platforms: StreamMaster Media Processing and Gallium Workflow Orchestration. Like all StreamMaster and Gallium functionality, SMTPE ST 2110 will be supported as software solutions whether on-premise or virtualized in a data centre.

“While we believe SMPTE ST 2110 is certainly the right long term direction, there is still mileage in standards such as ST 2022-6, since broadcasters like the similarity to existing SDI architectures,” said James Gilbert, CEO, Pixel Power. “Our new generation of playout and delivery products, including automation, graphics and branding are based on the StreamMaster Media Processing technology platform that can be easily updated using only software. The flexibility of IP-based, software defined playout and automation platforms are really showing their worth – that’s why we are currently deploying them with major national broadcasters around the globe.”

The SMPTE ST 2110 Professional Media Over Managed IP Networks suite of standards is a major contributing factor in the movement towards one common IP-based connectivity protocol for the professional media industries. The foundation for the SMPTE ST 2110 standards is Video Services Forum (VSF) Technical Recommendation for Transport of Uncompressed Elementary Stream Media Over IP (TR-03). The SMPTE ST 2110 standards suite specifies the carriage, synchronization and description of separate elementary essence streams over IP for realtime production, playout, and other professional media applications.

Pixel Power has a history of breaking new ground and was responsible thirty years ago for taking broadcasters into the world of PC-based graphics systems as they rapidly grew their channel count. As a first to market with live virtualized playout in the cloud in 2015, Pixel Power also took the first steps in showing broadcasters the power and convenience of workflows based on IP transport streams and application virtualization. At IBC2019, Pixel Power will show how broadcasters can benefit from moving to fully software defined solutions for production, playout, automation, branding and graphics.

Pixel Power can be found at IBC2019 (Amsterdam, 13 – 17 September) in its regular position in Hall 7, Stand 7.A05.

Published in Client News
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