User report for TV Technology Europe
By Howard Conder, CEO Revelation TV
We run two Christian television channels from our premises in London. Revelation TV came first and the newer youth-oriented music channel, Genesis TV followed; both are on the air 24/7 and transmitted in the UK via the Sky platform. Initially we invested in server technology for playout as we saw that it should have many advantages over traditional tape. With no engineer on the premises one of the top priorities was reliability. However, the servers proved less reliable than was hoped. Then, three years ago, the opportunity of a move to new premises allowed us to replace the playout with AirBox and other associated servers and applications from PlayBox Technology.
Having lived with unreliability in the past it is a great relief to have that problem removed. To say PlayBox is reliable is an understatement. It has been running here for nearly three years and very rarely does it ever fall over. If it does, we’ve got redundancy, but it’s hardly ever been used.
PlayBox supplies a major part of our workflow. A large section of on-air content is delivered from over 70 churches per week, probably the largest number of any UK broadcaster. Their programmes are supplied mainly on tape or DVD and the first thing is to replay them into the NAS central storage via the two ingest CaptureBox servers; both are available for each of the two channels. The material is automatically forwarded to the AirBox playout servers according to the requirements of the transmission schedule, and ready well ahead of transmission time. The playout also uses TitleBox for on-air graphics that mainly consist of animated channel logos, titles, promotions and interactive content such as SMS2TV.
Besides the programme playout there is also a production side. The studios are live on air with chat shows that include phone-ins and texting, for between four and five hours every day. During these live programmes we play-in the introduction and titles, as well as clips such as music videos or any other inserts, from AirBox and TitleBox generates the live on-air graphics including the display of text messages.
If there is a need to prerecord any sections we do so via CaptureBox for later playing live into the programme from AirBox. It’s much better than using tape and there are things available to us that would be much more involved with the old technology. For example, it is easy to make edits. It takes just a few moments to do and the edit can be completed, checked and ready for playout, often within minutes before going to air. The AirBox menus are quite clear and the inserts are often run manually from a keyboard to fit with the timing of the live action. All the inserts run from the AirBox into the programmes via a Grass Valley Kayak 2ME vision mixer. Often there is only the need for one person at the production desk and the studio generally has locked-off cameras – so no cameramen.
The production set-up includes more than one layer of backup for recording and replay. There are two PlayBox servers; each with RAID protected storage and both able to operate as CaptureBox and AirBox. This provides a form of double redundancy and gives the extra assurance we thought we needed for operation in live production. However the reliability is such that you can question the necessity of such backup.
Now, the reliable tapeless workflow for production and playout we were looking for has been achieved. The fact that the whole system is highly automated allows the entire operation to run 24/7 with just two staff in the playout area and four in production. In fact playout is not staffed 24/7 and only for a couple of hours over weekends: checking schedules and adding any changes. This and the cost-effective PlayBox solutions help to keep our running costs down.
Looking to the future, we are building a new operation in southern Spain. There we will again be depending on PlayBox for video servers, graphics and the related requirements of playout. Of course the years of experience gained here will guide the design so it’s quite possible we will be confident enough to use less redundancy than at present.
Howard Conder, the founder of Revelation TV, is a one time drummer in such 60s groups as The Barron Knights and Joe Brown and the Bruvvers. Working with his wife Lesley they present shows, direct, produce graphics, answer the telephone, book guests and order equipment.