By Ben Gunkel*
They didn't tell me this in the job interview but one of the great features of being Sales Director of PlayBox Technology UK is that you get to see inside more racks rooms than almost anyone else on the planet. The first thing you notice is the profusion of kit and the vast amount of cable required to tie it all together. Secondly, the slightly wild-eyed visage of the technicians charged with keeping it all running and meeting the demand for new or expanded facilities.
Whether located in a city centre, in a suburb or out in the countryside, these all have one thing in common: space is at a premium from the moment a racks room has been built. TV-Bay readers will know more than most people why this is. The broadcast industry is in a state of continuous expansion, trying to accommodate new channels or augment existing output with extra services such as high definition, IP-based catchup, additional languages or second screen.
Pressure on space is just one of several reasons why broadcast systems integrators worldwide are adopting channel-in-a-box (CiaB) solutions. Founded by experienced broadcasters who recognised the advancing capabilities of IT-based processors and platforms, PlayBox Technology pioneered the CiaB approach. This has now reached the point where an entire standard-definition or high-definition channel can be accommodated in just one rack unit including graphics, character generation and branding.
It is normal procedure in broadcasting to run primary and secondary systems with automatic switchover as a safeguard against on-air failure. On that basis, CiaB with full redundancy becomes synonymous with 2 rack units per channel. A single backup can of course be implemented across several channels.
Reliability is another key advantage CiaB solutions have compared with systems based on devices from multiple vendors. PlayBox Technology has developed its CiaB product range as a single entity over many years, guided by a highly experienced team with full control over every aspect of the design. This approach differs from the bespoke systems where each customer received a combination of hardware and software from many companies. Each link of a multi-vendor system had to be tested to ensure full compatibility between its various elements before they could be trusted to perform efficiently under all operating conditions. Hardware and software integration is an inherent part of CiaB system design rather than a challenge which emerges in the closing stages of a project.
A modern CiaB system should incorporate practically everything required for a channel to function locally, remotely or if necessary completely unattended. That includes all the hardware and software required to allow ingest, scheduling, playout, graphics, logging, subtitling and billing. Plus the system control GUIs, multiple terabytes of fast-access hard-disc storage. In a typical installation, almost the only third-party device we have to provide is a router.
Our CiaB systems run on carefully tested but otherwise standard off-the-shelf IT hardware. They are all based on commercial off-the-shelf hardware meaning that spare parts are easy to obtain and very low in cost. PlayBox Technology software is Windows-based and can be supported quickly and easily via the Internet. All systems are essentially identical in configuration and structure.
Thousands of PlayBox Technology systems are currently being used remotely at around the world. All of these are scheduled and monitored either from a separate control room within the same building as the CiaB server or over a long-distance IP-based link. Each CIAB installation is designed to run in accordance with an operator-defined schedule while retaining the option of manual over-ride at any time to handle a live insert.
Examples of recent installations
PlayBox Technology system operators who have recently invested in PlayBox Technology CiaB systems include ViewSat which has nearly 200 servers and Vision 247 with some 50 servers. EbonyLife TV recently started a new high-definition channel transmitting by direct satellite to subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa. The network is using a system including ingest, storage, content management, channel branding and playout automation running on PlayBox Technology’s flagship AirBox and TitleBox servers. A total of 15 systems have been installed in an ongoing project, each configured for remote operation by STN's clients. In China, TVB Hong Kong has taken delivery of 26 servers to handle nine new 24/7 high-definition channels. In Turkey, TTNET has chosen a broadcast playout system from PlayBox Technology for four high-definition live sports channels at its Esentepe transmission centre in Istanbul.
CiaB is the ultra-compact future of broadcast systems design. Tried, tested, trusted and available now.
*Ben Gunkel is Sales Director of PlayBox Technology UK Limited