Orbit circles PlayBox Technology

Friday, March 28, 2008

Orbit Communications Company lays claim to being the world’s first fully digital, multi-channel, multilingual, pay television service broadcasting by satellite to the Middle East and North Africa. Having started transmissions in 1994, it currently offers over 50 television channels as well as a package of audio channels. When Orbit wanted to relocate the playout of four of its Arabic channels from Dubai to its main playout centre in Bahrain, it decided to seek a new, modern cost-effective broadcast quality solution.
In December 2007, as a part of the selection process, PlayBox technology delivered video playout equipment to Obit in Bahrain as a test sample. Pavlin Rahnev, PlayBox Technology’s Director of Solution Sales explains. “Orbit is a well established broadcaster and maintains the high standards of the broadcast industry. So, of course, it was looking for a professional broadcast playout solution that was cost-effective and meeting these standards. But the Bahrain location was not a green-field site; there were already many channels in operation and whatever new equipment was supplied it had to fit in with what was already there.”
Orbit conducted a series of test and awarded PlayBox Technology the order. Frank Kerrin Engineering Manager / Platform Architecture at Orbit comments, “Moving the playout of these movie channels from Dubai to our new operation in Bahrain gave us the opportunity to install new playout equipment. We looked afresh at what was available and PlayBox looked like the right solution. This was confirmed during our on-site evaluation of the equipment. The major part of this involved the supply and installation of five AirBox playout servers and three CaptureBox ingest servers as well as some additional software and infrastructure. These were the system components that would make up the playout solution to fit with the equipment already in operation at the site and meet Orbit’s requirements. The contract also included training for Orbit staff.
The new movie channels are on air 24 hours per day, every day so the system design includes a number of features to keep each channel playout running even in the event of whole sub-system failures. These add to the precautions already installed at the site that include precautions such as an uninterruptible mains power supply, RAID protection, the latest server technology and server back-up.
In the Orbit installation the five AirBox servers are used to support the playout of four channels. Each transmission channel has its dedicated server with 1.2 terabytes of storage that is ample for holding at least the next 130 hours of transmission along with the playout schedule for the channel. As such, each AirBox server can continue running independently as it is a self-contained autonomous system running the playlist that is an integral part of Airbox software functionality, as well as playing out the content. The fifth AirBox with 3.6 TB of storage holds the material for all the four on-air channels. This way the four channels are protected against any one AirBox failing.
The AirBox and CaptureBox servers all include many measures to ensure reliability. With PlayBox now supporting nearly 5000 channels worldwide the application software is solid and reliable. There are also many steps taken to provide hardware reliability beyond that expected with standard off-the-shelf equipment. This starts with the selection of compatible components for the servers and their applications that are then built, configured and tested in the factory. Additional hardware precautions include dual redundant power supplies, over-temperature alarms and RAID protected disc storage.
A requirement of the contract was that the new channels had to fit in with the considerable existing infrastructure and replay equipment already in use at Orbit’s Bahrain site. To achieve this meant giving attention to many areas. Physically this was straightforward as the PlayBox servers and associated equipment fitted straight into the existing 19-inch racks occupying just 22 rack units.
There was already a Perspective transmission scheduling system from MSA Focus in place for Orbit’s existing channels and it was essential that the new channels should be able to operate with it. No two PlayBox playout solutions are the same as customers’ needs always differ. PlayBox offers a full range of interoperable applications and tools to meet these needs as and when required. In this case it is SafeBox that provides the necessary content management. At one level it accepts and interprets the schedules from the transmission ‘Scheduling system’ and makes sure that the required programmes are ingested and loaded to the appropriate AirBox servers at least 24 hours before they are due to be played to air. At another level it passes the scheduling data information to the appropriate AirBoxes translating it into a form that that they can understand, so they can play the programmes to air. Finally, after the content in the AirBoxes has been used for the last scheduled time, it is SafeBox that organises its deletion from the servers. To achieve the level of integration required with the scheduling system required close co operation and some development from both Playbox and Orbit’s in house CMS (Content Management System) team and this co operation was very successful.
Video interoperability is achieved using SDI with embedded audio as the input for the ingest of new material into the CaptureBox servers and for the outputs of the AirBox servers. This then is coded and multiplexed for transmission using existing equipment already installed at Orbit. In order to maintain high quality though the playout operation the CaptureBox servers code the video into MPEG2 at a relatively high data rate of 15 Mb/s.
Besides the standard video and audio broadcast connections there are numerous data links that enable the various modules that make up the playout solution to talk to one another. For this the PlayBox components plug into Orbit’s existing 1 Gb/s Ethernet. Conveniently this ties together both the existing Orbit equipment and the new PlayBox playout solution.
The PlayBox solution is mainly playing out material ingested by its own CaptureBox servers. Additionally, it is was a requirement of Orbit that it should also be able to accept and play material originally ingested by its existing playout equipment from Omneon (QT mov) and SeaChange (MPEG2). The new PlayBox multi-format playout engine can playback any type of video compression and different video resolutions mixed in one playlist. Hence, it meets the Orbit requirement.
The equipment was supplied and installed at Orbit by PlayBox. It went on air in January 2008. “The installation went smoothly and we were able to get up and running within a tight schedule” added Kerrin. “It was essential to us that this new equipment integrated with our existing systems, and it does. Since then the channels have been on-air 24 hours per day without any major problems – PlayBox has delivered just what we needed. They have also given us excellent after sales support and are continually striving to improve their products.”