The ever increasing popularity of large-screen television displays has generated a corresponding rise in demand for high quality sports coverage. Antenna, one of the main television networks in Cyprus, recently decided to expand the master control room at its Nicosia headquarters to accommodate three sports channels for Cytavision.
Cytavision is a digital television service introduced in 2004 by the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CYTA) which is the country's main telecommunications service provider. Originally called MiVision, Cytavision is based on a broadband IPTV infrastructure where digital sound and vision are carried through a telephone line to a set-top box and from there to the customer’s television display.
Cytavision provides several themed channels, video on demand, games on demand, access to a television portal with local information, the ability to send and receive email, and the use of an electronic programme guide. Each of these services is accessible through easy-to-use control menus, enhanced with parental control access criteria. Viewers can access a catalogue of content using a precise search facility.
Antenna itself commenced transmission in June 1993. Television content is delivered via digital terrestrial and cable and via web through its own portal, www.ant1iwo.com (Antenna Internet World). Antenna's output includes entertainment, news coverage (with a main news bulletin at 20:20), talk shows, production of local comedy series and drama. Antenna FM, a radio service with national coverage, began operations in 1998.
Cytavision's sports channels are normally transmitted in Greek. International content such as UEFA Champions League, Europa League, Serie A and Eredivisie carry an English commentary in parallel if available.
"Primary reason for the new MCR was lack of space in the existing facility." explains Michael Dallas, Technical Director of Antenna. "Secondly, we faced a very tight schedule to be on air less than two months from the contract being award. Creating a new MCR would also ensure that Antenna could continue uninterrupted transmission from its existing infrastructure which is still operational.
"Antenna had covered sports for years but as a part of its television output. It had to rethink the way that the new sports-specific channels would be taken to air within a very tight schedule. After careful consideration of various possible technical approaches, we decided in favour of an IT-based tapeless Channel-in-a-Box system as being the perfect solution.
"We placed the contract with PlayBox Technology on the basis of performance, reliability and the expandable and flexible workflow, as well as for its competitive price. Having used products from PlayBox Technology for various projects over several years, we made contact with the local representative here in Nicosia, Vavel Netmedia. As it was a totally new project, we designed the system to be easy to use and to need minimum human workforce. A crucial requirement was that the system should allow users with basic IT knowledge to become very quickly familiar with every of day-to-day operations.
"PlayBox Technology staff provided full training after installation and attended the first week of live operations. Training included full product and workflow familiarisation plus simulation of the specific needs of particular channels, real event occurrences, security and emergency issues. The system works so efficiently that we do not need to employ someone specifically as a transmission controller for the MCR operation. Playlist management and output administration are handled by our scheduling department."
The major components of the PlayBox Technology Channel-in-a-Box system offer media ingest with CaptureBox; storage, automation and playout with AirBox; interactive CG and graphics with TitleBox and scheduling with ListBox. ListBox creates schedules for AirBox. Rules can be created for TitleBox to automate the character generator and interactive graphics as the basis of a completely automatic television channel.
The system installed for the new Cytavision sports channels has a wide range of PlayBox Technology equipment including three servers each comprising AirBox playout and automation, and TitleBox on-air dynamic graphics.
AirBox provides automated content playout. It is designed to be extremely robust, in order to meet the highest reliability demands of on-air playout. At a fraction of the price of any digital videotape player solution, a single AirBox server offers the same visual quality at its single or multi-channel SDI outputs, multi-language audio, graphics and subtitle insertion, last-minute playlist changes and clip editing.
AirBox supports MPEG1/2/H.264, HDV and DV streams from virtually every known production platform providing AVI, MPEG, WMV, Quick Time or MXF content. Many files from third-party servers are natively supported.
For live productions such as sport, any changes to the playlist during on-air session are possible. There are no queued or locked clips. Every clip in the playlist, except the one which is currently playing, can be trimmed, edited, repositioned or deleted. Playlist order can be changed on-the-fly with commands like skip to next or jump. Such order changes are performed seamlessly without stopping current playout session. Live productions are facilitated by a Live Show Clipboard which allows insertion and/or execution of various events or live streams.
For automated playout AirBox allows fixed-time scheduling for days, weeks or months ahead. Resulting gaps or time overlaps are automatically resolved in order to ensure continuous operation even when conflicting timed events are present. Special facilities ensure uninterrupted operation if content files or even entire schedules are missing or misplaced.
Playout sessions are logged for monitoring and control purposes. The log can be later used for extracting actual playout sequence with exact timings or identifying user intervention into the playout session. The logging and recovery options allow completely unattended remote operation.
TitleBox is an interactive graphics manager which creates, displays and controls multi-zone screens with rolls, crawls, animations, clocks, station logos and 3D objects. All running objects are mixed and blended to each other in realtime, including animations. The more CPU power, the more objects can be layered simultaneously. This ensures an unlimited amount of object combinations and unprecedented visual variety. Every CG object can be edited during the on-air session. Manual or automated changes of text contents, animation/rolling speed, position and properties can be done on-the-fly. Roll/crawl speed can follow a predefined speed curve. On-air changes can either be made directly to the on-screen running objects or on a dedicated preview output and then applied to the master output. All graphics are 24-bit true colour (16.7 million colours) with 8-bit Alpha channel (256 transparency levels). Field-based sub-pixel rendering ensures smooth animation and rolling text at any speed.
A fourth server is installed as a standby in case any one of the three mains servers fails. This is controlled by a Multi-Backup Manager. Three CaptureBox servers are available for ingesting new video material. QCBox checks the quality of the material ready for transmission and includes loudness monitoring. AlarmBox reports any urgent problems. Other system elements comprise 32 terabytes of direct-attached storage and 8 terabytes of network-attached storage as well as a further TitleBox for off-line preparation.
The AirBox playout and automation units, each equipped with a TitleBox, feed a total of ten outputs to a 64 x 64 Harris Platinum MX router. The router in turn feeds a PlayBox Technology CaptureBox HD. The system also incorporates a TrafficBox.
TrafficBox automates and integrates the booking of commercials into the editorial context and thereby eliminates the most frequent sources of error. All required documentation such as order confirmations, schedules, campaign plans and invoices are generated automatically from TrafficBox. Traffic and billing are integrated with the client’s workflow. TrafficBox supports workgroups and synchronises multiple channels.
It uses a set of standard forms to create orders and offers. Operators simply enter the required information in the forms needed to book commercials, create schedules, invoices and so on. This information is aggregated to allow a single point of management of all the information.
Commercials arrive via an FTP server. Video from tape or data from Sony XDCAM are ingested to the NAS and every item is stored as a distinct file. The system has sufficient capacity to hold a year’s transmissions (football, basketball, interstitials and so on). In the low season, which is summer, a cleaning procedure ensures everything that no longer is needed is transferred to deep archive.
The new MCR also includes a Predator multiviewer, Junger Audio C8000 modular processing, Yamaha 01V96i audio mixers for the commentary booths, Yamaha MSP5 speakers, Sony picture monitors for the multiviewers and the commentary booths, two HP editing workstations with Adobe Premiere editing software, Sony PDW-U2 disc drives and Matrox MXO2 interfaces, Riedel Performer intercoms and Harris 6800+ modular frames (for VDAs, embedders, de-embedders, sync pulse generator and so on). Voiceover booths were also integrated for adding commentaries.
Currently all playout channels are running in standard definition but can be upgraded to high definition when required.
Antenna is now in talks with CYTA for the addition of an additional more sports channel. A sports studio is expected to be finalised by early 2014 as a next phase that is planned for May 2014. This will accommodate pre-game and post-game shows of the Cypriot football league. Plans for an additional sports channel are expected to be finalised during the first quarter of 2014.