Keys to success17 October 2013
Polish 24-hour news channel TVN24 faced its first major test within days of its launch when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001. “Everyone was clamouring for news and we stayed on air with updates for both our own channel, and also those of others in our group,” reports Jarosław Kielmel, TVN24’s technical director. “It proved our choice of systems had been good and that we had selected the right technology for our needs.” And that technology has frequently included the development of in-house systems rather than relying on packages offered by outside sources.
TVN24 was launched using facilities in a building occupied by the main TVN entertainment channel in Warsaw. But expansion saw the news channel move to a new building in 2004. Today, TVN24 not only broadcasts round-the-clock news output, but also produces a weather channel and a business channel in association with CNBC. In addition, there is a variant of the main channel for viewers in the United States. In November 2012, TVN24 was the first news channel in Poland to switch to HD.
Kielmel was brought in to oversee the technical operation from the outset, and he adopted a philosophy that has benefitted the channel during 12 years of broadcasting. “We needed to develop systems that not only supported the business at that time, but also would allow us to expand cost effectively in the future. The systems had to be reliable and ones we would not need to change very often as new workflows were introduced. And the way we achieved these goals was to develop the systems in-house wherever possible.”
For example, three SNG trucks were needed in time for the launch date. Instead of involving established providers or a systems integrator, Kielmel decided to design the trucks and source the equipment using his own engineering staff. The installation work was then carried out by a small vehicle modifcation company in Krakow. “The original vehicles were based on regular Volkswagen vans, although as new trucks were needed we switched to the bigger Mercedes Sprint. Creating the vehicles in this way was not difficult and proved to be very cost effective.”
Today, 12 SNG trucks have been constructed in a similar way. Although intended mainly for uplink duties, they can accommodate three cameras, a Panasonic vision mixer and Yamaha audio console where extended coverage of an assignment is needed.
Tapeless from start
Another decision taken by the TVN24 team was to introduce a tapeless operation from day one. “Being completely tapeless at that time was not generally popular. But, again, it was a cost effective way to run the news operation. And because systems integrators at that time didn’t have too much experience of tapeless workflows, we decided to make the system ourselves. Our first installation involved 13 Avid Unity workstations with Newscutter.”
Supporting the main production centre in Warsaw are eight regional offices. To connect these facilities, TVN24 built its own unique Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) fibre network. TVN24’s technical development manager Jan Jędrzejczyk (pictured) explains its development. “Initially, we transmitted the compressed MPEG2 at 6Mbs. In 2004, we increased the rate to 12Mbs, but now we have a 300Mbs bi-directional dedicated network connecting the offices. They are able to transfer their files directly to our SAN (storage area network) here in Warsaw. The files can also be transferred from our Central Archive in Warsaw to offices, as well as between the offices. That is five times realtime – so material can be sent very quickly.”
Jędrzejczyk says that another example of looking to provide a cost effective solution is the use of Sony MPEG 15Mbs codecs. “These are installed at the regional offices and provide a most cost-effective IT solution — rather than purchasing expensive TV systems. We’ve proved there is no requirement to buy a costly codec.”
Although the practice of developing its own systems has served the broadcaster well, there is one area where a change of direction proved necessary. But even here, there was an opportunity to create a bespoke system rather than use a proprietary package.
“When it came to upgrading and expanding our editing stations, we found that it was considerably less expensive to switch to Final Cut Pro rather than add to what we already used,” reports Krzysztof Obrzud (pictured), broadcast IT manager, “And there is an additional benefit in using Apple products. When it comes to maintenance, we can simply go to any good computer shop and purchase, for example, a new fibre channel card or additional memory.”
Bespoke ingest and playout
At the same time, TVN24 needed to create multichannel ingest and playout with a shared storage solution that enabled material to be browsed and archived and, after editing, to be broadcast. “We required a set-up that provided multiple user access to content, and a very fast turnaround of that material to air,” explains Obrzud. “In addition, we were looking for proxy browsing and metadata tagging by anyone on our system.”
Netherlands-based Building4Media (since acquired by Primestream) was asked to supply the software for a purpose-built design architecture created by TVN that would create the necessary workflow. The system in place at TVN24 consists of Primestream FORK Production and FORK Playout. FORK Production ingests content, creates hi-res and lo-res proxy for browsing, adds metadata and makes the material available for editing. FORK Playout provides automated master control playout to air. TVN24’s newsroom system from Octopus is connected to FORK through the Primestream MOS Gateway.
“This was a big decision,” admits Kielmel. “To take different pieces of hardware and software and create our own workflow is not usual. In fact, I believe this was the first large scale Apple-based fibre channel to be used for editing.”
Associated with the editing operation is the archiving of material. Obrzud reveals that a very simple procedure has replaced a previously complex practice. “We ingest 100 hours per day, but there is no call to archive that much material. We keep the archive material for 28 days on the SAN network, from where all edit stations have access to the content. The archivist selects from the ingested and edited video clips those to be proxied, tagged, logged and transferred to the real archive system. Again, the archive system is our design and build. We used a software company to write and maintain the database application, logging and search tools according to our detailed specification.”
He goes on to report that searching for material is accomplished through a simple web browser of TVN24’s own design. “It’s yet another example of creating our own system for ease of use and cost effectiveness.”
Innovation has also been introduced into the main studio of the news channel. In May of this year, the biggest video wall in Europe was installed by Barco. “We looked at a number of options and tested three of them before selecting the Barco OverView wall composed of 16×4 of OL-510 cubes,” states Jędrzejczyk. “It provided us with the best edge definition, colour saturation and uniformity of those we tested, and we felt the viewers should have best image possible.” The video wall is driven by TVN24’s designed system — a combination of Christie Spyder controller fed by video sources and graphics from VizRT. In addition, there is a Sharp LCD video wall that provides an additional background in the same studio.
In July 2012, TVN24 upgraded its vision mixing systems by installing two Snell Kahuna 360 multi-format SD/HD production switchers. "This is the only mixer that does not have any restrictions in handling multiple formats," explains Kielmel. "This was particularly important in our migration from SD to HD.”
He says that until all material received by the broadcaster is in HD there will always be a need to accommodate different formats. The switcher automatically detects the format of the input signal and uses its FormatFusion3 technology, which supports a mix of SD, HD, 1080p, and now 4K, to provide the required output.
Alongside the main 350sqm studio with its newsroom backdrop, TVN operates another studio for the CNBC channel. There are also three virtual reality studios powered by VizRT Virtual Studio systems. These VR studios are used for the Weather Channel (with output from a Viz Weather system) and magazine programmes.
“The VR studio means that we can accommodate many more different looking programmes in one studio, without long breaks for the traditional set change.” declares Kielmel.
VizRT is also used for graphics preparation. Viz Artist, a 3D design, animation and compositing software, is employed for producing templates, while Viz Engines are used for graphics playout in both studios and post production. In addition, a Viz World system delivers maps to all VizRT systems throughout the broadcast chain.
Kielmel concludes, “I believe that TVN24 is unique as a broadcaster in Poland. When you custom build anything, it means it is easier to sort out any problems without having to wait for a supplier to respond. We have devoted a great deal of effort to creating a workflow which is just right for us.”
By Philip Stevens