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Lithuania gears up for high def transmissions

As the Baltic state prepares for high definition television broadcast transmission, Philip Stevens reports on a recent upgrade project from the perspectives of broadcaster LNK TV and competitive tender winner Grass Valley.

As this Baltic state gears up for high definition television broadcast transmission, Philip Stevens talks to a broadcaster and the winner of a competitive tender for new cameras.

Set up in 1995, LNK TV – Laisvas ir Nepriklausomas Kanalas (‘Free and Independent Channel’) – is one of the major broadcasters in Lithuania. Operating from studios in the capital, Vilnius, the company runs four channels: LNK, TV1, LIUX!, and Info TV. Since 2006, the broadcaster has covered 95% of the country using DVB-T, with the LNK channel also available as an analogue transmission for 93% of the population. Cable is also used for all four channels.

“Our main channel, LNK, focuses on transmitting in-house and locally produced productions,” explains Ricardas Kazlauskas, technical director and a board member of the broadcaster. “LNK has three studios – news, a small production facility and a main production studio.”

Over the past several years, the company has carried out a number of major refurbishment projects. The first involved the installation of a new playout and production system for all the channels. “This was based on Grass Valley products such as Maestro, K2 Classic, Concerto, Jupiter, LDK400 cameras, Kayak 2.5 and 1.5 ME SD/HD vision mixers. We also installed Aveco automation equipment,” says Kazlauskas.

This Aveco system is made up of mirrored ASTRA servers, which run under a realtime operating system (QNX). It controls the associated Grass Valley K2 videoservers, enabling a clean switch-over in the event of the failure of a server channel. In addition, it manages other Grass Valley devices, such as the Maestro master control switchers and Concerto router under Jupiter control system.

This automation controls the main programme playout as an AB roll configuration, with two K2 ports playing the output. However, backup is achieved using just one K2 port and playing the same content ‘back to back’. This enables 1+1 redundancy for each TV channel, while preserving K2 server output ports and the required equipment for backup transmission chain. The ASTRA Content Management System also carries out media asset management for LNK by managing videoserver storage and Diva archive.

One of the unique features designed for LNK is the ability to attach new audio tracks to existing clips. The audio files come from the dubbing studio, ASTRA picks the files, uploads to K2 and through the native protocol, attaches them to the relevant clip. The workflow is also integrated with the archive, which allows ASTRA to retrieve a file from Diva, attach the audio and then re-archive the material.

Another development specially designed for LNK is the ability to handle sub second events. This allows LNK to air an event lasting just a few frames between two clips.

A second major reconstruction has involved the 200 square metres news studio. Again, much of the equipment has been centred on Grass Valley technology – including a 2 M/E Kayak SD/HD mixer and Concerto router expansion modulars. “We selected K2 Classic for News playout controlled by Aurora Play, along with Front Porch Digital LTO Tape Library.”

Kazlauskas continues: “We use 18 Edius NLEs for news editing by journalists. They complete a rough cut using this system, although complex stories are finished in three Final Cut Pro edit suites. LNK has operated a completely tapeless workflow since 2008, with the only “tape” to be found in the archives.”

Beating the competition

Although it was clear that LNK favoured a single supplier, the provision of new equipment for the refurbished news studio was put out to intensive tender. Despite stiff competition from other systems integrators – including those offering low-priced entry-level equipment – Grass Valley, through its local distributor Hannu Pro, won the contract to supply its LDK 3000 high definition cameras. These were delivered in August.

“In the end there were only two manufacturers who appeared to meet our criteria,” reveals Kazlauskas. “The image quality, at first sight, was similar on both systems. But after deeper analysis using various test charts for objective parameters, several studio set-ups, and comparisons of different camera controls, interfaces and connections, we found the LDK 3000 was better. Its picture looked more natural, was very clear and chromakeyed images had a more detailed image.”

Looking after the project from the Grass Valley side was Pascal Demême, sales area manager, Baltics-Eastern Europe. Why did he think his bid was successful? “The customer is, of course, doing a proper job by checking the market and comparing available solutions from all approved manufacturers within the budget granted by the investment board. Apart from the fact the LDK 3000 is an ideal camera for the LNK operation, it certainly helped to have developed a good relationship with the customer over so many years. Our legacy distributor, Hannu Pro, with its Lithuanian office, also proved to be an unbeatable asset when it came to considering the competition.”

The LDK 3000 cameras were supplied with an integrated HD Wideband Triax transmission adapter. Also included were a base-station supporting HD and SD HQ outputs, 7-inch HD LCD viewfinders, and control panels for all five cameras.

“The OCP 400 with its multi-coloured buttons and the LCD display allow for a very flexible and operator-friendly control of any function available on the camera system,” explains Demême. “The camera control system C2IP uses standard Ethernet hardware with TCP/IP protocols. This allows integration into any existing Ethernet control system and allows the use of commercially available Ethernet hardware such as wireless LAN systems. All in all, this makes this camera control system extremely flexible in operation.”

Each camera is equipped with three 2/3” Xensium imagers. This is the first fully digital camera imager developed for broadcast applications. It provides native HD resolution with 2,400,000 pixels, and uses state-of-the-art CMOS imaging technology. Also included in the camera deal is Grass Valley’s SuperXpander. This allows a compact handheld LDK 3000 camera to be converted into a studio configuration for the use of large box lenses. The cameras will be mounted on Vinten Radamec tripods.

Working alongside the new cameras, and mounted on a studio crane, will be a Grass Valley DMC 1000 multi-format tapeless camera. Using the SD/HD outputs, REF and OCP/MCP support, this can be effectively integrated into LNK studio set-up.

Hannu Pro also supplied LNK’s ENG department with two Panasonic AG HPX371EJ and two AG-HPX171EJ P2 series tapeless cameras, equipped with Fujinon lenses — including an additional Fujinon ZA17x7.6BRM-M QuickZoom technology HD lens.

“With these acquisitions, LNK has been able to launch its new broadcasting season with one of most sophisticated camera set-ups in the Baltic States,” confirms Kalvis Baumanis, general manager at Hannu Pro.

Alongside the new cameras, LNK is using a Yamaha 02R96 audio mixer and an Inscriber G1 graphics system in the upgraded news studio. To date, there has been no upconverting of SD material, but when the need arises, LNK will probably be using its K2 playout servers.

Moving forward

Like other parts of the broadcasting world, Kazlauskas states that Lithuania has been affected by the global financial situation. “Our last major refurbishment was in 2008, and we have had to wait until 2011 to upgrade our news and small production studio cameras to HD from the existing 13-year-old 4×3 Ikegami cameras. However, LNK is very satisfied with the LDK 3000 purchase and we are excited about using studio cameras with one Infinity camera and controlling all of them through IP using one MCP. This is a major development for us.”

Although the news studio is now HD-ready, it will be 2012 before high definition transmissions will begin. “During next year there will be tenders for Free To Air HD broadcasting licences and we will be ready for that growth,” concludes Kazlauskas.