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Redefining channel in a box

Pebble Beach Systems offers Dolphin, an integrated channel device. By Alison Pavitt, Pebble Beach Systems.

Pebble Beach Systems offers Dolphin, an integrated channel device. By Alison Pavitt, Pebble Beach Systems.

Channel in a box solutions are becoming more common as broadcasters gain confidence with this relatively new technology. For simple channels, and where space is at a premium, the solution offers straightforward setup, minimal cabling issues, reduced launch time and in some cases lower costs.

But many of the solutions on offer are designed as single boxes with their own user interface and do not scale well. To run multiple channels requires multiple boxes and therefore operator positions so, despite saving money, the technology may cost more in the long run if you have to employ more people to drive it.

It also remains the case that the graphics, subtitling and DVE capabilities are not as good as the sophisticated dedicated functionality offered by discrete ‘best of breed’ products. Moreover, some channel in a box products struggle to cope with the demands of dynamic channels that have a lot of live content, such as rolling news, sports, and magazine programmes.

Flexible Integration

The approach from Pebble Beach Systems is quite different. Dolphin is a flexible and cost-effective integrated channel device that can operate under Pebble Beach Systems’ Neptune or Marina automation control either as a standalone product, or as part of a larger system that incorporates other playout devices. This enables it to integrate into a system which, for example, also employs independent video server, graphics or captioning devices for prime channels, Dolphin for other lower cost channels, and hybrid channels which mix Dolphin with best-of-breed discrete devices.

Regardless of underlying channel technology, the user interface remains the same, allowing operators to control multiple channels through a single system, thereby avoiding operational silos’. There are also benefits from having a single system-wide database that spans the entire playout facility and enables efficient and non-conflicting media management across all channels.

As an SD/HD video server, master control switcher, character generator and channel branding solution, Dolphin is available in four basic configurations, each of which occupies1ru of rack space and comes with a choice of 2.4TB of internal or scalable external near line attached storage.

As the drive for more compact and energy-efficient operations increases, Dolphin’s scalable architecture enables Pebble Beach Systems to offer high channel density. For example, a 12 channel Dolphin system including decoders, storage, graphics database and control occupies just 6RU of rack space, with power consumption of less than 5KW. To ease on-site integration, reduce installation time and provide assured operations, each unit is shipped as a complete unit that is preconfigured, assembled and tested.

In addition to the operational and logistical efficiencies it delivers, Dolphin offers flexibility in terms of the range of compression and file formats it supports. With full up- and down-scaling on ingest and playout, it also allows multiple formats to be mixed within the same timeline, with associated text, logos, stills, RSS tickers, multi-lingual subtitles and 2D effects.

This means that, for example, legacy SD content can be mixed with new HD material and presented for playout in a unified format. The wide range of formats supported includes DNxHD (up to 120Mbps) in .MOV and MXF; GXF, LXF and H264.

Furthermore, Dolphin’s simulcast output capability provides the simultaneous output of a single media timeline in HD and SD formats under the control of a single Playlist, eliminating the requirement for downstream up or down scaling.

The future

It seems beyond doubt that, where on air requirements are predictable and relatively simple, channel in a box solutions will eventually predominate. The key factors are overall systemised reliability of the solution, close integration with traffic and upstream workflow systems and the ability to handle a wide range and growing variety of media file formats.

In today’s highly commercial, multichannel broadcast environment, audiences demand high quality HD transmission with error-free playout, and channel controllers expect flexible, creative and dynamic branding.

With Dolphin, Pebble Beach Systems goes beyond the accepted definition of ‘channel in a box’ technology, delivering a generic media delivery system which offers a quick and straightforward pathway for the launch of new channels — allowing broadcasters to select the most appropriate delivery technology for the budgetary and technical needs of each individual channel while delivering exceptional operational efficiencies.