Twenty years ago, Antenna launched ANT1 as the first private television station in Cyprus. During the past two decades the company, which is based in Nicosia, has grown into a multimedia outlet providing not only television broadcasts, but also radio programming and, more recently, the first internet TV service on the island.
Sports programming has also been included in that mix, but during 2012 Cyta, the main telecoms provider on the island, decided to launch three dedicated sports channels and called on Antenna to provide the transmission resources. However, lack of space at the existing facilities meant that a new Master Control Room for the sports channels needed to be constructed.
What’s more, the timeframe was very short – just three months from signing the contract to on-air. So the decision was taken to start everything from scratch in a building that we already rented close to our main headquarters. The first stage of that move has now been completed, but there are plans to add at least one more sports channel.
Tapeless from the start
When it came to equipping the new MCR, Antenna made contact with local systems integrator, Vavel Netmedia. The brief called for an IT-based, tapeless environment that allowed for easy upgrading and expansion. The solution came from PlayBox Technology.
“Antenna already used our technology and the broadcaster knew that we would be able to offer the appropriate equipment and servicing,” says Don Ash, sales director at PlayBox Technology. “From the outset it was obvious that a Channel in a Box solution met the requirements – and the broadcaster didn’t even consider an alternative. Although the transmissions are currently in SD, there was a requirement to be equipped for high definition when the decision to broadcast in that format was taken.”
He continues, “As it was a totally new project, we designed the system for ease of use, with the minimum human workforce. We also wanted users who have a basic IT knowledge to become familiar very quickly with its operation. Our technology system helped Antenna achieve all these objectives.”
PlayBox Technology provided the sports channel with three servers, each consisting of AirBox playout and automation along with TitleBox for on-air graphics. A fourth server provides backup, controlled by a Multi-Backup Manager. In addition, there are three dual channel CaptureBox SD ingest stations, central and spare storage, compliance recording, and a quality control server.
“The choice of equipment means that Antenna has achieved a high automation level, ease of use, maximum security and redundancy, all within a minimum of rack space,” states Alexander Stoyanov, PlayBox Technology’s Area Sales manager. “Alongside that equipment, we have provided the equipment to facilitate the use of four voiceover booths with all related audio, video and network equipment.” AirBox is designed for unattended operation with MPEG2, AVC/H.264, HDV and DV compression scalability.
“When it comes to live productions, changes to the playlist are possible because there are no queued or locked clips,” explains Stoyanov. “In fact, every clip in the playlist, except the one which is currently on-air, can be trimmed, edited or repositioned. Not only that, the playlist order can be changed on-the-fly with commands like skip to next or jump. Such order changes are performed seamlessly without stopping the current playout session. This makes it especially ideal for a sports environment where events can overrun or be changed with very little warning.”
Used in conjunction with the playout system, TitleBox provides crawls, full frame graphics, titles and clocks. A further TitleBox is used to prepare and produce offline graphics.
The CaptureBox ingest servers allow Antenna to capture material in manual, automatic, batch or scheduled modes. The technology supports MPEG2, AVC/H.264 and DV capturing on a wide array of hardware platforms.
“For storage purposes, we supplied 32TB of Direct-Attached Storage (DAS) and 8TB of Network-Attached Storage (NAS),” says Stoyanov. He goes on, “As with all broadcasters, quality control is a vital part of the Antenna operation, and we provided our QCBox technology to carry out pre-transmission checks – including loudness monitoring. AlarmBox reports any urgent problems.”
“Antenna wanted a system that was easy to operate – and that is how it worked out. In fact, the commissioning and training of the whole project took around just two weeks. And that included complete product and workflow training with details and processes that focussed on specific needs for these particular channels. That training included simulation of real event occurrences, security and emergency drills,” says Stoyanov.
That ease of operation means that Antenna does not employ a specific Transmission Controller for the MCR operation. Indeed, the playlist and administration of the output is handled by the Scheduling Department.
“Commercials are coming through an ftp server,” explains Stoyanov. “If the station receives a tape or XDCAM, these are ingested to the NAS and everything is stored as file. The system has capacity to hold a year’s transmissions. In the low season, which is summer for Cyprus, there is a cleaning procedure where everything that no longer is needed goes into storage in a deep archive.”
Alongside the PlayBox Technology system, other MCR equipment includes a Harris Platinum router, Predator multiviewer, SPG and 6800+ modular frames (for VDAs, embedders and de-embedders) and Junger Audio C8000 modular processing. The four voiceover/commentary booths are fitted with Yamaha 01V96i audio mixers and MSP5 speakers. Sony monitors are used for both the multiviewers and the commentary booths. In addition, there are two editing workstations equipped with Adobe Premiere and Matrox MXO2 together with Sony PDW-U2. Finally, Riedel Performer is used for intercom between all rooms and the outside broadcasts.
At present, there are no studios in use for the sports channels, but this is set to change by May 2014. The next phase of development will be the construction of a purpose-built studio to accommodate pre-game and post-game shows of the Cypriot football league. At present, Antenna report that no decisions have been taken about what equipment will be used at this additional facility.
By Philip Stevens