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Case study: enhancing broadcast facilities for Scotland’s Parliament

How Hitomi's MatchBox helped the Scottish Parliament ensure perfect alignment in its broadcasts

The Scottish Parliament, a symbol of Scotland’s democratic process, has always strived for perfection in its legislative broadcasts. However, the shift to hybrid working models in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic presented new challenges in ensuring the quality and synchronisation of their broadcasts.

Seeking to maintain the highest standards, the Parliament had recently made significant investments to enhance its broadcasting capabilities. This included installing one of Europe’s largest Dante audio networks and equipping all MSP speaking positions with custom-designed Glensound conferencing consoles. While these upgrades promised to revolutionise the audio quality, they also added to the complexity of the system, with a multitude of sources that needed to be perfectly aligned.

Despite these state-of-the-art enhancements, managed by bespoke software from the renowned experts at Squared Paper, some synchronisation issues persisted. The Parliament recognised that ensuring perfect alignment across this intricate web of audio and video sources would require specialised expertise. They looked to Hitomi Broadcast and its cutting-edge technology for precise video and audio alignment measurements to tackle this complex challenge.

Measuring latency and lip-sync

The Parliament had hired the Hitomi MatchBox system for a week to thoroughly test and calibrate its upgraded setup. As the Hitomi team unpacked the equipment, it was clear that they wouldn’t need nearly that long.

“It took about half an hour to get everything plugged in and connected,” recalled Gary Walsh, broadcast engineering manager at the Parliament. “And once we had it up and running, the actual measurements only took about 15-20 minutes.”

The first step was to use the MatchBox Glass app to co-time all the cameras, determining the latency for each one. This step provided the team with a clear understanding of the camera latencies, which would be crucial for the subsequent measurements.

Next, they focused on the critical issue of lip-sync. Using the Glass app once again, they generated a time-stamped signal that served as a reference point for the MatchBox Analyser to precisely measure the alignment of audio and video across all feeds. By comparing the arrival times of the audio and video signals, the MatchBox system calculated the lip-sync offset with extreme precision. This data guided the fine-tuning process, allowing the team to meticulously adjust the sound desk, embedders, and other components to achieve perfect synchronisation. MatchBox Glass is a free-to-download iOS app that allows latency and lip-sync measurements to be made from in front of the camera. The user simply holds an iPhone or iPad running the app in front of the cameras, and the MatchBox Analyser measures the video and audio timing differences.

As a final step, they used the MatchBox Generator to generate a test signal, which includes a QR code, and displayed it on the screens in Parliament. They pointed a camera at the QR code on each screen, which allowed the MatchBox Analyser to calculate screen latency. Since they already knew the latency of the camera from the previous Glass measurement, they could subtract this value, providing the exact latency of the screens themselves. The MatchBox system’s ability to provide accurate, quantifiable data was invaluable in this process. Rather than relying on subjective assessments, the team could make informed, precise adjustments based on the measurements provided.

A triumph of technology and expertise

By lunchtime, the Parliament’s complex broadcasting system was perfectly aligned, ready to handle the demands of hybrid sessions with ease. “We’ve now got confidence that our systems are all in sync,” declared Bill Ward, head of broadcasting. “If we get any feedback, we can say we’ve checked it, we’ve documented where all the paths are, where the delays are.”

The impact of Hitomi’s work was clear. The MatchBox system had not only solved the immediate synchronisation issues but also provided the Parliament with a valuable reference for the future.

“I think the product that you provide is really intuitive when you’ve got complicated systems,” Bill Ward remarked. “And for us, because we’ve got so many different lines of complexity and different channels now, and one feeding into the next, to have a system as simple as Glass, it actually made that analysis very, very quick.”

The future of complex broadcasting

The Scottish Parliament’s successful adoption of Hitomi’s MatchBox system to overcome the challenges of synchronisation in a complex, hybrid broadcasting setup serves as a powerful case study for the industry. By leveraging innovative technology and expert support, they ensured the clarity, reliability, and effectiveness of their legislative broadcasts, even in the face of significant technical challenges.

Its journey highlights the critical role that tools like MatchBox play in the modern broadcasting landscape. As the industry continues to evolve, with increasingly complex setups becoming the norm, the ability to quickly and accurately measure and align latency and lip-sync will be essential. The Scottish Parliament’s experience demonstrates that with the right tools and expertise, these challenges can be overcome, paving the way for a future where high-quality, perfectly synchronised broadcasting is the standard, no matter the complexity of the system.