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An IT-based MCR vision

On the occasion of its 1000th channel installation, Zander Tripp outlines Vector’s 3’s perspective on TVBEurope’s ongoing ‘Channel in a Box’ debate. How far should IT-based systems progress into the television broadcast chain?

On the occasion of its 1000th channel installation, Zander Tripp outlines Vector’s 3’s perspective on TVBEurope’s ongoing ‘Channel in a Box’ debate. How far should IT-based systems progress into the television broadcast chain?

Thanks to long experience working with both conventional broadcast playout solutions and IT-based technologies, Barcelona-based vendor Vector 3 was one of the first in the industry to correctly predict the inevitable technology revolution that would occur inside master control rooms. It has developed cutting-edge IT-based solutions for the master control room and helped drive the change, educating the market regarding the reliability and benefits of IT-based solutions with 1000 installations and a large number of channels controlled by its systems worldwide.

Vector 3 launched the first IT-based frame-accurate automated playout system on the market in 1988, going head to head with proprietary systems prevalent at the time. After successes in Denmark, India and Spain, Vector 3 continued to further develop its IT-based solutions for the MCR and in 1994 launched its first-ever video server with integrated graphics and transition capabilities.

While many were sceptical regarding the reliability of IT-based systems, Vector 3 proved that with robust and rigorous systems and testing, and some strict rules for deployment, it was possible to achieve reliable frame-accurate solutions with PCs, meeting or exceeding the famous five 9’s of reliability –
99.999% – with advantages over proprietary systems beyond the greatly reduced price-tag.

The role of conventional video servers was to simply play out video. But Vector 3’s PC-based video servers made it possible to have one machine superimpose graphics and handle transitions, saving the need for both manual character generators and mixing desks. Vector 3 was the first to market with an integrated solution, where routers were the only video equipment required in the master control room. Many big-name companies have since followed suit.

In 2001 the company launched the first codec-agnostic player on the market – a video server capable of playing video files in any compression format even in the same playlist. In 2003, after the long discussion amongst vendors for a standard in video file wrappers or containers, Vector 3 was first to offer a wrapper-agnostic video server, capable of playing any file type available. Today, even SD files can be played in HD playlists and vice versa.

As Vector 3 expanded into Russia, Sweden, Holland and Asian markets, broadcasters became aware of the advantages of having a fully networked solution, offering full connectivity over Ethernet or FC, with support for the SMB protocol. The large amounts of data required for branding can also be easily received in realtime and from a variety of different data sources, and operators have full visibility of all devices on the network, unlike with proprietary systems. Many proprietary systems include software simulating SMB connectivity, but this enables only limited network visualisation and point-to-point file download or copying.

Vector 3 customers also realised benefits in terms of the redundancy options of the IT-based master control room. The flexibility of the LAN, the modularity of the components and the solution’s distributed architecture enable any piece of equipment to provide a backup for another of its kind. With only two main types – video server and automation system – redundancy becomes both simple and affordable.

In 2006 Vector 3’s sale to TSA (Europe’s largest communications provider) of a distributed multichannel solution, represented an important milestone – the consolidation of 24 different channels into three straightforward file-based workflows. Until 2006 approximately 30% of Vector 3’s sales were international. In 2010 international customers represent over 80% of Vector 3’s business, as an IT-based approach to automation and playout has become widely accepted and Vector 3 has made inroads into Asian and American markets as well as consolidating its installed base in Europe.

Vector 3 solutions – Vector MultiPlay and VectorBox – manage a large number of channels worldwide all day every day. The 1000th installation is a milestone indicating the widespread international acceptance of IT-based automation and playout solutions — and the accuracy of the vision way back in the 1980s, when the company argued that the IT revolution of the Master Control Room was both desirable and irresistible.