Richard Dean on the surprisingly short road to HD travelled by Finland’s Suomi TV.
Mention Finland and many people will probably think of Nokia, the former paper mill and rubber industries conglomerate which cannily re-invented itself into a leading mobile phone manufacturer way back in the Eighties. As the most sparsely populated nation in the European Union with less than six million inhabitants spread out within the eighth largest country in Europe, it’s perhaps not hard to see why Finland is so keen on electronic communication.
The same seems to apply to electronic media, with Finland becoming one of the first countries in Europe to switch terrestrial TV broadcasting from analogue to digital, all completed on a single day in August 2007. The country now has a highly competitive DTT market with four active SD multiplexes carrying a mixture of 16 free-to-air channels plus 19 pay-TV channels.
The newest national channel is the free-to-air HD channel Suomi TV, which launched on 18 December with a mixture of documentaries, lifestyle shows and nature programmes. But that was only the beginning – with a stated aim to become the third largest commercial television channel in Finland with a market share exceeding 10% by 2015, owners Family Media had ambitious plans in store.
“I think we must have broken all the records of how quickly you can change things around or start up something,” says Antti-Jussi Kotakorpi, Senior VP of Technology at Suomi TV. “We started the channel from nothing in 10 weeks, built a full news programming facility three months later, then from July to mid-September moved all the technology and news from 30km outside Helsinki to Pasila, close to the capital centre where most of the other Finnish broadcasters are located.”
Despite involving the commissioning of a control room, machine room, three edit suites, two HD studios and a third location ready for interviews plus all the associated cabling and a fibre connection to the Digita Playout building next door, the move to Pasila was completed with no break in Suomi TV’s 15 hour daily broadcast schedule. Digita is the former transmitter network business of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), now owned by Télédiffusion de France (TDF), which uses a Pebble Beach Neptune Lite system for playout.
“We needed to make some interim arrangements, for example moving news to a temporary location for the summer and preparing some material up to two weeks ahead of schedule to simplify the changeover. Most of our staff had been in Pasila since December, it was just technology, material handling and news that were in a different location. The first live talk shows and news from Pasila began just after IBC.”
According to Kotakorpi, Suomi TV is the first HD channel in Finland to broadcast native HD programming rather than up-converted SD, with HD currently accounting for about 30% of output. All original Suomi TV news is generated in HD by a 15-strong crew using Sony XDCAM HD PMV-350K cameras, and any agency news arriving in 4:3 SD is up-converted to 1080i HD and zoomed so that the picture fills the 16:9 screen, rather than being put between pillar-box bars.
Footage can be ingested directly from the Sony XDCAM EX SS (solid-state) cards, or if crews are within the Helsinki city area via the Digitas Live city wireless network, in which case the signals go first to Digita and are then retrieved by Suomi TV from the fibre link.
Not that the company has stopped using tape. “Most of the programmes are still on tape, so we do use tapes in material handling and also in productions using a mixture of Sony J-30SDI, Sony JH3 HDCAM, Sony HDW-D1800 HDCAM and DVCAMs.
“Raw files are edited on eight Apple FCP stations and an Apple Xsan server, from which Digita’s Pebble Beach Neptune Archive controller can pick files via our direct fibre connection. Most of the editing is done on location here in Pasila, but we have an edit facility in the centre of Helsinki, and we can edit in the field with a MacBook Pro running FCP.
“Omneon Mediadeck ports are used for news playout and ingest, and we don’t change the format for editing – any HD material is edited in native HD, while SD material is upconverted before transmission. Our Media ports for Digita playout can also up-convert SD material to HD.”
DVB-T2 on the way
At present Suomi TV is a single channel broadcasting on DVB-T terrestrial in SD, plus HD and SD versions on cable and more recently IPTV, along with VoD for most programmes from its website (www.suomitv.fi).
However a new DVB-T2 network being built by telecommunications group DNA is due to go live next year, which will accommodate three HD multiplexes, each expected to carry four pay TV channels. DNA conducted the first test broadcasts in the Lahti area last December, and is expected to offer coverage to at least 60% of households by the end of 2011.
Family Media has already been awarded a license to broadcast a proposed Youth Channel on HD1 or HD2, both administered by DNA, and has also applied for three more channels. “As our first channel, Suomi TV is funded with commercials, but we are a multimedia house and have plans to grow rapidly with several new pay-TV channels,” says Kotakorpi.
“Suomi TV will remain on the DVB-T multiplex, but there is also a company called Anvia which holds a third DVB-T2 multiplex (HD3) due for launch in March 2011, and we have applied for a license to broadcast an HD version of Suomi TV on that. Of course at the moment we downscale our transmission for DVB-T, but on cable we have both SD and HD versions of our channel.” Formerly known as FinnSat, the Anvia group includes IPTV systems manufacturer Hibox.
So what has been the impact of HD operation on the workflow? “We were fortunate in starting with HD from the beginning,” says Kotakorpi. “The only real challenge is the greater capacity required for storage – at present we have plenty of space with 50TB on the Xsan plus 160TB on the Tandberg StorageLibrary T200 database library, but we are expanding this archive to 280TB this year.
“Transferring the larger files is not a problem thanks to our fast fibre connection to Digita. For productions from our own studios, our house format is XDCAM HD at 50Mbps, and for any SD material we use IMX30. We also expect to start using a new Cavena subtitling system after we have finished our tests.”
Other key equipment includes Sony HSC-300 HD studio cameras, Evertz Xenon HD-router and VIPX monitoring, a Yamaha DM2000 digital production mixer, a Ross Vision 2M production switcher, Harris G7 graphics and Litepanels lighting.
So, following the plethora of 3D equipment on show at IBC, does Family Media have any plans for 3D TV? “No not the near future,” says Kotakorpi. “I think it will take some time to get the rest of Finland to HD with us first!”