Media services provider Red Bee Media has continued its ongoing programme of establishing research and development facilities across Europe with the opening of a new laboratory in the Netherlands. Red Lab Hilversum follows the launch of the company’s R&D facility in London at the beginning of this year, with a third location to open in the coming months.
Red Bee Media runs playout centres and provides broadcast distribution services from 11 hubs internationally. It is introducing new technologies for this, including cloud-based working. Red Lab London began operations officially in February but was used at the end of 2018 to test techniques for controlling remote platforms at premises both elsewhere in the UK and on mainland Europe.
These tests were held to demonstrate how media management, playout, distribution and OTT outlets could be fully integrated. Red Lab London was also used for final testing of what is being called the world's first software-only playout installation. The facility is based at Red Bee Media's Broadcast Centre in west London and includes a private cloud for remote test work, plus areas where broadcast and network engineers and system designers can collaborate.
The overall Red Lab project was created to formalise Red Bee Media's R&D activities under one umbrella. Describing the new approach, Alex Dubiez, head of Playout Solutions for Red Bee Media, said, "We used to have engineers dedicated to each customer or project but with the migration of all our customers on to a shared software-based technology stack, we need to organise in a very different way. Red Lab London allows our multi-disciplinary teams to experiment and collaborate so we can proactively drive innovation across our services."
Prior to this, development projects had been carried out at individual Red Bee Media centres but this has now been organised in a more formal manner. "We are transforming the way we are thinking as broadcast engineers," commented Ian Shields, technical product manager for Playout. "We have never been able to experiment this quickly before. To be able to come up with an idea and try it without worrying about impacting a running service is very liberating. Previously we could only test on individual system components or copies of an entire system, which is expensive and only applicable to one customer. All successful ideas can now be of benefit to all our customers."
Red Lab Hilversum is continuing the approach and has already been used to trial IP contribution technologies. This involved tests on the possibilities of delivering uncompressed video over a redundant long-haul circuit from the Amsterdam Arena to the master control room test platform at the Lab in Hilversum. The cities are just over 35km from each other and two connections were installed for full back-up to carry the 1080p HLG (hybrid log gamma) HDR signal.
"This trial was a huge achievement and it validated our designs for distribution timing protocols and stable packet delivery," said Henk den Bok, strategic product manager for Distribution Services at Red Bee Media. "We were able to stretch and improve the capabilities of our current technology stack. As a result we now have a whole new list of exciting ideas to explore with our partners."
Red Lab Hilversum includes IP test facilities, covering video contribution and distribution, with features such as routing, SDI-IP conversion, FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) programming, automation, control and monitoring. There will also be development of new IP-based products, plus demonstrations of Red Bee Media's managed services for live video contributions, software encoding and distribution.
Kris Langbridge, head of Distribution Services, added, "Red Lab Hilversum gives us a great opportunity to develop and test our IP enabled capabilities, increasing the value we bring to our customers in live video services and remote production. We are committed to putting multi-tenant platform innovation at the heart of what we do as an agile managed services provider in the broadcasting and media industry."
The stated aim is to use the Red Labs in London and Hilversum to demonstrate fully connected IP chains between several countries. A third Red Lab is due to open in Stockholm before the end of the year.
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