Maintaining Digital Integrity With IP Test & Measurement
Stations used to broadcast this before sign-on. Viewers needed a mirror to see the picture to adjust the controls on the back of their sets.
TV test and measurement gear and instrument solutions also facilitate remote production and monitoring.
For decades, a waveform monitor, vectorscope, general purpose oscilloscope, Simpson 260 multimeter and a mutual conductance tube-tester were test and measurement (T&M) tools ubiquitous in TV stations and studio shop workbenches world-wide.
Maintenance engineers have always used T&M tools to identify and isolate nearly every technical issue. In the yesteryears of analog, what couldn’t be adjusted into conformance with a knob or small screwdriver, or 'slug tuned' with a slap or a tap, or fixed with a new tube, usually was removed to a workbench and repaired with circuit troubleshooting techniques, schematic diagrams, spare parts, needle-nose pliers and a soldering iron.
TV sets with vacuum tubes had to warm up before they worked. They also had horizontal and vertical hold controls, height and linearity adjustments accessible on the back of the TV. They were necessary to compensate for display changes as vacuum tubes and CRTs aged, and was one of the reasons the above “Indian” test pattern was regularly broadcast. Station engineers used the pre-sign-on broadcast image to check monitors and TVs around the station before programming began.
Today’s TV viewers can use their remote control to access more display adjustments than they know what to do with, but there's little need to do more than choose a channel and set the volume. Digital TV and T&M technologies do the rest. They support the creation, transport, and reliable wireless transport of the most stable and pristine content possible to all viewer’s displays. The challenge for digital TV T&M is to continue introducing advanced solutions supporting the newest and developing technologies, industry standards and compliance requirements as DTV technology and broadcasting march forward together. DTV is the change that keeps on changing.
Remote Solution Revolution
The soldering iron is still a TV maintenance bench staple, but they’re seldom smoking these days. Most digital performance issues and failures aren't physically fixable, however sometimes the component in question could use a lucky thump before being declared dead. It might work. Connections corrode. Today’s most powerful, popular and often portable T&M monitor-and-fix-it tools are software. Many are apps designed specifically for smartphones and tablets.
Smartphones replacing pocket screwdrivers isn’t news to TV engineers. What is news if you don't work at a TV station is that several T&M solutions that were already in station infrastructures became part of the sudden remote live TV production distancing solution revolution. Other news is that the newest solutions, many originally intended to be unveiled at major 2020 industry shows, are giving maintenance engineers deeper vision and analysis by comparing signal technical values, parameters and format compliance to the latest video production and IP transport technologies specifications and standards.
While this Actus screen allows loudness monitoring checks from home, the system continues recording exportable measurements as proof of compliance to defend against loudness complaints.
Mixing major broadcast TV trade show gatherings won’t stop the new technology pipeline. The pandemic has slowed the mass manufacturing of some new hardware and chips affecting consumer NextGen TV receivers. But it happened at a time that technology previously only available in a dedicated broadcast production and T&M hardware form is shifting to software designed to run on common PCs, Macs, iPhones and Androids.
For example, stations equipped with Actus Digital compliance and monitoring systems are using its web access for station people to verify that content and ads aired correctly, and accurately confirm content quality and compliance, with alarms, from home. Who would have thought in January 2020 that having that ability in a station's infrastructure would instantly become essential? The same can be said for other web-accessible T&M solutions that also provide access, management and/or multiviewing from home.
The pandemic pushed the industry to rethink everything, and it turns out that remote production, remote software, IP transport and the cloud were significant trends in the right place at the right time. The industry was headed that direction. The pandemic made remote functionality urgent and quickly proved that it works well.
Almost like when early TV stations first went on the air, no station had a plan because it had never been done. The pandemic made every station inventory their existing IP capabilities and re-engineer operations and workflows to keep people as separated and safe as possible. Repurposing station IP gear was often possible. Most stations transitioned to remote IP sources and monitoring without spending much money. On the air, it almost looks like stations planned for it. As it should be. Good job, everyone!
Pre-Capture and Ingest Monitoring
TV T&M solutions are necessary in three specific workflows. Some products provide various levels of all solutions in single systems. Some fit the workflow better as standalones. One necessary T&M function that has been around since video signal voltages were first standardized and calibrated is baseband-style video signal voltage monitoring and measurement. It minimally requires waveform and vector displays. It only works when operators know what they are looking at and for, and how to access and adjust the signal source controls to maximize quality.
Before and during capture, critical monitoring and thorough inspection of all audio and video signals, levels, parameters and quality is crucial and most easily dealt with on the set, before the last take. Some problems can’t be fixed in post. Evaluate and verify all controllable variables as necessary such as lighting, camera iris and audio levels. Capture is the last chance for real-time, manual control of the content as recorded. The technology to observe levels to match data sweet-spots for capture and transport is T&M. Subjective ‘Golden-eye’ interpretation of a video display is no substitute for T&M’s scientific objectivity.
Waveform monitors and vectorscopes are capable of displaying much more information than most people want to see on a smartphone or tablet, and menus are a distraction in the heat of live production. In such situations, dedicated hardware with handy physical controls work best. Telestream, Leader Instruments and Phabrix own the largest portion of the dedicated waveform/vectorscope hardware and rasterizer market. Some of the higher-end gear also provides IP data monitoring.
The second workflow is compliance. It is primarily about monitoring, recording and archiving, and alerting for every potential technical issue. It also documents quality parameters and records air-check content as-broadcast.
Monitoring and compliance systems are ubiquitous in master control rooms. Interra Systems is one example of a compliance system that provides web-based visibility into the entire video delivery chain, and access to software. Some systems include web-accessible multiviewers, which have also proven quite helpful for remote reporting and operations during the pandemic.
Qligent has initiated deployment of an enterprise-level Vision Compliance Monitoring and Analysis solution on behalf of Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG). The Qligent Vision system will support QoS/QoE, compliance and transmission monitoring across 191 TV stations in 89 markets, covering more than 600 channels of programming.
On-premise hardware includes Qligent Vision monitoring probes to accommodate compliance and QoS/QoE monitoring. For example, the Vision probes will ingest ASI, IP and RF signals, initiate high-resolution recording, and transfer content to the cloud for compliance monitoring and recording. The probes will also monitor Sinclair’s transmitters and RF facility management systems via SNMP. The on-premise system leverages off-the-shelf servers to house the probes, lowering costs network-wide.
IP Data Monitoring
The third workflow is monitoring compressed and uncompressed data streams and bursts. Until now, the TV data monitoring market has been for television signals such as common MPEG-2 and bundled SMPTE ST 2022-6, to uncompressed active image area video-based SMPTE ST 2110, at >Gigabit speeds and all the improvements that follow. Bridge Technologies recently announced VB330 v6 and Mosaic and Multiviewer created within its Widglets API are excellent examples of IP monitoring progress.
Telestream recently released Inspect 2110 to find and fix ST 2110 faults fast. It seamlessly integrates with Telestream’s PRISM waveform monitor.
People and stations have been migrating to IP and supporting station VOD for years. Physical distancing pushed remote IP video to the top of the needs list. Distancing and remote production seem here to stay.
What seems more likely to stay home are some of the regular studio and control-room people such as producers, live graphics operators, station meteorologists and field reporters not necessarily on-location. Distancing eliminates the daily commute and viewers like seeing inside celebrity homes.
Broadcast engineering in the NextGen TV world could well refocus on maintaining the integrity of solid RF coverage for all kinds and types of instantaneous autonomous IP data transmissions, in private and secure ATSC 3.0 streams. Impeccably reliable, one-to-many data distribution could prove significantly more profitable, and simple, than the organized chaos of live TV operations and perpetually finding sponsors to pay for it.
TV is showbiz, but delivering wireless data pays much more per gigabit than HDTV. Nationwide ATSC 3.0 data networks could save free TV. The side benefit is that everyone in the market gets a great OTA TV signal.
Streaming technology progress from SD to HD, UHD and 8K has pushed the limits of bandwidth and compression for decades. Industries such as medical and military can use all the uncompressed resolution they can get and will always want more.
Some broadcasters are thinking that 4K UHD may be the useful limit for TV resolution because a TV viewer’s eyes can’t focus on more detail than 4K and see the whole picture at the same time. HDR/WCG is more visually stimulating and requires a tiny fraction of the bandwidth a quadrupled pixel count needs.
Is HDR/WCG 1080/60p good enough for home viewing? Some people think bandwidth-hungry 4K is better. Others believe in 8K. OK. How many people are willing to pay how much for how many more pixels?
ATSC 3.0 engineers and experimenters have a system to separate and send UHD picture detail data over the internet to combine with a 1080/60p OTA transmission at the receiver to recreate UHD video. NextGen TV could make live 4K or 8K pictures available for premium prices without using valuable OTA bandwidth.
Will local TV news ever be broadcast in 8k? Will anyone pay extra for it? Never say never, but did any sponsor ever pay extra for a HDTV spot?
Broadcast Bridge Survey
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