Diversified Systems Builds Cost-Effective IP Network For Power Station At BerkleeNYC

A number of new production facilities are now being designed and built around the ST 2110 standard for video over IP, but the cost has been prohibitive for many others. The engineers at Diversified Systems Inc. (DSI), a veteran systems integrator, were challenged by this when it came to a recent project to add cameras to the recording studios of New York City’s renown Power Station.


This article was first published as part of Core Insights - Solving IP Routing For Broadcasters

The Manhattan-based historic facility—which was originally an electric power plant with thick concrete walls in the 1970’s and then a sound studio—was purchased by the Berklee School of Music in 2017 and soon after made the decision to add video production to its range of audio services. The Boston-based school was looking to expand its resources for student education and outside client work. (The artist Sting recorded his album “57th and Ninth” in 2016 there, named after the intersection where the facility is located.)

After years as a power plant, the inside was renovated to become a recording studio in 1977 and was renamed Avatar Studios (under the Avatar Entertainment Corporation) in May 1996. In 2017, the studios were renamed again to Power Station and it is now known as Power Station at BerkleeNYC.

DIY IP Routing

Working with a limited budget, Clem Phillips, Senior Project engineer at DSI, came up with a cost-effective IP network design that utilizes COTS hardware and specialized software from DNF Controls Systems (now owned by TSL Products) and TSL as well as Embrionix (now owned by Riedel) SFPs to create a flexible matrix environment in which any of four recording studios can operate separately or share audio and video resources on larger projects. Phillips even designed his own IP router from these vendors to fit the application.

The Journey To IP

The two-year project has been a journey from the start. They began in early 2018 (well before SMPTE standardized ST2110), had to pause due to COVID-19 in 2020, and resumed slowly under tight safety restrictions ever since. The facility had its soft launch in December of last year. The Ethernet and fiber network they have built now supports three floors of audio studios (four in total), a black Box Theater with nearly two dozen 4K-ready PTZ cameras, and a basement performance space for small live concerts and music videos. A control room has been built in the basement, some 300 feet down from the top floor, where they have installed a Ross Video 36-input Carbonite Black Plus production switcher, a Decimator multiviewer, a Vinten robotic camera control panel and a custom IP router made from an Embrionix (Riedel) chassis, an Embrionix 400 GB/s switch, multiple SFPs and a controller by DNF Control Systems.

There are also Broadcast Service Panels (BSPs) installed all over the facility that are patched directly into the router and serve as patch bays into the house AV network. Each BSP supports at least two sources.

Software Control Layer Is Key

Phillips explained that the key element to the entire network is a software control layer provided by DNF/TSL that ensures that all of the individual pieces of audio and video gear can be found and launched on the network with just a few button pushes.

“DNF helped us put together a custom control layer for the entire facility to control the SFPs,” he said. “When TSL acquired DNF (April 2019), it gave us access to a virtual panel, made by TSL (which offers both hardware-based and software-based panels) that was critical to the operation of the network. TSL created this particular virtual panel specifically for the facility. And because they were now one company, we knew the technology would work seamlessly together.”

Interoperability That Goes The Distance

Indeed, with much of the technology purchased in 2018, interoperability was a major concern because ST2110 was so new. [The first four parts of ST 2110 were published by SMPTE in November of 2017.] Another challenge was ensuring that the distance camera feeds had to travel between the recording studios and the control room was adequate without having to use expensive fiber-optic cable runs. They did install short runs of fiber throughout many parts of the building despite some physical limitations: They didn’t want to interfere with the existing acoustic elements of the facility, so drilling holes in the walls and ceilings was kept to a minimum.

Phillips’ solution to the distance issue was to place Mellanox data network switches close to the camera themselves, thereby converting the SDI output of the camera to IP before it was sent on its way.

“Instead of running fiber everywhere, I put a data switch close to all of the production elements and ran fiber in between the cameras and the router in the basement control room,” said Phillips. “Distance was a challenge but we overcame it. We wanted IP on everything, but it wasn’t available at the start of this project.”

Again, only the routing fabric is ST 21110 compliant. Due to the fact that the studios are located on different floors, an SDI cable would not have worked because of the distance (more than 300 feet), so they installed the IP switches close to the cameras’ output.

Adding Video To Audio Studios

A total of 23 Panasonic PTZ cameras were installed across the four studios: There are ten cameras in the main studio, five in the second studios, six in the second to largest studio and two for a really small V.O. type studio. Projects for students and outside clients are currently shot in 1080p59.94 HD and archived on a Quantum storage system. Every room has at least two BSPs that provide access to the internal network.

All camera outputs are fed into the house router, which has multiviewing capability thanks to an external product by Decimator to view all of the camera feeds. They also sometimes use the Ross switcher’s built-in multiviewer capability to monitor the signals.

The way the router is set up, the staff can introduce HDMI into the matrix and because of where it’s interfacing downstairs, they can get true 4K if they introduce four individual cable connections. However, the 36 input Ross switcher becomes an 8 input device in 4K mode.

“When we wanted to do SDI 4K, the only thing available to us was the PTZ cameras, which are HDMI out,” he said. “So, it’s HD now but the facility can introduce 4K into the system itself at a later date and not have to pass it through the router. The router we built only takes Quad (3 Gb/s), so instead of one coaxial cable they’d have to use four SDI cables. We’re hoping an IP input becomes available on the Ross production switcher soon and we’ll add that.”

When signals are captured, they are passed through three Telestream Live Capture boxes, allowing the client to capture up to 12 video sources. Each Telestream box has four inputs. So they can do four 1080p inputs to every one of those boxes. There is also a Networked Attached Storage (NAS) drive that captures and stores all of the video coming from the cameras in the studios. Files are eventually archived on a large Quantum storage repository next to the video control room on the lower floor. Then the content can be transcoded in any format for any distribution platform.

Still Mostly Analog

The Power Station features a large complement of analog recording gear, as many musicians prefer its warmth and tone, but that is not a problem for the digital network. They use a Focusrite converter box to transcode the signals to and from the Dante networking protocol, as well as from Analog to digital. This allows them to pass signals through the IP router, which supports AES 67 or MADI networking, so they act as a bridge between AES67 and Dante. MADI is used most often in the facility most times but they also have Dante networking for clients that ask for it.

Every Studio Shares Every Source

“The coolest thing is that we can share resources between any of the studios with a few button pushes on the router,” said Philips. “Any of the studios can be used at any time and they can be combined for larger projects. Any of the control rooms can be used to capture video (whether its Iso or program stream).

“We are most proud of how we implemented 2110 networking into this decades old building,” he said. “We used Embrionix SFPs and switches and merged them with the DNF/TSL software. There was some concerns at the beginning, but we got it to work and everyone seems pleased with the results.”

Perhaps Philips’ biggest accomplishment was completing the project, which opened up to the public in December (on a limited basis), in a less costly way—far less expensive than if he had used pre-configured systems from some larger companies. Remember, the client was a school, so there wasn’t an unlimited budget. The DNF/Embrionix/TSL solution fit the bill perfectly.

It was a risk to do it this way, but worth the effort as it now all works seamlessly. And because the routing technology is virtual (software-based) they can update the system very easily. So, in the end they saved the school money and gave them the flexibility they required to support a wide variety of clients and students both today and for years to come.

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