Applied Technology: Harmonic’s Polaris Suite Brings New Efficiencies to CIAB Playout

The evolution of broadcast master control rooms (MCRs) over the years has moved the industry from a hardware-based manual environment to a more highly automated software-based environment. As broadcasters face ever greater pressure to deliver channels faster and with fewer resources, they are seeking out newer operational models that can facilitate an even greater degree of efficiency.

Channel-in-a-box (CIAB) and integrated channel playout (ICP)-based solutions emerged to help broadcasters realize new levels of efficiency, but these solutions themselves often create new workflow challenges. The increasing functionality being built into ICP solutions is bringing more production-like workflows into the MCR, blurring boundaries between production control and MCR. What’s more, with their migration away from familiar tools such as dedicated graphics and branding systems and switchers, broadcasters now find themselves facing the complex task of deploying integrated software-based systems to deal with live cut-ins, sporting events, or scheduling mishaps.

New software-based solution

A new integrated MCR (iMCR) model can address these complexities, taking a more holistic approach to boosting workflow efficiency, operational flexibility, and revenue-generation opportunities. Simplifying basic production tasks into master control, this model enables broadcasters to capitalize on the cost reductions offered by CIAB and ICP solutions while increasing flexibility.

The new Harmonic Polaris playout management suite gives broadcasters and playout facilities all of the tools necessary (including CIAB automation) to build an iMCR. Offering a wide breadth of control capabilities, the suite enables straightforward management of the critical elements that support an on-air channel.

Engineered for broadcasters needing both scheduled and live playout capabilities, the Polaris Play CIAB automation system integrates tightly with Harmonic’s Spectrum media server system in a pairing that offers rich automated ingest, media preparation, and playout workflow capabilities. The resulting solution enables efficient and cost-effective management of up to four fully branded SD or HD channels, each with matched simulcast channels, all contained within a single rack unit.

Polaris Play CIAB is optimized for use with the Harmonic Spectrum MediaDeck 7000 media server. The CIAB solution supports ingest with the MediaPort 7000 real-time video encoder/decoder and playout with the Spectrum ChannelPort ICP system. A software toolbox for ingest, playlist control, media prep, traffic integration, and scheduled and live playout combines with MediaDeck’s high-density I/O capabilities to simplify multichannel playout workflows. Tight integration of Polaris Play with Harmonic’s Polaris Live touch control surface allows the same play-to-air hardware to fulfill both scheduled and live playout roles.

Control surface

Enabling fingertip control over all functions of the Spectrum ChannelPort system, the Polaris Live manual device control application further enhances the power and efficiency of the CIAB solution. The fully customizable touch-screen control interface provides a blend of both production and MCR functions. Through this interface, the operator can take control of the on-air playout chain, managing video, graphics, DVE, and routing into master control and studio environments.

Intuitive touch-screen control surface enhances power and efficiency of CIAB.

Intuitive touch-screen control surface enhances power and efficiency of CIAB.

The ability to create complex macros enables complex multifunction transitions with a single touch.Control over multiple ChannelPort channels via one user interface makes it possible to apply function integration successfully and efficiently in manual control situations.

By reducing the complexity of critical production tasks and making it possible for a single operator to perform these tasks using a configurable touch-screen interface, Polaris Play and Polaris Live are redefining master control. The iMCR provides straightforward augmented production-like capabilities with which broadcasters can achieve a more balanced and cost-effective use of skills and equipment, lowering both CAPEX and OPEX. Because the solution may be implemented incrementally and in tandem with third-party systems, broadcasters can continue to leverage their existing equipment in a hybrid environment, beginning with a server, for example, and expanding to include graphics and automation. The inherent scalability of the solution accommodates expansion at a pace that suits the broadcaster's budget and growth plan.

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