Easing Video Distribution Into The IP World

While many professional organizations that distribute content internally are considering new types of Ethernet-based infrastructures to move their audio and video files around in the most flexible way, there’s also a sensible reluctance on the part of others to discard existing coaxial cabling due to cost and an overall familiarity with how it works. Most would agree that, due to new advances in compression and seamless switching technology, there’s a lot of life left in that coax.

These professional organizations, which handle large amounts of content, have a mission-critical need to manage this media efficiently in order to get it to the right person at the right time. It could be a local TV station’s multichannel MATV/CCTV system used for monitoring competing stations or incoming and outgoing feeds, or a major studio production lot with multiple venues that need to be served with audio and video, or it could be an international brokerage firm looking to disseminate internal information in a highly secure way.

The common thread is that they all have a need to distribute content to multiple locations in the most economical and reliable way. The best way to do this is with a modular encoding and modulation platform that can handle any type of signals and convert it to a format that is easily handled and distributed.

Modularity Is Key To Growth

Such a system allows the user to populate it with processing modules that can be used today, but can also be upgraded easily to accommodate future technologies as they become available. No one wants to be locked into a fixed system that can't grow as the company’s need grow and change. It also needs to be easy to use, provide pristine video images without compromise and offer a high degree of reliability.

Due to its modularity, this platform offers a bridge from analog and digital over coax to the world of Internet Protocol (IP)-based infrastructures that can accommodate more channels and higher resolutions over a smaller Cat-6 cable. This makes it easier to install and, once deployed, easier to manage content. It also eliminates the need for IT managers to have to justify a huge capital expenditure every few years.

For stations that have invested millions of dollars in improving their outgoing broadcast signals to HD, while still providing in-house staff with an analog or SD signal to review their internal channels, a bridging product can help with the migration and improve overall operations in production, sales, and other departments. The HDbridge3000 encoder/modulator platform from ZeeVee is such a forward-looking solution.

The HDbridge3000 serves as a cost-effective method for mass content distribution. It allows customers to move content anywhere on their campus and all they have to do is provide somebody with a TV. It also helps upgrade an entire organization to high quality video (and audio) monitoring and for program approvals and digital signage applications. With it, users can move dozens of channels using the infrastructure they have in place, and then when the time is right, they can easily migrate to IP.

Maestro, Please

The platform allows users to distribute video over RF (QAM or DVB-T/C). It features a 3 RU chassis with a dozen card slots and four cooling fans but no active components on the back plane resulting in higher reliability. Adjustable rack ears can be moved to either the front or rear of the chassis, allowing front-facing or rear-facing media modules and power supplies. This helps it accommodate up to 24 HD channels and 72 digital SD channels.

All of the brains of the HDBridge3000 reside within the individual modules that can be mixed and matched as well as hot swapped when necessary. It also includes a built-in Maestro software-based control layer that sits on top of the control module and is used to adjust settings like bit rates (using the latest version of MPEG-2 compression) and delivery speeds. Customer-determined settings are learned by the system and are automatically added to new modules as they are added (without any additional programming required). It works with browsers like Google Chrome and provides a web-based user interface that can be accessed form anywhere in the world via an IP connection.

Maestro makes all of these audio and video parameters easy to set up and configure. All of the features are accessible via a series of tabs, eliminating the need for intensive programming. Users click on a tab within Maestro and set up all of the attributes of their channels, in any way they want them to be. Maestro also auto-detects attributes of the incoming feed, such as video resolution and audio levels. Once it’s all set up, any user can easily find the channel they desire by its unique name. Users can also control a satellite receiver and assign channels via the Maestro interface.

Hot-Swappable Media Modules

The HDBridge3000 offers four separate media modules, each specific to the signals it can handle (audio up to 5.1 surround sound and video at up to 1080i/p video). The modules, or cards, are all hot swappable and, once inserted in the chassis, are configured by the Maestro control layer.

There’s the Component or VGA Media Module (in 1080i/p HD), which can be connected to a video source like a satellite or cable set top box to the facility’s internal network. Some people use it for VGA connectivity for digital signage or for internal programing that resides on a proprietary subchannel inside a building—for example, a CCTV and MATV system. This module can handle any video content to any number of screens.

The Unencrypted HDMI Media Module is targeted at internal content owned by the company. A local affiliate station might put their outgoing feed coming out of their tuner in HDMI straight into the module. There’s no HDCP security on it because its proprietary content, and it only goes onto the cable network inside the building.

There’s a Composite Media Module, which is used for facilities that still have the majority of their screens in SD.

And finally, there’s the HD-SDI Media Module. This for any material that’s coming in live in the workflow that a customer might want to disseminate to the entire property or to specific offices or edit suites. A direct feed from an HD-SDI switchboard can come right out of that and into the HDBridge3000 and back out to the internal network through a reclocked and amplified loop-through feature on the module. It’s now not only putting the signal out over the coaxial cabling in QAM or DVB-T/C, but it’s also giving users back the feed they originally handed it for any further post production work that may be required. In a production workflow, that can be anywhere along the content creation chain. In addition, while the input can be HD-SDI, the media module will simultaneously output an IP signal to natively accommodate Ethernet-compatible devices.

Another advantage of this type of modular approach is that you can output RF (QAM or DVB-T/C) over coax and IP over Ethernet simultaneously. So, if you have some new studios that are all IP but still maintain existing RF facilities, the HDBridge3000 can reside in between the two and make it all work seamlessly under control of Maestro.

ZV Show Channel

ZeeVee’s HD media modules offer two channels, but they also offer a third “ZV Show” channel (a memory media player for cards without IP support) that sits on top of the card and acts like a scaled down digital signage system, complete with 4GB of internal cache storage. Users setup their ZV Show channel and add new content within the Maestro control software. The channel is configured as an additional HD subchannel that can be used for a myriad of applications—like power point presentations, .MOV files, etc.—and serves as a good way to disseminate information to engineering and other staff. This third channel can also be used by broadcasters for relaying production schedules and other types of resource management to their entire staff. This way anyone on the network can see that, for example, “Mobile Van 2 is scheduled for the state fair today.”

H.264 Compression on the Horizon

While the HDBridge3000 currently uses MPEG-2 compression, this summer ZeeVee will launch a new H.264 encoding module onto the platform. This will allow it to provide four channels in using HDMI and four channels out with H.264 compression. The company is also working on a 4K RF (QAM) card that will allow users to encode and put 4K content out over a coaxial network. This will require a 4K decoding device that ZeeVee is also planning to release soon. The new cards will still fit into the same 3 RU chassis.

Therefore, the HDBridge3000 is perfectly suited to those in the middle of a transition. The chassis was designed without active components inside to allow users to swap technology quickly and easily. They might have 20 channels in HD today and want to make some of those 4K in the future. With this modular approach, they don’t have to reinvest in a new chassis, just the portion of the platform they need. This is especially good for the IP transition, as it allows customers to gradually step into whatever they want to do next.

A Flexible Foundation For Today And The Future

In the end, the tear-out-and-replace option is no longer viable. Established customers want a phased approach to the IP transition. They know they want to get there, but have a lot of investment in coax that they need to extract as much value out of it as possible. Signal processing technologies like the HDBridge3000 platform are all about protecting your future. It can help organizations that use video internally to move to HD now and then have a clear upgrade path to 4K or IP or more HD channels (with H.264 compression) in the future.

This is the strategy customers want for today’s economics. Seasoned engineers understand that they can make standard coax infrastructures work for many internal applications like MATV/CCTV systems in broadcast and multi-channel content delivery facilities, digital signage on multi-venue campuses, or IP systems for stadiums with numerous screens of varying sizes. To do any of this, you need a solid foundation that is modular, easy to use and can grow with the times (and the ever-changing operations model). Once implemented, there are few limits to what can be done and how many people can have access to the content they need to monitor most. In most cases media and other organization have improved their consumer-facing on-screen product, now it’s time to treat the staff.

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