The future is virtual, the present is dedicated

Dedicated hardware servers running fully integrated software have long formed the preferred technical solution for broadcasters’ playout. Easy to install, configure and operate, they continue to be the preferred choice for any new broadcast channel. They are highly compact, easy to maintain and extremely cost-efficient. Additional channels can be added almost overnight.

For many television channels, however, the playout technology likely to be adopted is quite evidently in virtual devices and the cloud. This is where software centric manufacturers, whose products run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, with an interface card only required for SDI or ASI output, will be in a good position for the future.

Broadcasters and content owners are naturally studying the potential of using virtual solutions. Instead of buying their own hardware, they would then effectively lease a service at the other end of a line. This is not a new concept. About 25 of every hundred PlayBox Technology systems sold over the years are located at what amounts to a local head-end and managed remotely over the internet.

How this works in practice is that an operator in Country A has content and wants the ability to transmit a programme stream on a terrestrial or satellite multiplex from Country B as, in effect, a locally-made channel. Operator and playout server can quite literally be on the opposite side of the globe. Many of these systems are based on our AirBox content playout and streaming system which is capable of 24/7 unattended operation. Importantly, AirBox-based systems give operators the freedom to make fast playlist changes while on air, again regardless of location.

PlayBox Technology has created a product called EdgeBox designed specifically as a solution allowing full remote control of a playout system regardless of the distance between the channel operator and the transmission service-provider. EdgeBox is a high-specification playout server which can be configured with a fully redundant backup plus an auto-sensing smart switch to monitor the audio and video output. EdgeBox servers are installed at many playout centres and operated via internet link by staff whose location is dictated by the channel's business preference rather than any technical limitation.

The future for playout via dedicated hardware/servers looks set to remain the preferred option for large-scale broadcasters who want to retain tight control over their core infrastructure.

Cloud technology is at present treated with caution by many broadcasters, mainly because of security concerns regarding content. Broadcasters are also cautious about using private cloud services. When the service is made fully secure and cost-efficient, then this could become an attractive option for content owners.

Don Ash is managing partner and director, sales at Playbox Technology

Don Ash is managing partner and director, sales at Playbox Technology

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