Autoscript Leverages IP in New Generation of “Intelligent Prompting” Systems

As the industry continues its migration from baseband SDI to packet-based Internet Protocol (IP) workflows, operators and system engineers have had to rethink the way many of the tradition pieces of a production studio—like routers, cameras and prompting systems—fit together and are used as part of an overall production environment. This new IP workflow offers production crews and IT network operators many benefits, but only if the individual tools support it in a tightly integrated and seamless way.

Prompting is a critical piece of the puzzle that might get overlooked when setting up a forward-looking production studio supported by an IP infrastructure. While these types of talent-saving systems have been around since the beginning of television production, evolving from paper scrolls to computer-based systems, a decade or more of small incremental innovations have not kept up with the fast-moving times. Indeed, prompting systems need to be brought into the new world of packet-based signal distribution workflows if IP production facilities are to be successful.

That was the initial concept when a team of engineers at Autoscript set out to develop an IP-enabled, networkable prompting system that could be operated both locally and remotely by a single operator. They didn’t just look at one small part of the prompting workflow, they envisioned an over-reaching “Intelligent Prompting” system that could improve the workflow around the prompter in the studio. This, they say, isn't just a simple software or hardware upgrade; it is a Big Picture change that looks to revolutionize the prompting world by taking a system-wide approach.



The Next Generation Of Teleprompting

Autoscript’s new Intelligent Prompting systems represent a solution that will seamlessly fit into the fully networked IP production facilities that are being built today in many parts of the world. For the first time, deploying an end-to-end workflow that includes tight integration with a prompter’s hardware and software. For starters, Autoscript’s new prompting systems feature a significant amount of intelligence built into the monitors that allow them to be identified on an IP network and controlled by a single operator from a centralized location. The prompting software has to communicate accurately with the monitor’s hardware in order to make this a practical reality. According to the team, that was the part that has never been done before.

At first glance, video over IP might seem like an obvious solution to deliver prompting video to the monitor. However, video over IP also has a number of drawbacks—lack of bandwidth, latency issues, and synchronization errors—that have caused concern among potential users. Autoscript engineers have worked hard to overcome these issues by designing a system that avoids sending video over IP. The solution to this is to incorporate the intelligent scroll technology into every Intelligent Prompting monitor, enabling each to generate a video output from small unicast data packets sent from the WinPlus-IP software.

This means that much less data is sent over the IP network and for the first time ensures that all of the monitors remain in constant communication with the master application. The result is reliable, perfect synchronization and easier operation.

As long as these prompters are connected to the same IP network, a single operator can look at multiple prompters (calling them up with an individualized naming process) and see immediately if each specific device is working properly. It can also be queued to upload new scripts as necessary that are sent to the prompting system directly from the production facility’s in-house newsroom system.

“Intelligent Prompting” Streamlines Production

As an IP-enabled device, Autoscript’s Intelligent Prompting systems can be remotely operated, either from a local operator or one that resides anywhere in the world. For example, an operator in New York could control a prompter in New York and then, from the same workstation, begin operating a prompter in Los Angeles. This has never been possible before with such speed and accuracy. The prompting devices just have to be connected to the studio IP network.

Intelligent Prompting workflow diagram (click to enlarge).

Intelligent Prompting workflow diagram (click to enlarge).

It’s easy to see how this could help reduce crew requirements across locations and also serve as a backup for studios in different regions of the world. The IP network sends control signals to the Intelligent Prompting systems and manages a prompting monitor’s script, speed, and other attributes in the same way, whether it is located down the hall or across the globe.

The other real excitement from remote crews who have tested the new systems is how quickly and easily they can set up (under one minute, on average).  Engineered with a “fewer parts and processes” philosophy, the unique rail-based mounting system achieves rapid assembly with quick-release mechanisms for both the camera and monitor, reducing overall setup time by up to 75 percent compared to other leading systems.

Reduced Cabling Means Improved Productivity

Integrating prompting more efficiently with other equipment is made easy when just one cable is needed. By designing “intelligence” into the on-camera monitor, the Intelligent Prompting system allows all elements—script and data connections—to be connected over a single off-the-shelf Ethernet (Cat-5/6) cable. This simplifies inventory. In addition, Power over Ethernet can power an increasing number of devices to remove the need for additional power supplies. The ergonomically designed Desktop hand controller and Foot controller both benefit from PoE support.

Desktop hand control.

Desktop hand control.

As such, Autoscript has integrated a PoE injector to allow users to operate a hand or foot controller from an Autoscript Xbox-IP unit. So users connect the controller into the Xbox-IP unit and plug in a prompting monitor with a video connection into the Xbox-IP to set up a completely contained system. While large production facilities might want to route hand controller signals dedicated to all of the individual prompting monitors through the same Ethernet switch (using a PoE Injector), independent prompter operators might not want to use an Ethernet switch. For them, the Xbox-IP unit is designed to provide that connectivity to the main studio’s IP network.

The Autoscript Intelligent Prompting range features IP technology tightly integrated into the prompting infrastructure. This includes the use of the Network Time Protocol (NTP), a networking spec for clock synchronization between computer systems over packet-switched, IP networks. Within a standard workflow, prompter clocks require additional time code generators and networks to produce linear time code (LTC) or Vertical Interval Timecode (VITC). By utilizing NTP, Autoscript’s Intelligent Prompting range allows all devices on the network to be accurately synced, both locally and globally while also keeping cabling requirements to a minimum.

WinPlus-IP Software Provides The Intelligence

The new Autoscript WinPlus-IP prompting software updates the company’s widely used professional prompting software with a contemporary user interface (clearer menu structures and added functionality) and a familiar layout (shortcut keys and layouts) that requires very little training so skilled operators can begin working immediately. It also adds new functionality, like intuitive device monitoring. 

WinPlus-IP prompting software runs on a myriad of devices.

WinPlus-IP prompting software runs on a myriad of devices.

WinPlus-IP offers compatibility with all leading newsroom computer systems, where scripts are fed into the newsroom environment and production studio over the IP network. This enables instant script updates from the newsroom system. Busy productions will benefit from having multiple rundowns loaded for multi-program operation.

Production Studios Want Flexibility, Ease Of Use And Reliability

The challenge for prompting over IP was figuring out how to make the software and monitor talk to each other in the IP world. By adding Ethernet connectivity into every component of a prompting system, users of the Autoscript Intelligent Prompting system are assured of a smooth and fully compatible integration with other parts of the IP workflow. It also addresses all of the challenges of production with reduced weight, simplicity of setup and ease of transport. This helps streamline operations with new forms of flexibility that provide improved productivity and more efficient resource management.

So, as the production world moves its video routers, cameras, switchers and other products to IP, studio engineers and system integrators would be wise not to forget about the ancillary but critical pieces of production equipment, like Teleprompters. Now, and for the first time, prompting can include built-in intelligence, from software to hardware, which allows each individual system to be identified and controlled by a single operator from a centralized location.

At the end of the day broadcasters and production studios want a seamless IP prompting workflow that combines the connectivity, flexibility, ease of use and reliability required for the industry and the highly competitive environment they are operating in today. The new age of Intelligent Prompting systems promises to have a profound impact on general studio operations as well as on prompting itself, one that’s been on the horizon for more than a decade. 

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