Microsoft Introduces Skype TX For Broadcasters

Broadcasters are always on the lookout for a less expensive way to do business. It turns out the popular long-distance phone service Skype has partnered with Riedel, Quicklink, NewTek and Matrox to provide a good solution.

Broadcasters caught on to the extremely low cost of Skype video interviews several years ago — often rigging up sub-broadcast quality consumer gadgetry to put the video and audio on-the-air.

Then came converters to more efficiently put Skype on air. MSNBC uses generic Windows PCs connected with Barco’s Folsom ImagePro HD ($7,499) and Analog Way’s Broad Scan HD ($6,250) scan converters. These converters, while not made for Skype, can take any video on a computer screen and convert it for broadcast use.

Though full-featured and high-priced scan converters such as the ones used by MSNBC have been around a long time, a new generation of lower cost, more specialized devices for broadcasters came on the market that targeted Skype-to-air phone calls, YouTube videos, Google maps and other common computer-generated video.

On two sides of recent products targeted specifically to television news operations for Skype use are the low-cost Matrox Convert DVI and Convert DVI Plus converters and the higher-priced BrightEye Mitto series converters from Ensemble Designs. Each is defined by capability, features and price.

Now, Microsoft, who owns the Skype telephony over computer service, has finally gotten serious about Skype for broadcasters. The company has partnered with three broadcast-centric companies — RiedelQuicklink and NewTek — to launch a new broadcast Skype platform called TX. Each licensing company has a different variation of Microsoft’s product, but all the software is a much beefier professional version of the consumer Skype.

Microsoft's improved offering is a result of Skype’s recent acquisition of its long-time broadcast partner, Cat and Mouse. The new acquisition specializes in studio graphics and software and interactive solutions for TV shows and live events, working with a range of producers and broadcasters, largely in the UK. Skype built on the existing Cat and Mouse technology to deliver a high quality hardware and software Skype integration directly into the studio.

With Skype TX, broadcasters can connect with Skype users and easily integrate them directly into their production environment. This means studios can seamlessly add full-frame Skype video and audio via SDI and operate in a dynamic environment, including call handling management for multiple, simultaneous Skype calls on one management interface, plus operator previews, auto fall back to still and call quality monitoring.

Microsoft said the Skype hardware from each manufacturer was designed with call output in full frame HD-SDI formats with embedded or balanced audio. HD-SDI video can also be sent back to the caller along with balanced audio. Video and audio are free from all notifications, signals, adverts or pop-ups. Skype TX takes care of aspect ratio mismatches automatically and the software operator has full control over screen aspect ratios using Skype TX software.

Broadcast and film applications, said Microsoft, include interviews from around the world for entertainment shows, newscasts with Skype implemented for live interviews and remotes from concerts, sports and other live events.

Quicklink Live Broadcast Solutions has announced the Quicklink TX, a box that allows Skype video calls from anywhere in the world to be integrated into any production. Priced at $3,995, it is a solution for bringing broadcast quality Skype integration directly into any broadcast facility.

Quicklink TX was launched at this year's IBC conference where pre-orders were taken with shipping of first units to follow shortly.

Quicklink TX was launched at this year's IBC conference where pre-orders were taken with shipping of first units to follow shortly.

The Quicklink TX offers integration of full frame Skype video and audio via SDI. Its responsive transmission is optimized for broadcast workflow with API integration, call handling and management. The hardware has call output in full frame HD-SDI formats with embedded or balanced audio. HD-SDI video can also be sent back to the caller along with balanced audio.

All HD-SDI and SD-SDI broadcast standards are supported up to 1080i and will feed any graphics package. Audio output can be analog or SDI. The device enables a single operator to produce multi-channel calls. This is achieved on one management interface which allows call handling management for multiple, simultaneous Skype calls.

Riedel’s STX-200, at $4,500, is a professional A/V interface that also offers HD-SDI and balanced XLR audio I/Os and has remote management and monitoring of Skype calls. It’s Gigabit Ethernet connection allows connectivity with Riedel’s intercom and MediorNet network.

Riedel's STX-200 unit offers broadcast-quality HD-SDI and balanced XLR audio I/Os and is packaged with professional Microsoft Skype TX software.

Riedel's STX-200 unit offers broadcast-quality HD-SDI and balanced XLR audio I/Os and is packaged with professional Microsoft Skype TX software.

“With a smart panel in our system, users can connect a call over the MediorNet to another place anywhere in the world,” said Sascha Kneider, head of technical services at Riedel Communications. “A user can also call anyone in the world over the intercom system with just a Skype address.”

NewTek is using Skype TX in its new TalkShow VS-100, a $3,995 video calling production system designed for broadcast facilities. With TalkShow, any producer can easily reach 300 million monthly connected Skype users and incorporate them as guest speakers into live programs with full-frame Skype video calls.

The turnkey TalkShow system allows the initiating, receiving, monitoring and managing of Skype video calls, with a set of live production tools not found in competitive video calling systems. With TalkShow, users have access to customizable settings for color correcting live video calls (including features for automatic color balancing) as well as SDI-embedded audio, and compressor/limiter, equalization and adjustable head-room controls for further improving audio quality.

Producers using TalkShow with NewTek’s TriCaster multi-camera video production systems will be able to route Skype video calls directly to and from a TriCaster over a network connection without tying up an additional HD-SDI input.

Producers using TalkShow with NewTek’s TriCaster multi-camera video production systems will be able to route Skype video calls directly to and from a TriCaster over a network connection without tying up an additional HD-SDI input.

“Almost every live TV and video program includes a conversation between people — whether it’s a news or entertainment show, a sporting event or even a corporate meeting,” said Dr. Andrew Cross, president and CTO of NewTek. “While there’s been a growing trend to incorporate social media — such as live Twitter feeds — directly into these programs, integrating a two-way dialogue over Skype dramatically shifts the experience to a more engaging and participatory event.”

With these TX products — to be available by the end of 2014 — broadcasters will get a powerful new entree into the world of Skype. For many users who have long been struggling with more makeshift solutions, the reaction might be "it’s about time."

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