Today's complex production and broadcast systems require equally sophisticated test and measurement gear. What are some of the options?
To the untrained eye perusing a TV control room, T&M gear is bling. It’s complicated with lots of fine print and tiny buttons and the display isn’t TV. Even so, broadcast engineers know that having good test equipment provide the keys to the TV kingdom.
Producing or post-producing video without any T&M capabilities is like driving a car without a dashboard. You think you’re doing fine until you're pulled over for speeding or run out of gas. How would you know? You don’t have a dashboard.
Modern studio and control room monitoring systems can look more like a fighter jet cockpit than a passenger car dashboard. The ubiquitous Line, Preview and source displays are the windshield. TV pilots need the instruments to navigate their missions and win technical battles.
Gourmet or Fast Food?
Everyone wants speed and quality, but in the creation of content, speed or quality usually characterize a project or workflow. If you’re shooting a live-shot or a stand-up for the 6 o'clock news, all but the most fundamental technical details are at the fringe of relevance unless something makes the content unusable. The goal of ENG is to produce a quality product quickly with consistency, not unlike fast food. There's seldom time for three-point lighting.
If you’re shooting a 4K movie for Netflix or simply capturing content to edit for a client, you’re essentially cooking a gourmet meal. You need all the ingredients and tools readily available to closely evaluate every technical element of the video and audio as it is captured, just as a gourmet chef needs a full kitchen. Accurate measurement and process monitoring guarantees success, particularly when cooking-up fresh TV content.
Monitoring TV quality and compliance during content creation is all about keeping electronic signals inside exact boundaries defined by formats, technical standards and regulations. Most operators are watching for illegal colors, improper levels, and everything or anything unusual that could cause a issue in the workflow or distribution chain.
The technical mission of content creation is to maximize the quality and assure compliance as it is captured and recorded. The objective is to not have to fix anything technical in post. The strategy is to create, transport and store pristine signals.
The best TV T&M instruments for operators are the most effective and simple to operate and read. The best make and model for a job starts with the budget and where will it go. Potential solutions can be identified by combining the job and skill level of the user with what typically needs measuring, monitoring and adjustment at that particular operating position.
T&M instruments designed for monitoring live and post-production video are either hand-held, standalone with a built-in display, or a rasterizer that feeds a large external video display via HDMI. Rack-mounted or portable, most TV T&M instruments provide the same basic functions. The technical differences are inputs, formats, design, operational features and display. Most TV T&M gear used during capture and post-production performs different functions than gear used for Q/C files after finished content is created. During creation, the need is to measure, monitor and make the best use of every signal variable before content is recorded. Distribution verifies technical quality, compliance and validity as it exists in a media file or as it streams.
The following represents a few of the many available solutions. Some products can cross-over between applications, but know they often are not the least expensive.
Production Room T&M
Phabrix QC products come in three groups.
The Sx series includes four models of handheld devices designed for fault-finding, all SD/HD/3G capable. Sx is particularly useful for rapid troubleshooting in studios and outside broadcast scenarios.
The Rx series shares many of the features of the Sx series, but is rack mounted and multi-channel. The Rx2000 analyzer/generator has a built in and external display. The Rx 1000 and Rx 500 are rasterizers only.
The Qx series is the most advanced and rack-mounted hybrid IP/SDI test/analysis /monitoring instrument Phabrix makes. In addition to including features of the Sx and Rx lines, The Qx series also provides advanced IP traffic analysis and stress testing, with SDI stress testing as an option.
The Qx series includes built-in automation control for fast and reliable testing. Qx IP can also check SMPTE 2110 and 2022-6 compliance. Qx 12G is designed for 12G/6G SDI (4K).
Cobalt Digital offers 3G/HD/SD-SDI ancillary data monitoring probes in portable or standalone configurations. The 9978-ANC-MON 3G/HD/SD-SDI Ancillary Data Monitoring Probe is an openGear card that provides detailed ancillary data monitoring and “probing” to validate and ensure expected presence and handling of ancillary data in SDI streams. It shows status in “plain language” on-screen overlays. BBG-1078-ANC-MON 3G/HD/SD-SDI is the standalone version with IP and SNMP interfaces.
Omnitek OTR 1001 and 1003 offer a unique combination of high-precision video and audio analysis tools partnered with a comprehensive full-motion signal generator system in a single rackmount unit. The OTR 1001 is a 1RU system, the OTR 1003 is a 3RU system. Both are compatible with all single and dual-link SDI formats at 270Mb/s.
The Omnitek Ultra 4K Tool Box provides conversion, generation and analysis of TV and Digital Cinema signals in all current and anticipated video formats up to 4096 x 2160/60.
Ultra XR is a 4K/UHD Waveform Rasterizer that addresses the demanding requirements of extended resolution production QC and 4K post-production grading.
The LV5600 is Leader Instrument’s flagship IP/SDI T&M product.
Leader Instruments makes the LV5600. It is rack-mounted with a 7-inch full HD touch panel display. It supports SD-SDI, HD-SDI, 3G-SDI, 12G-SDI single link, 3G-SDI dual link and quad link, HD-SDI quad link, IP (video over IP). The LV7600 Rasterizer is similar, without the built-in display.
Tektronix T&M portfolio includes the WFM, IP/SDI PRISM, and Sentry Quality monitoring lines. The WFM series is primarily for monitoring basic audio and video content. PRISM provides a wide set of measurements and displays to provide visibility of IP network performance and problems. It also provides the familiar connectivity, measurements, and displays in an SDI environment.
Tektronix PRISM series of test and measurement equipment.
Aurora is an automated, scalable file-based QC system that can be integrated with external workflow management tools in both on-site and cloud deployments to continuously check, unattended, thousands of hours of content.
Sentry is a software-based quality monitoring solution deployed worldwide by cable and broadcast.
Tektronix also offers the MTS/PQA MPEG Analysis & Picture Quality solution that runs on a PC and covers formats from 525i to UHDTV1 and 4K.
Distribution Test & Measurement
Once content is created it's either streamed live to the control room as SDI or IP or transferred through the distribution chain for recording, streaming, ingesting or live broadcast. Recorded digital video becomes a media file. Media file troubleshooting requires different tool sets.
The following products are primarily designed for monitoring and troubleshooting content and sources before or as they are streamed across the IP LAN, the studio or out to viewers.
Bridge Technologies offers the popular VB440 appliance. The 40 Gb IP probe provides monitoring and analysis of high-bitrate broadcast media traffic as defined in ST2110 and ST2022-6 for core broadcasting networks, production studios, master controls and OB vehicles and venues. It enables a continuous survey of all layers of media transport on an IP network and facilitates quick rectification of potential problems. The Instrument View (IV) VB440 option provides deep analytics displays. The VB440 is so popular it is also sold by Sencore.
This Bridge Technologies VB440 IP Probe with Instrument View screen displays packet flow analytics. Click to enlarge.
The VB288 performs objective video and audio monitoring of MPEG-2, H.264/MPEG-4 and H.265/HEVC streams. It is a web browser-based remote video-wall that provides full visual status from anywhere. The VB288 enables operators to inspect massive amounts of content services, with alarming on objective parameters having QoE impact. It also offers thumbnail and metadata extraction and alarming for up to 100 TV multicast streams concurrently.
PocketProbe can provide continual validation of OTT streams, with detailed analysis of HLS, Smoothstream, RTMP and MPEG-DASH, and at-a-glance displays that present data through graphic displays and multiple overlays.
Interra Systems BATON is a hybrid QC platform that implements organizational QC policy to support a combination of automated and manual QC checks. BATON is the only QC system today that is already leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence for detection of errors.
ORION is a real-time content monitoring system that performs critical monitoring functions on hundreds of services simultaneously from a single platform, providing a single point of visibility and access to important information such as status, alerts, and alarms.
VEGA is an analysis platform enabling navigation down to the deepest levels of a media file to generate error reports and analysis. VEGA supports all popular video compression and container standards and includes features such as video comparison and quality checks.
Telestream Vidchecker provides thorough checking of video, audio and container parameters on 4 files concurrently, with an option to automatically correct typical errors. Vidchecker-post has the same UI as Vidchecker, but processes one single file at a time on 8 logical cores, thus more suitable for users with lighter volumes. The Vidchecker Advanced Media Player (Vamp) is a Windows application program that guides the user through any alerts raised as part of the Vidchecker automated quality control process.
The Telestream Vidchecker 7.2 is integrated with Netflix's Photon Java code for easy compliance testing with the network's standards. Photon is the open source java code provided by Netflix for parsing, interpreting and validating constituent files that make an Interoperable Master Package (IMP) of content for submission to Netflix.
Vidchecker 7.2 significantly simplifies and speeds compliance testing for all Netflix submissions. Contributors can test for proper IMF packaging using the automated QC capabilities central to Vidchecker, including the automatic creation of easy-to-read output reports. With Vidchecker 7.2, report data can be used in decision-making programs within Telestream Vantage workflows. Vidchecker provides sophisticated workflow enhancement capabilities including HDR QC testing as a standard feature.
Triveni Digital StreamScope line of monitoring solutions includes portable and rack-mount MPEG Analyzers, and remote monitors with dashboards and detailed reports that provide real-time QoS and compliance summaries. Enterprise Manager allows centralized Q/C control. The StreamScope line also includes the XM RF ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 analyzer, and the XM MT ATSC 3.0 receiver with ROUTE, MMTP, and STLTP analysis capabilities.
The easiest way to measure the shoulders of a DTV signal is with a Rohde & Schwarz ETL TV analyzer. Click to enlarge.
At the Transmitter
The Rohde & Schwarz ETL TV analyzer is considered by many broadcast engineers to be the universal reference receiver for broadcast signal analysis. It is an all-in-one solution for all required compliance measurement equipment in a compact instrument. It provides for comprehensive analysis of DTV RF signals with measurements for optimizing transmitters and modulators. It also provides real-time analysis of 8VSB ATSC and DVB-T2 signals, services and parameters. ETL also analyzes MPEG-2 streams.
R&S also makes a variety of highly-specialized video T&M products aimed at manufacturer R&D, such as the BTC Broadcast Test Center reference signal generator.
The Broadcast Bridge has a wealth of information on testing video production and broadcast gear. A full list of T&M manufacturers can be found at this link. To receive regular updates on this and other technology, register at our home page.