Virtual Control Processing for Sustainable and Efficient Productions
Broadcasters are constantly seeking the most cutting-edge technology available – solutions that will automate their workflow and increase efficiency. A virtualised and distributed control system can help by integrating production equipment, workflows and a multitude of playout platforms that use web-based configuration and bridging surfaces. Virtualised and distributed control systems can replace impossible-to-support custom solutions. This approach enables users to extend the life of their equipment, or to integrate sophisticated control with multi-format delivery.
The move to virtualised systems adds sustainable benefits, offering greater flexibility and increased rack density for more advanced installations, ease of management and expanded life cycle.
Virtualised productions result in operational cost savings, simplified maintenance and allows common security policies to be applied to multiple vendor’s software applications. In regard to power management, virtualized systems can decrease power consumption and heat generation (in TSL’s case by 46 percent), which results in reduced capital expenditure, power and heat. We are becoming ever more aware of efficiency savings of both power and cooling, as well as the greater effects of energy consumption for a reduced carbon footprint.
When it comes to virtualised software, facilities must determine where they want to run the application and there are a variety of ways to run this type of software. This includes running an application on a remote computer owned by a third-party, running an application on a remote computer owned by the customer and/or running an application on a local computer. Virtualised control processors work as a virtual machine for existing hardware, enabling systems to run seamlessly with a majority of cloud solutions. Having the option to choose allows the customer to invest where they want and/or need. This also increases production values while limiting the need for staff to be retrained or devote time to complex operations.
It’s easy to be swept up in the ‘top tier’ view of virtualisation, IP and remote production and overlook the everyday practicalities and how virtualised solutions could easily be added and integrated within existing media workflows. In the grand scheme of upgrading, rebuilding, and expanding complex network facilities, the “glue” devices that help disparate subsystems communicate and maintain a seamless workflow can be easily overlooked. In an ideal world, interoperability between various manufacturers’ equipment would be a given; in the real world, however, that’s rarely the case for several reasons. Competitors, friendly or otherwise, typically safeguard the “secret sauce” of their operating software. Keeping-up with the myriad of new product protocols, patches and upgrades is both time and manpower-consuming; and, of course, proprietary systems help to justify a single-source configuration.
Using a virtual control system can deliver optimized solutions that are dependable and simple to adjust quickly to changing needs. Virtualised control also supports network growth and identifies workflow gaps or trigger interruptions. For example, for local programming and breaking news, it can provide the manual overrides needed and the ability to do ad insertion remotely. These are usually managed with button panels; station personnel hit a button to stop the automation system and can switch to ‘live breaking news.’ This workflow only applies to those that are in a physical building with someone hitting that button. Virtual control ‘keys’ can easily allow remote operation without anyone in the local building. The web keys can be programmed to do manual breaks, commercial insertion and stop the automation remotely from a different location.
An independent control system allows operators to manage solutions from various manufacturers without limitation, providing them with the opportunity to choose best of breed products. Virtual panels can ‘overlay’ these systems to provide a powerful and ease-to-operate visual representation of complex routing systems, signal flows, device control, tallies or technical information displays, even when they are being fed across different networks, or standards such as NDI, SDI or ST-2110.
In addition to virtual device triggers, virtual panels can offer granular control of device functions, allowing engineers to build intricate power controls that suit specific operations. One area where virtualisation is proving valuable is during live sports production. The ability to view and control tally functions over an IP network, located anywhere, or router ‘pick me’ camera feeds and ‘one-touch studio recall’ can help dramatically speed up set-up and operator workflows. By feeding the ‘pick me’ triggers through a decision-con¬figured system controller instead of the router or multi-viewer, it sends the ¬first camera operator live to air and locks out all other cameras for a period of seconds, while still allowing the producer to kill that functionality if they choose. The process happens almost instantly. One touch recall can be used to remotely configure every aspect of a remote studio, from working lights to camera shading, so that an operator only has to open one screen on a controller to be able to setup the sound and vision.
Remote production is still a new technology, and one which has experienced huge, expedited response from the pandemic. Tier one and green field sites, which have been able to overhaul their infrastructures to IP, can benefit from its scalability. Many broadcasters find themselves now needing quick-fix solutions that can seamlessly integrate with their existing, often baseband, if not, hybrid, set-up. Sometimes, the simplest integrations via SNMP or more traditional communications paths can solve that key bit of functionality, which can make all the difference.
With lower hardware costs, reduced maintenance costs, the ability to manage hardware obsolescence and simplified IT maintenance, it’s easy to understand why broadcasters are trending towards virtualised systems. Virtualisation can provide highly reliable performance, as well as dramatically simplified upgradability with minimal downtime, as users scale and adapt their system as requirements change over time. It is crucial that manufacturers recognize that future trends and technical advancements must align with requirements of customers as the demand for remote production solutions continues to rise.
By Mark Davies, Director of Products and Technology at TSL Products