Empowering operators by optimising their workflow.
Increasing demands on resources, budgets, and the rapid adoption of IP and remote production means that it is essential for control systems to be able to hide underlying system complexities so that operators can remain focused on making great content.
By providing a unified layer built on powerful logic and open third-party protocols, an advanced control system puts ownership back in to the hands of the user, whilst maintaining high quality production values.
For the engineer, being given a sufficiently intelligent logic layer in the controller, and the ability to design appropriate user interfaces, it is easy to identify applications where a single system controller could operate multiple pieces of equipment to perform complex tasks.
Meanwhile, a well-designed control solution has the capability to put more functionality under a simple and intuitive operator interface, to create greater flexibility, convenience and allow for more creative production.
For example, in a fast-paced live production environment, the control layer can configure complete outside broadcast trucks at the touch of a button, with a user interface design toolkit customised for every user or workflow; a one key press sets all the routers, production mixers, monitor walls and video servers, putting the right names and tallies on the UMDs. For very large events requiring multiple trucks, the system installations in each truck can pass routing information from truck to truck.
As the engineer has a better understanding of the needs of the overall system and its operations, they can help to reduce operational error by defining the controls offered to mitigate distraction or making unrequired changes; for example, providing the operator with just the control to switch cameras via direct camera controls, and even cut or mix, pan, tilt and zoom but with more sophisticated control such as black and white balances removed.
If the system is supplied with a comprehensive set of APIs covering all devices, the logic engine level design can remove a large about of complexity by boiling down to specific commands; a multi-camera remote contribution system where the camera matching and switching at the filming location can be controlled from the central place; a control layer that links devices together to further simplify operations; graphic lower thirds used as standard templates, with the details entered through the user interface, or captions linked to cameras or manually cued. Align these functions with a custom virtual panel designed interface and even complex routing networks involving multiple switches, format conversion, audio-follow-video and SDI and IP connectivity can all be easily managed. Touch screens can even be designed to mimic the hardware panels that the operators are used to, whilst offering much more powerful functionality within the same application.
One of the great benefits of having an overall, coherent, unified control layer for broadcast hardware is that familiar operations can be retained – without moving a single button – while the underlying technology changes. The technology can be used in unusual and complex ways without disturbing the operator.
With interest growing in Ultra HD, facilities are experimenting with 4K production. Such signals need to be routed, evaluated and monitored. In an IP-connected facility this is not a problem, but in the SDI world it is. While some vendors are proposing new ways of handling 12 gigabit per second SDI signals, for many facilities 4K video is best handled as four HD-SDI signals. This requires four paths through a router, to be switched in synchronisation.
Using a control system, it is simple to set up a set of rules to handle 4K signals. Not only will a 4K source be automatically routed through four ports of a router, but the same click on a control surface will also ensure that it is only routed to a 4K destination, or it is sent via a down-converter on its way to an HD device.
The goal of such a design is that the operator does not need to think through the implications of handling 4K signals but carries out decisions and operations in exactly the same way that an HD signal would be handled. As the facility moves from traditional broadcast hardware to a software-defined architecture (and possibly from capex to opex) the control layer does not change. Staff do not need to be retrained: the operation still looks the way it always has.
The simplification and centralisation of control, even in complex production environments, is a major contributor to savings in opex. By putting just the appropriate amount of control under the hands of a single operator staffing levels are inherently reduced, and reworking through errors is minimised. The operational staff also have more time to undertake different tasks.