IP-based KVM technology is a valuable proof point for the complete move to IP, adding flexibility, cost-effectiveness, reliability and scalability to operations, says John Halksworth
The outside broadcast (OB) truck is a microcosm of a studio control room. From theatre productions and sporting events to one-off concerts and festivals, OB trucks play a crucial role in delivering up-to-the-minute content to broadcasters.
In simple terms, an OB truck can take dozens of camera feeds from a live event, edit the content, tweak audio, add graphics and transmit a packaged product back to the broadcaster. In an ideal world, this would be accomplished through the use of IP as a standard network, using broadband to transport the signals from capture to playout.
KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) and Outside Broadcast
However, at the moment, the use of IP throughout the process is still in its infancy, with a dramatic change in infrastructure and a move away from proprietary equipment still required. The use of IP-based KVM technology is a valuable proof point for the complete move to IP. Used to great benefit in the broadcast sector – from OB and the gallery control room to post-production studios –high-performance KVM is adding flexibility, cost-effectiveness, reliability and scalability to operations.
In the OB environment specifically, KVM is used to bring greater versatility to operations and ensure that broadcasters are able to make more efficient use of their resources, from both a staff and hardware perspective.
The OB truck is a small, fast-paced and pressurised environment with directors, technical directors, editors, operators, producers and audio engineers performing any number of tasks. These include monitoring video feeds, previewing shots, ensuring the quality of shots, guaranteeing the playback capabilities and transmitting the feed back to the studio or main truck that is controlling the broadcast.
Inside the truck
While smaller trucks with one or two cameramen may gain some advantage from using KVM solutions, it is larger operations that benefit the most. The larger the truck and the more equipment that is needed, the bigger the requirement for KVM technology.
These large vehicles are essentially broadcasting facilities on wheels and typically contain a range of cameras, operators, a director, vision mixer, graphics department and audio technicians. As a result of the number of functions of the OB truck, it houses servers and computers, usually rack-mounted in a shock-proof, air-conditioned section away from the operators. This is more secure, as it cannot be accessed by anyone other than staff and ensures that users have a more ergonomic working environment. The heat and noise generated by the machines is minimised with their relocation and there is a more efficient use of space.
Users are still able to access the machines as needed, and can even use them from temporary studios within a media centre or broadcast hub at the actual event.
KVM solutions facilitate this access and allow multiple users to access a single resource, or one operator to access multiple resources. The KVM extender functions in such a way that the operator is unaware of it – it runs efficiently in the background, providing the user with real-time extension, high-resolution graphics, a high level of USB compatibility and no-lag switching speeds.
In addition, these trucks feature a number of servers that are not used all the time but need to run in the background and manage the actual content as it comes in to the make-shift control room. As a result, these servers do not require a dedicated keyboard and mouse. Rather, the KVM solution ensures that the servers can be accessed from any workstation.
Switching and extension
These mobile facilities are used in a number of different applications, with the internal set-up reconfigured accordingly. The switching and extension capabilities of KVM are particularly beneficial in this process. If a truck is used to capture content from a theatre production in the morning, the resources within the vehicle are configured accordingly, in terms of number of staff, types of machines needed, etc. Once the event is over, the truck can be re-assigned to cover another event.
Traditionally, the truck would need to be completely reconfigured to meet the requirements of the new job. However, using a high-performance IP-based KVM solution enables technicians to programme pre-set configurations. As a result, once an OB truck has finished one project, it can be easily configured in situ using the presets. This means fewer technicians are required to handle the rearrangement of equipment and settings through manual patching, and trucks can be in service longer.
KVM offers broadcasters the same benefits. For example, with a news channel, more resources and staff may be needed for a midday or evening bulletin than for a late show. The studio features a number of operators performing specific tasks, which differ according to the time of day. As a result, the studio can easily be configured to cope with a skeleton crew by enabling access to the resources needed from one work station – that is, keyboard and mouse.
From OB truck to on-site studio
In addition to KVM switching and extension enabling staff in the OB truck to perform their functions, switch between the machines needed and work in an ergonomically sound environment, it can also benefit users in make-shift studios on-site at actual events.
This is demonstrated at sporting events, for example, where the stadium features a media centre or series of hubs for presenters from different broadcasters. These presenters typically provide commentary on a sport, for example cricket, and use telestration to explain aspects to viewers, such as showing the flight of a ball during an LBW appeal.
Again, KVM enables this technology to be used; the live output goes into the gallery control, while the on-screen preview and interaction takes place via the standard computer port on the back of the graphics box. The computer that controls the graphics technology is in the OB truck, and the presenter uses a touch pad in the studio to illustrate his commentary.
The use of high-performance IP-based KVM solutions has been bringing tremendous benefits to the broadcast sector for several years already, offering enhanced flexibility, scalability, optimum use of resources, cost-effectiveness and a more ergonomically sound working environment. When it comes to the use of KVM in OB trucks, these advantages clearly stand out and ensure that operators are not only able to work in a comfortable, fully functional environment, but are able to switch between machines, shots, content and audio – an absolute must in such a high-pressure environment. Going forward, this versatility and reliability will certainly provide a valuable use case for the further adoption of IP throughout the broadcast workflow.
John Halksworth is Senior Product Manager at Adder Technology.