Aston ON


In August 2009 leading Spanish real-time graphics manufacturer, Brainstorm Multimedia acquired the Aston 7 character generator from the Softel Group.
With over 30 years on the market, Aston is one of the most established brands in the business and has been the gold standard in character generation in the United Kingdom for many years – to the extent that to this day “Aston on” and “Aston off” have become generic terms used by television staff regardless of the brand of CG driving their graphics.
The Softel Group purchased Aston Broadcast in 2001 to compliment their Subtitling, Teletext and Interactive TV product lines. Softel quickly realised that the future of CG was going to be in 3D and not 2D graphics and after studying the option of developing a 3D graphics engine internally, opted to re-build their UI and feature set on top of Brainstorm’s award-winning graphics engine eStudio.
Built on 15 years of continual development experience combined with the latest 3D technologies, Brainstorm’s render engine, eStudio, is renowned as the best in the business and powers the on-air graphics and virtual studios of leading broadcasters worldwide including all the BBC’s election coverage. What made it particularly attractive to Aston is its open architecture and easy API - using only 5 different commands it is possible to control any element of the software.
Softel began development work on the new 3D Aston CG in 2004 and named it the Aston 7. As well as adding 3D, the flexibility of Brainstorm’s eStudio enabled the system to support much more complex graphics than was possible in their previous Vivid range of products. The Aston 7 was launched at IBC 2008 and early customers included Setanta Sports, S4C Wales and Canal Plus Belgium.
Softel’s incoming CEO, Sam Pemberton, began a group-wide change programme in 2008, and, as part of this process the Aston graphics business was deemed not to be core to the Group’s activities, and in 2009 they decided to focus on their subtitling and interactive television product lines. By selling the company to Brainstorm they were sure of a good home for the product and support for their customers.
As Brainstorm had no dedicated CG product in their product range, and with the Aston 7 already built on their graphics engine, eStudio, purchasing the Aston 7 was an attractive option for Brainstorm.
Brainstorm’s strategy has been to retain the Aston 7’s identity and branding while giving the Aston 7 a new lease of life, merging the full power and flexibility of eStudio with the Aston 7’s traditional user interface and feature set, resulting in powerful 3D graphics, but with the advantages of fast, page-based graphics recall using the Aston 7’s customised keyboard layout. They have also set about developing a host of additional features and building full interoperability with existing Brainstorm products as well as providing an upgrade path for existing customers.
The Aston 7 provides true real-time 3D preview and playout, easy editing and preview on PC or laptop and integrates with external systems like newsrooms, automation controllers, asset management servers and external content feeds. A full graphics preview is available on the Aston 7 Edit workstation and the system has the unique capability of enabling operators to create and take new graphics without being constrained to previously designed templates while remaining on-air.
The product provides the ability to manipulate perspective and lighting, to import, display and animate 3D objects and to group 3D graphics elements together providing sophisticated visual effects such as applying dynamic text or video to a moving 3D template for Sports or News.
In the 9 months since Brainstorm acquired Aston, they have been busy. The first Brainstorm release of the Aston is due out late May and includes four important new developments. Key new features include an intuitive graphical timeline view providing a graphical representation of animations and facilitating easy manipulation of transitions and delays; a pre-buffering system enabling pages to be taken instantly when needed, regardless of graphical complexity; support for 32-bit HD video clips; and the addition of all the hooks, controls and import/export functionalities ensuring full interoperability with Brainstorm’s other products and making the Aston a seamless part of Brainstorm’s product range.
This development means the Aston 7 now integrates fully with Brainstorm’s high-end MOS compatible newsroom system, BrainNews, and templates created with the Aston 7 can also be exported to Brainstorm’s entry level system Easy On Air Graphics. Similarly, advanced graphical scenes and elements created in eStudio can now be imported and launched to air with the Aston.
Brainstorm has a development roadmap for the product which will see the Aston 7 continue to evolve with regular new version releases alongside Brainstorm’s other products. With each new release additional advanced eStudio features will be integrated into the Aston’s User Interface and feature set.
With distributors and customers worldwide, Brainstorm is already marketing the Aston brand internationally. Brainstorm displayed the Aston 7 at IBC 2009 and recently launched the product in the US at NAB 2010, generating a lot of interest.
Keep your eye on the Aston 7– our take is it’s going places.

Tags: aston | brainstorm | softel | aston 7 | estudio | sam pemberton | brainnews | newsroom | iss041 | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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