Control and monitoring are two of the biggest issues faced in playout operations. Broadcasters and playout providers want to be able to select precisely the equipment that they need and probably more so than ever, are now able to very accurately do that. But this, combined with the fact that previously largely ‘static’ devices are now empowered by the introduction of IT thinking – glue technologies being a prime example – creates an issue. This appearance of choice is somewhat illusionary once the spectre of control and monitoring is raised: If each and every best-of-breed solution requires a separate hardware or software control panel then how can these be deployed across multiple channels effectively? How can an operator in times of service failure be expected to rifle through a swathe of interfaces to access the precise function required?
Recently, while trying to explain this to someone from outside the industry I looked around his living room. He’s someone who likes technology; likes to buy the best that he can afford, regardless of manufacturer, and also doesn’t like to throw things away – he still has a video recorder! Sat on a shelf, and also the living room table, I could quickly count eight remote controls, many of them festooned with buttons, all different shapes and sizes. How many functions do you actually use on each of them, I asked. He replied that he maybe used four or five buttons on each. What about using a universal remote control? Well, he said, he’d looked but the theory was far better than the practice.
The irony in our industry is that greater technology choice is actually often leading customers down the path of the single vendor option for all their primary equipment, with the promise of a unified control system - or at least, a minimisation of the number of protocols involved. However, even with the best of intentions, many vendors are not control and monitoring experts – why should they be? – and solutions can be half-hearted or out-of-date. And, why should customers be forced to relinquish real choice when it comes to equipment selection?
Well, Rascular has designed Helm to solve the issue of equipment choice versus precise, usable and accurate control and monitoring, as many broadcasters around the world – including the likes of Discovery Networks Europe, BSkyB, ESPN and Red Bee Media – have recognised. Helm solves the problem that broadcasters and playout providers constantly face: wanting to purchase best-of-breed technologies from multiple manufacturers yet not wanting to use the all the associated, proprietary control/monitoring technologies. Helm allows set-up and on-air control of these remotely from a single PC screen. Users can define their own control panels and complex single-button workflows.
Helm is a fully user-configurable, PC-based application that provides either mouse-driven or touchscreen control and monitoring via TCP/IP of a wide range of essential broadcast equipment: Branding devices, routers, video servers, VTRs, multiviewers and modular gear. Operators can use a single, purpose-designed control panel rather than having to access this equipment via the different proprietary systems supplied with each and every unit in the chain. Helm panels are created using a simple drag-and-drop system, allowing broadcasters to tailor the software interface to the precise needs of their facility.
Helm sits alongside – rather than in between – equipment within a facility. For example, the automation system still interfaces with the branding devices exactly as it did prior to the installation of Helm. It does, of course, reflect any changes that the automation system requests along the playout chain. This technology allows operators to monitor single or multiple channels and to move effortlessly between pods of channels; issues can be resolved far more quickly than is otherwise possible.
The technology works completely remotely so this means that Helm panels installed in a facility in one city can control equipment in another city – indeed some customers are already doing this.
Of course, given the nature of the technology and the issues that it resolves, the product is continuously evolving: Helm is now integrated with Ross Video’s OpenGear protocol as well as Snell’s RollCall. It now works with equipment from Miranda, Harris, Pixel Power, Snell, Ross openGear, Nevion, Lynx, Axon, Evertz, NVision and Omneon, as well as supporting industry-standard protocols for router and server control, such as VDCP.