TV-BAY Magazine

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Automatic QC for the people by Will Strauss T he imminent move to file-based programme delivery offers up several advantages over tape - not least the ability to automate some broadcast quality control processes. Will Strauss outlines some auto QC options. The method in which television producers should deliver their programmes to UK broadcasters is changing. From 1 October 2014 it will be digital files, rather than HDCam SR tapes, that are the preference. It is a fundamental and fairly disruptive change that is the cause of much debate right now. The parameters and roadmap for this new method of delivery have been set by the Digital Production Partnership (DPP), a cross broadcaster initiative being led by the BBC, ITV and C4. Its delivery requirements represent a common file format that is based on established standards (MXF, SMPTE, EBU) and founded on an AMWA international standard, AS-11. The essential elements are AVC Intra compression at 100 Mb/s for HD and IMX at 50 Mb/s for SD. It also includes 40 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 83 NOVEMBER 2013 a minimum set of requirements for programme editorial and technical metadata. There are still many things to iron out, including best practice workflows and how best to make last minute changes (something that was relatively easy with tape). But while post and production are trying to iron out the ‘who’, ‘why’, ‘where’, ‘how’ (and ‘how much’) of this new process, the ‘when’ element is now set in something akin to stone (slow drying cement perhaps). So we best start finding ways to make it work. One thing that has become increasingly clear as this debate has gone on is that while the change will cause temporary disruption, there are certain advantages to working this way. And automated quality control (QC) is one of them. Although not a requirement of the DPP spec at this stage, by emulating the QC checks that the file will pass through at the broadcaster, post houses and producers can stay one step ahead when it comes to file validity, a move that will become especially useful if QC responsibility is one day added to delivery requirements. So, what is automated QC? QC for analogue or baseband content was relatively straightforward. The number of checks was limited to signal level and colour gamut amongst other things. Configuring a waveform monitor, oscilloscope or watching the SDI playback solved most problems. But QC was fairly labour intensive. And became more so as re- versioning in the digital realm created problems of its own, be it pixilation, video dropout or freezing. With budgets increasingly stretched, there isn’t the time or the money to do all of this by hand (or eye). Which is where automation comes in. File-based working offers up the possibility of automating some of these processes as part of the overall workflow. It’s fairly comprehensive too with perceived wisdom suggesting that, if done properly, automated QC will sort 95% of all file-related QC issues.