Al Jazeera empowers children with new channel

Al Jazeera Children’s Channel, the first pan-Arab free-to-air channel targeting Arab children, was launched late this summer to broadcast educational and entertainment programmes in Arabic. Digital Studio gets an exclusive look at the state-of-the-art broadcast and production facility that has been built at the Qatar Foundation campus to run this channel.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  November 1, 2005

I|~|ihabbig.jpg|~|El Baba of Salam Media Cast says the entire operation at Al Jazeera Children’s Channel is tapeless.|~|Al Jazeera Children’s Channel, Qatar’s first homegrown children’s channel, went on air early last month. For the new channel, which is based in Qatar’s Education City and managed by the Qatar Foundation, Al Jazeera invested in a complete broadcast facility that includes studios, production and post-production, linear, non-linear editing and graphics solutions, an audio post-production unit, as well as a play-out centre. The project, which was started in summer last year by systems integrator, Salam MediaCast, was completed earlier this year. “This is one of the biggest projects undertaken in the Middle East and is a major breakthrough for Salam Media Cast,” says Ghallab Mohamed, project manager, Salam Media Cast. “Despite several challenges in terms of tight deadlines, as well as other issues, we successfully undertook all aspects of this project right from preparing the building for installation to the installation and the integration of all of the various systems. It is a project to be proud of,” he adds. The core system at this site is based on an archiving and automation solution that includes Leitch Nexio video servers, an SGT automation system, Front Porch Digital Archiving solutions and a Storagetek SL8500 Library with 1500 slots and four tape drives for four simultaneous transactions. The overall system consists of three Storage Area Networks (SANs). “The first and second SAN solutions that will be used for ingest/programme and transmission are based on Leitch’s Nexio servers,” says Ihab El Baba, technical manager at Salam Media Cast. ||**||II|~||~||~|The first SAN (SAN A), which is being used for ingest and programming, provides 408 hours of DV25 storage and is equipped with 24 server ports that are under the control of SGT’s automation software. Attached to SAN A are five NewsFlash Editors that allow users to edit directly on the shared storage. “This offers true collaborative editing,” says El Baba. “Each NewsFlash can record content into SAN A; this can either be a line feed selected on the house router or it can directly control a VTR through RS422 protocol,” he adds. SGT supplied eleven WM9 encoders for this installation. These are controlled by the SGT ingest media managers and run in parallel to the hi-resolution ingest ports on SAN A. If the SGT records content into SAN A via any of the ingest stations available, the same content is also recorded into the browse server for viewing on the SGT browse and editing clients. But content can also be ingested into the Nexio via other methods, says Mohamed. “The end user can either record directly via NewsFlash or add edits created by NewsFlash or SGT browse, or even add files retrieved from the archive or flattened files copied over the Ethernet from the Quattrus SAN,” he says. “These will be detected by SGT and automatically recorded into the browse server via a Nexio playout port and MPEG1 encoder in a way that allows it to be viewed on the SGT browse/editing clients.” SAN A supports 24 servers ports, five Newsflash editors and a Nexio Instant On Line (IOL). The IOL is the gateway that allows SGT to conform browse EDLs on to SAN A. The SGT browse server can contain many more hours of browse content than is contained within the SAN, which has a capacity of over 3000 hours. The second part of the workflow is SAN B or the Nexio transmission server. This provides 250 hours of DV25 storage and has two playout ports that provide the main A and B outputs for playout from the Master Control Room (MCR). These playout ports are under the control of the SGT automation schedule. SGT will automatically copy content from SAN A into SAN B. This is physically achieved over the Gigabit Ethernet network dedicated for media transfers. Should SAN B fail, a backup playout transmission has been put in place to take over. ||**||III|~||~||~|The third part of this system is an 11-seat SAN solution. On this SAN, there are four Quattrus editors with full DPS fusion compositing software, four Q ingest stations that have SDI inputs for capturing up to four live studio feeds, a Protools audio editor, an Avid DS Nitris editing station and a Quantel GQ graphic editing station. The storage capacity of this SAN is 2.3T/bytes. “To match the huge demand of production, an additional 2.3T/bytes storage has been added with a second Protools system for audio post production,” says Mohamed. “The Q Ingest workstations will be slaved together so that one workstation will be able to put all four into record mode. When these begin recording, it will be possible to edit on any Quattrus editor in what is called a ‘multi-cam’ mode. This can also be done while the recording is in progress.” A finished edit project can be copied over to the first SAN over Gigabit Ethernet without reverting back to baseband. Upon completion, it will be scavenged into the browse server or copied over to the second SAN server for main MCR playout. Similarly, it is possible to see the clip ID and associated metadata of clips contained in the Nexio servers, select a clip and initiate a copy over to the Quattrus SAN. This is copied over the Gigabit Ethernet network that is dedicated to media copying. The entire traffic management at the facility is controlled by an SGT system, which allows the channel to handle programme purchase, contract management as well as rights management. SGT’s media asset management system has also been installed at this facility to enable the end user to carry out both content as well as quality checks while enabling browse facilities through the media and also allowing for line editing. “Our solution talks to the complete hardware environment in the channel,” says Michael Meisel, export sales engineer, SGT. “The SGT automation is the key system here and it oversees the entire playout facility. Our traffic management and media asset management additionally help to facilitate the use of the different media that are there and we have two traffic management systems built on two different sites —one in Europe and one in Doha,” he adds. ||**||IV|~||~||~|The station also has two studios — an eight-camera studio and a six-camera studio. The former will be used for major productions and talk shows while the latter will be used for news and small production purposes. Both studios are equipped with Sony DVS-9000 vision mixers, Sony E30 cameras, Pinnacle Thunder LT & Pinnacle Deko character generators as well as the Zeta 100 from Calrec Audio. The lighting system in both studios is a mixture of Strand Dimmers and consoles, Arri lighting and IFF hoists. The news studio is equipped with 20 three-phase Top lift hoists and production one is equipped with 62 three phase Top lift Hoists from IFF. The main audio & video matrix used here is Probel’s Sirius 256x256 SDI & AES (equipped 128x128) multi-format base router with an Aurora Dual processor controller. The core system of communication at this channel is Drake’s talk-back system, a 4000 series with 128-port enabled and six free speak wireless talk-back systems. All incoming and outgoing content sources are monitored using an MVP multi-viewing system from Evertz, with two VGA output cards. Each of these are connected to 50” plasma screens. Three MVP systems with 24 channels are each installed to serve both the studios as well as the MCR. The children’s channel is also equipped with two large uplink systems from NDSatCom, which delivered and installed a 6.3m extended KU-band uplink system for flexible programme contribution and a 3.7m Ku-band Skyplex uplink system for programme distribution over Eutelsat. Besides the uplink systems, ND SatCom implemented a managed Downlink solution for further programme contribution, interconnection to news agencies, programme production units and further programme rebroadcast over Nilesat and Arabsat satellites. Other solutions at the facility include a newsroom computing system (NRCS) from Avid with the proper MOS for automation interface and a Sony Flexicart M/C with three IMX VTRs to facilitate the automatic ingest and speed up the ingest process. The MCR is equipped with Pinnacle’s DekoCast, Leitch’s Opus SDTV presentation mixer and Emergency clean switch, SONY IMX recorders all of which are under the control of SGT automation. The channel also has a tape transfer room with the facility to transfer from one tape format to another such as Betacam, Digital Betacam, DVCAM, DVCPRO, SVHS and DVD. In addition to this, the facility also has four sets of Sony IMX-900P camcorders with complete camera chains for all ENG applications. “The Al Jazeera team operates in a completely tapeless environment,” says El Baba. “All of them share the storage in a non-linear fashion. Once a programme is produced in the studio, it can be recorded into the server so that the editors can simultaneously edit it and prepare it to go on air. This installation is completely state-of-the-art and a model for other broadcast facilities,” he adds. ||**||

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