The advanced workflow of MakedoniaTV changes the game in our television industry!

The digital age of the file-based workflows for the technologically upgraded television station of Makedonia, began successfully about one and a half years ago. The results of this investment in advanced equipment places MakedoniaTV in a high position on the map of TV stations not only in Thesaloniki but in the whole of Greece.

Text: Andreas Tzanakos
Photos: MAKEDONIA TV Archive

It is a known fact that we are always looking for projects which advance the television landscape in our country. Our target as the informational internet portal of Radiotvlink was and remains today the in-depth presentation of projects and installations which it is proven display excellent technology, perfect operation and high performance. If all the above are accompanied by the savings in financial resources, then even better.

The opportunity for this article was a conversation we had with the head of AmyDV, Mr David Chalkidis. Specifically we asked him to mention some project-installation they have materialized, from the ground-up starting from scratch.

The parameters we set were that the project should have been designed to use advanced technologies, matched tightly and mainly that the project had been tested in practice, to be on air for at least one year. The answer by Mr Chalkidis was easy “but of course the complete installation of the national tv station MakedoniaTV, with the complete file-based workflow and much more!”

The initiation into the technology of MakedoniaTV was undertaken by Mr George Zois, General Manager of MakedoniaTV, Mr Kostas Arvanitidis, Chief Technical officer of Makedonia TV and Mr David Chalkidis, head of AmyDV.

Mr Kostas Arvanitidis, Chief Technical officer of MakedoniaTV Mr Arvanitidis, you are one of the people that know very well the technical matters of MakedoniaTV and therefore we would like you to tell us which were the needs of your TV station regarding it’s technical infrastructure and which were the technical requirements you set to AmyDV for effective and in-budget completion?

Mr. Kostas Arvanitidis: The needs of Makedonia TV could not have been simpler. Our infrastructure was end to end analog and this was something which was apparent on our transmition. On top of this we often had problems due to the age of the equipment and of the baseband cabling. This translated into disruptions in the transmition, or sync problems.
With Amy we began discussions obviously from the ground-up.
Replacement of the cabling and of course complete replacement of the equipment of the continuity. In parallel we had to move in very tight financial restrictions and manage the greatest possible flexibility.

Mr Kostas Giovanos during the installation of the rack at MakedoniaTV Mr Chalkidis, which are the characteristics that govern the way of thinking and the actions of AmyDV regarding the technologies of Television and Telecommunications? In which ways and which services can your company cover for the needs of Television stations, Production companies, Post Studios and Telecommunication providers? Which are the characteristics that separate it from the competition?

Mr David Chalkidis, Head of Amy Digital Video

Mr. David Chalkidis: We know the greek media reality and media companies in considerable depth, being in this industry since 1989 and retaining direct contact with the latest developments on a global scale. We continuously test new technologies and separate those which will allow the businesses of our customers to offer a better ‘product’ at a lower cost, always with the maximum reliability. Then we display our views and if necessary train our customer to reach the level to make his own choices for his business.

We offer consulting regarding the new technologies as a course of our sales process, project and solutions design services, complete install services, like this of Makedonia TV, training and workflow implementations. These are very interesting times. Our experience with broadcast IT technologies and the breadth and depth of our knowledge in video and television, allow us to solve problems more completely and as a lower total cost for our customers.

Also, comparatively with our main competitors, we are more focused on the video and modern technologies, increasing the productivity. Mr Chalikidis, we would like you to mention some details regarding the study, the design and the implementation (delivery of materials, installation, settings, modifications etc) of the specific project, according to the requirements of Makedonia TV,  as put forward before  but also during the installation. Where there problems or difficulties regarding the installation, the cabling that was completed entirely by your company but also the final settings and choices? If so, which were the proposals-solutions you mobilized?

Mr. David Chalkidis: The technical team of Makedonia TV was in the process of researching a solution for the upgrade of their installation for a very long time. Anything they finally chose would form the basis of the channel for the next decade and therefore they were interested in advanced characteristics as well as the flexibility of the solution so their operators could gain modern tools for their job and maximize their performance. Another main concern was the improvement of the picture quality and the capabilities for their advertisers. We must point out the main equipment installed at Makedonia TV is capable to playout and route HD signals with the relevant licenses or extensions when the market conditions are ripe.

In a few days from the assignment of the project the microdesign was completed and approved. Here we must make special mention of the team at MakedoniaTV and especially Mr Arvanitidis, who came up to speed in a very short while regarding the capabilities of the new equipment and it was thereby made possible to contribute immediately in the final configurations of the design and the choices we had to make during the final setup.

The whole organization of the project was based on procedures we have created with the experience from the implementation of similar projects in cooperation with some of the largest vendors in our industry like (Omnibus, Quantel and of course Harris) and was key to allowing all sides to coordinate and proceed in an organized fashion.

The project began in March, when we received the final approval from the Station. It included almost all the television equipment, starting from the sync pulse generators, distribution amplifiers, processing, routing, video servers, automation, master control, multiviewers, file-based workflows, servers, workstations and generally everything except the studios, links and editors. The equipment and solutions were 99% by Harris Broadcast (now Imagine Communications), while the cabling, patch panels etc were by Canford. The response of both companies was impressive.

Harris 2RU ADC Device Server, from the first phase of the installation at AmyDV's headquarters

We took advantage of our capability to put-together and to customize the equipment in the specially fitted area on the first floor of AmyDV, to reduce to the minimum the installation time at the station, considering that this would be while the station was on-air, without interrupting the transmission, and while keeping the disruption to a minimum.

This solution, when the means for following it are available, is always the best, since it allows us to certify specific parts and when an issue appears to know where not to look.

The installation team then transferred the racks to the installation site of Makedonia TV in Thessaloniki and completed the peripheral installations, the GPS aerial and the inter-site floor cabling with the links, the studios and the editors as well as the network infrastructure for the implementation of the file workflows which were an important part of the project.

From our experience we understand that even if you install the finest equipment, if you do not combine with technical ability and cooperation from the operators, the targets of the upgrade will not be met. Especially in such a project where almost nothing stayed the same from the previous installation, the preparations had to take these issues into account also.

So, it was a basic parameter from the onset, to share the new roles to the operators and transition them to their new functions. The installation plan and the timeschedules included these tasks.

During the course of the installation and due to the parallel upgrade of Makedonia TV contribution partners, there were a few considerable alterations required right down to the core of the design of the installation. These changes together with the new plans and the changes to the racks were covered without added cost to the customer or time by Mr Kostas Giovanos on account of AmyDV and the installation team mainly because the equipment of Harris Broadcast (now Imagine Communications) is so flexible and the knowledge of our team very deep.

At the same time we were asked to speed up the delivery by approximately 2 weeks, due to the need to introduce the new level of picture quality to the media shops and advertisers before the summer period, so that the channel could gain points in the very hard advertising market.

With a huge effort by everyone involved and especially Mr Kostas Giovanos and George Giovanos, we managed to deliver at the beginning of June.
Initially the peripheral equipment was connected one at a time in order to exact the timing settings for the new installation. The switch to the new Makedonia TV, or Makedonia TV v 2.0 as I like to call it, happened smoothly in a matter of a few seconds one Monday afternoon but the change in picture quality was extreme and apparent right from the first moment.

Playout screen (ADC AirClient) - ELO touchscreen in the Master Control (Iconmaster) and a screen of Platinum SX Pro multiviewer (right) Mr Arvanitidi, based on the plans you approved and the installation of the project, are you satisfied by the solutions offered and installed by AmyDV? Where there any substantial difficulties during the installation? How much did the proposed technologies and the equipment installed change the way Makedonia TV operate on a level of performance and signal quality, functionality, speed and economy? Can you give us some comparative examples?

Mr. Kostas Arvanitidis: AmyDV cooperated impecably with Makedonia TV and in many cases surpassed our expectations. One of the fundamental difficulties which we were faced with was the marriage of the programming workflow and the Sales department, but also the traffic software which we already have installed with the Harris Automation. Additionally the successful seamless transition from old to new, without the slightest hint on Air. And all this in a work environment which never stopped working and producing day to day workload. I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly all difficulties whre overcome. Especially the connection of the traffic system (note that it is a custom in-house applications) which automated the creation of the daily schedules and practically reduced production times to zero.

Harris technological solutions are the “swiss army knife” , on a software level but mainly on the hardware level. A fundamental configuration if set up smartly is so complete, that your demands have exceptionally complicated to need an upgrade.

Some important points, which had not been predicted in our initial design, were added on by the AmyDV team without the slightest issue in the total project. A characteristic example of this is the system redundancy of the broadcast server, the smart solution to the backup of the database server, the solutions of the Platinum router, so that we can have flexibility on analog sources, without the adding converters and other unnecessary components.

From the moment we switched over to the digital environment the improvement in the picture quality was evident. We already had many series in digital format and their playout from our new setup helped to prove the true quality of the equipment.

Magellan RCP-48PB

Our transition to a complete file based workflow “freed” the hands of our continuity personell, as the whole daily schedule is now completed from a single work position and the operator can be focused on the smooth playout of the program and not on loading tapes and doing time consuming cuts in programs. For example to measure a movie previously they needed at least 30-40 minutes, with all the dangers of working on tapes. Now, working with files and the Nexio the job is completed easily in under 5 minutes and we can also have many different scenarios for the breaks depending on the rest of the events on the schedule. And all of this of course without the slightest loss of quality. Mr Chalkidis, we would like you to talk to us about the equipment – solution that AmyDV installed for the mission critical task of routing video and audio signals at the heart of the new workflow of Makedonia TV, and also about its operation in action. Where there any specific requirements; if there were any, what did you do to respond to them? We wish you would inform our readers-visitors aslo about the equipment installed in the area of processing and conversions.

Mr. David Chalkidis: The router selected was the main reason that allowed us to make as many changes as we were asked by the customer and still bring the delivery date 2 weeks forward. The Platinum router by Imagine Communications (ex-Harris Broadcast) is a product which stands out from the offerings in the market today.

Mr. David Chalkidis: Incorporating a breadth of innovations and collecting in one platform all signals (analog, digital, SD. HD, Frame sync, Audio, multiviewers, and multiple sync signals as well as simple processing like embedding, de-embedding, audio gain, shuffle and many more), it allows so that changes to the design to be made quickly and easily via the control editor or by adding a board to the frame. With the right training these changes can happen in a matter of a few minutes. The experienced AmyDV team, after being informed of the necessity of some change, executed it reliably even up to an hour before the switch to on-air!

Having many years of training and experience with Harris routing solutions and knowing the router in depth made it possible to design a solution around it which would provide maximum redundancy options, picture quality and flexibility while at the same time keeping the cost at very reasonable levels. The unique flexibility allows alterations to the design to be materialized sometimes without even adding or changing cable runs, like in the occasion of replacements which were made to contribution equipment with different output signals.

The Platinum router, with dual power supplies, dual crosspoints and the option for dual controllers including the automation control, provides the maximum broadcast device security at a level far above any router installed in other national broadcasters in Greece.

Selenio 6800+

For the distribution, processing and conversions of the signals the design was simple; two frames of the do-it-all Selenio 6800+ series, also by Imagine Communications (ex-Harris Broadcast). One for the conversions and processing of signals and one for the distribution of sync signals (REF, DARS and LTC).

Patch panels were used for key video and audio signals and the rack also hosted a complete video and audio termination panel for connecting to the peripheral equipment, keeping it tidy so that future interventions during the installations life cycle can be performed with safety and speed.

The fact that all the equipment was by the same manufacturer (Harris Broadcast – now Imagine Communications) allowed the whole configuration management and monitoring to be handled via the very powerful and intuitive Navigator CCS  (now Magellan CCS). The same platform was used for collecting logs and saving configuration files.

With the completion of the project all the above where handed over on a USB to be held by the station’s technical team.

Video Server Nexio Volt Gen2, Database server and Platinum MX
The workspace of the continuity engineer Mr Chalkidis, a serious automation system and equivalent server are necessary components for the operation of a television station. Which were the solutions proposed by AmyDV for Makedonia TV and which in your opinion their virtues? Also we would like you to talk to us about the choices made for the Master Control Switcher, the Branding and the graphics.

Mr. David Chalkidis: The choice here was also without hesitation; ADC of Harris (also Imagine Communications) for the automation and Nexio (also Imagine Communication) for the servers. ADC™ automation is the continuation of the Louth automation system, the first television automation company and the creator of the control protocols VDCP and VACP. ADC™ is used already by two large national tv stations in the country, Mega Channel and AlphaTV.

A basic characteristic of ADC is the reliable and simple architecture with a combination of dedicated hardware and software for the troublefree and secure operation. In the case of Makedonia TV, in order to keep to the budget, the solution of a single server was selected, a second to be added at a later date for redundancy.

The ADC of Imagine Communications is the ideal platform for the most efficient management and distribution of content with files, incorporating the efficiencies of a MAM system and an automation system.

The modular architecture of ADC allows us to adapt it with precision not only to the customer needs of today but also to cover for the demands of tomorrow. In combination with the Business intelligence solutions of Imagine Communications, it gives us the tools for exploring new sources of income in the rapidly developing media market.

The automated and efficient management and content delivery is a demand of the times in the multiscreen environment that we see gradually developing. Required are speed, reliability of processes, as also the savings on resources with a target to retain profitability of the media business units.

For the playout we took advantage of the Nexio Video Servers. With our experience from a variety of installations we are confident  that the Nexio video servers with the excessive processing power a breadth of patented technologies and awards and over 25 years of continuous development are the most suitable platform for the support of file-based workflows. Functions like Virtual folders, real-time media unwrap/wrap, mixed codec/format, back to back playout SD ή HD, truly make life easier.  Measured to provide all functions including all channels input/ output and high speed file transfers concurrently and without hidden difficult choices you learn about at the installation stage. It is a very honest piece of equipment which will continue to pleasantly impress years after its installation. All that Platinum offers in the baseband world, Nexio offers in the file-based and playout world without any discounting in quality or reliability. Built by broadcasters for broadcasters, with IT technology.  It offers native handling of the largest array of codecs and includes a patented file checking and transferring technology which solves many issues allowing us to use all files without needing to transcode to specific codecs, saving time and quality.

Iconmaster Master software control panel

The solution that covers in the best possible way the demands of the master control environment is Iconmaster™, also from Harris Broadcast (now Imagine Communications). Together with Platinum router and one of the companies multiviewers they form Launchpad™ to provide a closely integrated channel launch environment.

Launchpad offers and intuitive, complete and automated solution which ‘homogenises’ the stages of a continuity operation and allows the configurations of main components like the router and the multiviewer to interconnect, simplifying a great deal the process of changes and upgrades wither during the installation or even after that.

For us at AmyDV, it was important to deliver not only a complete installation, but also an open solution, which will remain up to date during the next years.

High up in the order of priorities was the best possible use of resources, as much of the space and the cost of the initial purchase as also the operation in time. At the same time the choice of ADC automation allowed us the confidence that the intervention of the operators in the continuity will be reduced to random last minute changes and the occasional audio or graphics selections. The combination of all the above led us to the design of a master control and branding solution that includes advanced audio control and operates via a software control panel when and if the operator needs to intervene. The Iconmaster was an ideal fit. The Software control panel was created and configured by our team to fit exactly with the needs of the installation and to interact with the router, the multiviewer and the signal processing components. For the operation we chose a heavy duty screen from ELO Touch, the premier touch solutions company also owned by the Gores group many years now.

The branding was included in the Iconmaster and Iconlogo series, while for the graphics the powerful Inca CG (also by Imagine communications) and Infocaster SDI are used. Mr Chalkidis, which where the technological proposals of AmyDV that where installed at Makedonia TV regarding multiviewers and Test and Measurement equipment? Which where those advantages of theirs that made you suggest them?

Mr. David Chalkidis: The multiviewer at Makedonia TV is used for both production and for continuity. Therefore the solution had to combine the characteristics of both types of multiviewer. Immediate response, for the productions and high quality and control capabilities, for the continuity and master control.

HView SX Pro, Multiviewer web control screen

Uniquely capable to combine both is the series HView SX Pro from Harris (now Imagine Communications). The HView SX Pro multiviewers include the Microfine scaling technology, which is based on the Lanczos algorithms. This allows the maximum picture quality, regardless of the size of the PiP. The combination of characteristics reflects the philosophy of Imagine «Smaller, Sharper, Smarter».

Furthermore, because it is placed inside the frame of the Platinum router, it offers direct access, without the need for any cabling of course, to all the signals of the router.

This architecture, apart from ease of use, increases the reliability of the whole system, as whole banks of devices and cables are removed from the design. This contributes to the simplicity of the design, which in turn increases the serviceability and flexible upgrade of the system.

In the particular installation it was necessary to have two continuity rooms and therefore two points for controlling different multiviewer outputs of the same multiviewer separately.

The HView SX Pro multiviewer unit (board) is placed in the output board positions of the Platinum router with direct access to the 3G passive backpanel and redundant crosspoints. Via a web interface more than one operators can control different parts of the outputs, as well as select to view any source or destination PiP. Mr. Arvanitidi how would you characterize your cooperation with AmyDV, but also the level of equipment, and services (study, design, installation, cabling, settings, training) which were offered to the Television station Macedonia TV? Are there, in your opinion, any additional technological investments which the station will need to do in the future and which are they?  

Mr. Kostas Arvanitidis: AmyDV and Macedonia TV have many years of cooperation and their impeccable management, overcomes the client-supplier relationship, and was one of the parameters which affected our choice. From the initial stages of our conversations, until and after the final delivery of the project, the whole team of AmyDV was by our side actively, with substantial help, far and beyond anything that had been agreed in writing. Many aspects had been taken into account for updating, with the most important that of the transition to HD, with the smallest possible cost. The investment was to be made within the parameters of the market and smart solutions by Imagine Communications who would help so that the solution is within the frame base of a TV station such as Macedonia TV.      

Mr George Zois, General Manager of MakedoniaTV Mr Zoi, how easy, or difficult an issue was the depreciation of such an important investment for a TV station in our country? After such an impressive update to both the technological infrastructure of the Station, with deep roots into Information Technology (IT) and the File based work flow, what do you believe is the status of Macedonia TV and what is the level of Greek Television? Are some sectors improved significantly, and in general the conditions of the program of Macedonia TV and which are they? Finally, should such important investments continue in modern Television technology? Which other investments should we expect from Macedonia TV. Technologically, but also as far as the program is concerned?

Mr.George Zois: Firstly via your valued portal, I would like to thank AmyDV for their impeccable cooperation which we had throughout the whole of the installation of our new system, and also for the Technical support and services during the installation period and throughout the operation. With this move Macedonia TV entered the “new” era, to strengthen our position in the very difficult and competitive Media environment.
This investment was necessary, despite the fact that the timing was far from ideal and the depreciation of the investment correspondingly difficult.
With this upgrade our TV station entered for good this competitive arena, with valid claims.
Our aim now is to further update our program, which we have already started successfully.
Viewers already enjoy great hit shows and we will continue to invest in premium content with dynamic choices. Gentlemen thank you for your hospitality and the fruitful conversation we had. We hope that the example given from Macedonia TV will be followed by other TV stations. We would like to wish Macedonia TV to continue the successful road further and stronger, focusing on modern technology and the quality of content. Completing this truly interesting conversation about Technological Advancement of Macedonia TV, we are obligated to ask your opinion of the future of Television Technology and the traditional broadcasters who use it, but also your opinion  concerning our informative Technological Blogspot

Mr. Kostas Arvanitidis: Modern Technology offers many options for any size of TV station. From a Server which gives all the solutions for a small channel (all in one box), right up to the most demanding workflow and design of a huge television oprganisation.
It is time for the smaller TV stations to make this transition / change and be rid once and for all of the analog image. Half the TV world is about the quality of image and sound while the other half is the content.
An important role is played by your portal, since it has concentrated all the information and news which any broadcaster could ask for, whether doing a market research, or simply to inform oneself.

Mr. David Chalkidis: Developments in our industry are rapid and diverse. This needs to be translated in multiple potential opportunities of promotion and development of modern media companies. AmyDV flows through all the levels of these developments and a communication between our experienced people and your valued readers will help them optimally target their next move!
New technology offers the opportunity for smaller companies to compete with much larger ones on a global scale. For greek companies the size and the concentration of these populations gives them an advantage they can use to grow.
I am especially pleased that is on the same wavelength and available to all of us, providing information at the right time and the right level, as a lighthouse in the fog of information for anyone who is in the media industry or wants to get involved. A big BRAVO to you all.