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A View from This Year’s “Tech Emmys” in Las Vegas

January 26, 2010 - 0 Comments

By Bart Spreister, VP/GM Digital Media Networks, Service Provider Video Technology Group

The 61st Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy AwardsIt’s always gratifying to be part of a winning team, even (and perhaps especially!) as a behind-the-scenes contributor. I’m talking about the 61st annual Technology & Engineering Emmys, put on by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Las Vegas, during the recent Consumer Electronics Show.

I had the good fortune to sit with friends and colleagues at Fox Entertainment Group, which won a Tech Emmy for their “pioneering efforts in development and implementation of network distribution workflows for ATSC DTV Development.”

Here’s what that means: Fox, which, with all other U.S. broadcasters, switched to all-digital transmissions in 2009, pioneered a way to maintain a consistent and high-quality look and feel of its video feed, including graphics transitions amongst affiliates. The Fox national feed reaches 294 affiliate stations, so the ability to automate the process was a big deal, internally.

Maybe this sounds obvious – to splice between national and local content and graphics, without degrading picture quality. Turns out it’s not – or it wasn’t, prior to Fox’s work.

Prior to the digital cutover, any national feeds entering a local station often required decoding and manipulation (e.g. to insert a different logo or message), then re-encoding, prior to airing. Each time a piece of video is manipulated, the potential exists to degrade quality – which is why it was and is important to maintain a clean, high-quality feed, between national and local locations.

In addition, Fox overhauled its methods for displaying emergency alert system (EAS) messages, all in digital. Again – up until now, inserting emergency messages onto the TV screen involved converting the feed to baseband, then re-encoding it into digital. Fox wanted a way to avoid the baseband conversion, and do it all in digital.

All of this matters because it allows Fox to avoid the re-encoding process, and thus maintain pristine video quality to its viewers. Plus, it gives Fox visibility into which graphics and logos are used, and when, by the 294 different affiliate stations broadcasting Fox content.

All in, Fox pioneered a way to automate the digital broadcast process, including locally-generated graphics, without degrading picture quality.

As we like to say here at Cisco, that’s the power of IP.

It was exciting for me, and the Cisco team, because the win involved a piece of gear we make, called “DCM,” or the Digital Content Manager. Plus, just having the opportunity to work on a new and innovative solution, with Fox guiding us in understanding use cases and operational problems, was interesting and fun.

Saying it was great to be a part of this honor is a massive understatement! The ambience, the company, and just being a part of “The Emmys” – with comedian and pop culture icon Jerry Lewis as a key honoree – it was amazing. I’m deeply grateful for the experience.

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