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Showtime for Datapath x4 at NOS studios

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Showtime for Datapath x4 at NOS studios
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The three biggest television studios at the largest news organisation in the Netherlands have been upgraded to incorporate multiscreen display walls for media playback at ultra-high resolution. The solution to the high stress signal distribution demands of this high profile installation is being provided by the x4 display wall controller from Datapath.

The Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS) translates literally as the Netherlands Broadcasting Foundation. As the country's largest organisation of its type, the NOS has a statutory obligation to deliver independent and reliable output for three Dutch public television channels. Typical programmes include daily news bulletins, parliamentary reporting and the coverage of sports events.

There is no understating the importance of the NOS as a vital, national media and communications service. In fact, in the event of emergencies or a major news story breaking, it even assumes control of the public networks and co-operates with other members of the system to provide rolling coverage.

Aiding the upgrade

Central to the ongoing reputation of such an organisation is the need for continuous evolution and updating. As a consequence, in early 2012, the NOS decided to implement a completely new house style and setting for all its news, sports and current affairs programmes. To best facilitate this decision, it organised a high profile design contest.

The brief for the contest outlined the new way of news broadcasting that the NOS wanted to introduce: modern, dynamic and closer to the viewer. It was clear that such a transformation would entail the upgrade of various studios, making them capable of giving each programme a brand new style and identity. According to the NOS, the design project submitted by Fisheye of Ghent, Belgium perfectly matched its perception of the news of the future.

System integrator, Fisheye, is an experienced studio designer and constructor. The company has the means to realise concepts and ideas in-house. The company's workshop features high specification machinery, recording space, editing rooms, voice-over studios and technical space; thus providing an environment where creativity and technology can readily cross-pollinate.

Think blink

Supporting Fisheye on the NOS project was system technology specialist and studio integration consultant, Blinkblink, a Datapath distributor in the Benelux region.

Blinkblink has an established reputation as a solid partner when it comes to a wide range of straightforward and complex communications tools, particularly for digital signage, multi-screen set-ups and broadcast solutions. The company recently added to its technology portfolio by becoming a distributor of the Datapath x4 stand-alone display wall controller – perfect timing to make it a central component in the proposal supplied to the NOS.

"Looking at the project brief, it was pretty tough to be honest," states Blinkblink's owner and managing director, Kris Goubert. "Literally, the NOS wanted 12 x HD and said 'can you deliver a solution?' Of course, we had the Datapath x4 up our sleeve and knew this could match up to expectations."

Wall-to-wall benefits

The design proposed by Fisheye allowed for a surprisingly large studio to be built in a relatively small space. A stratified video rear wall, in combination with horizontal LED stripes, provides an impression of space – in fact the large video canvas appears to 'float' in front of the illuminated wall.

It is composed of no less than 274 separate video cubes. In the largest studio (studio 8), the total playback resolution is the equivalent to 12 x HD next to each other. The configuration relies on playback power provided by a Picturall Octo media server, which provides a HD DVI on each output at a resolution of 1920 x 1080. However, to multiply this, a Datapath x4 is connected to each of the server's outputs, providing a custom HD resolution of 3840x1080 at 50 Hz.

"The x4 takes out the first and second HD files and the server 'sees' these outputs as independent screens," explains Mr Goubert. "In fact, the dual link DVI input on the Datapath x4 is critical to this application as many competitor products only offer a standard single link."

Cream of the crop

Each output of the Datapath x4 display wall controller can represent an arbitrary crop region of the original input image. The output resolution and frame rate does not need to be related to that of the input, as the Datapath x4 will optionally upscale and frame rate convert each cropped region independently: perfect for the effect desired at the NOS studios.

In studio 8, the media server has an input slot to accommodate four HDSDI feeds from the studio matrix. From here, six outputs are connected to six Datapath x4 display wall controllers. Each group of 6x5 cubes is served by one output of one Datapath x4. These regions can overlap to allow any output to replicate another, or they can be configured to support any creative splice of the source material. With each x4 providing 2 x HD, this gives a video wall capable of media file playback at 12 x HD. Custom software enables the crew to playback all the media as a cue list.

Although installed in July 2012, a full test set-up was first constructed at BlinkBlink where stress tests were performed – testing with very high resolution media files and data rates to ensure that the overall system could keep up.

Cost effective solution

"Television studios are typically complex applications, but the efficiency of our business operation in combination with a down to earth attitude and cost effective proposal clearly made for a winning formula in this case," says Mr Goubert. "In fact, there was a competitor product being considered initially, but using the Datapath x4 meant we could come in significantly cheaper without any compromise in performance."

The NOS studios have now gone live and the changes are instantly visible. The biggest impact can be seen in the 8 o'clock NOS Journaal (the most viewed and therefore the most important news broadcast provided by the NOS), in which the news anchor walks through the entire studio instead of remaining seated during the broadcast. The intention is that the anchor comes closer to the public and makes the news more attractive and dynamic to watch. Little do the viewers realise that the real magic lies in the technology.