iN DEMAND Facility Embraces HD

iN DEMAND, in an effort to best meet the needs of expanding HD viewership across the country, has completed an HD upgrade of its programming, origination, and playout facility at the Comcast Media Center in Denver, CO. With the help of gear from Cisco, EMC, Evertz, Harmonic, Miranda, Omneon, and more, iN DEMAND has quadrupled its live HD-streams capacity to 4,000 (out of a total of 7,000 live feeds), representing more than 20,000 broadcast hours of sports and PPV event content annually.

“We carry out-of-market sports on 24 SD channels, and in order to increase the quality and be more competitive, we decided to upgrade to HD,” explains John Vartanian, iN DEMAND CTO. “As part of this project the two satellite transponders added 18 HD channels in MPEG4 using DVBS2, allowing us to carry up to 18 HD games simultaneously.”

Courtesy CMC

The CMC provides an end-to-end content management system for iN DEMAND’s channels, including multichannel network origination, traffic management, live sports, event integration, and transmission. The technology enhancements completed earlier this year encompassed two phases; the first being upgrades of two new operations centers.

The first new space is a dedicated out-of-market subscription sports package control center, covering MLB Extra Innings, NHL Center Ice, MLS Direct Kick, and NBA League Pass. Live sports feeds come to the CMC from both broadcasters and regional sports networks across the United States and Canada.

The second control center handles live PPV events, including boxing, MMA, and wrestling, plus scheduled PPV movie and event channels. As a result of the control center upgrades earlier this year, iN DEMAND re-launched 38 channels and was ready to add 15 new HD sports channels during phase two, which occurred during the summer.

John Schultz, VP of broadcast operations for iN DEMAND, says that previously iN DEMAND had multiple control rooms handling the incoming and PPV content. The move to HD expanded as more and more networks would make the move to HD, but iN DEMAND required a separate space for the HD workflows. Now one large room is split into two, with one half handling movies and events and the other used for the sports networks.

“The combined infrastructure and processing is all done in HD, but now we down convert the outbound signal in SD,” Schultz adds. “So we only need to process it once and the higher quality feed also improves the quality of the SD channels.”

The new workflow calls for games to be brought in from regional networks over fiber or satellite and then decrypted and passed on to the control room. Promos and commercial breaks are inserted and the games are monitored and also set up for later replay. A mosaic service with four games on the screen at once is also built before the streams are encoded and sent out to affiliates via satellite.

Specific gear used includes servers from EMC, Hewlett Packard, and Omneon; encoding software from Ericsson and Rhozet; SD and HD encoders from Harmonic; Evertz multiviewers, HD router, and modular gear; Harris Icon master control and branding systems; a Miranda Vertigo graphics platform; automation systems from Titan; and transcoding software from Telestream.

One example of the impact the enhancements have had is on HD program availability: iN DEMAND had been distributing 12 NHL Center Ice games in HD every week; it now averages more than 40 HD games a week. This upgrade has also enabled the HD PPV channel to go from part-time to a full 24/7 schedule.

The technological change has also improved how blackouts are handled in local markets. Previously, viewers would simply see a black screen. Now viewers see a text message and graphics.

The additional HD capacity is also warmed up and ready to go for MLB Extra Innings in 2012, and for the NBA when it is back in action beginning December 25.

“We were fortunate that we were able to build the control room from scratch in a new place so we could maintain the old control room and then shadow and cut over to the new service,” adds Schultz. “And on the transmission side, we set up a simulcast period for a few weeks to tune up the new IRDs so that clients could cut over at their leisure.”

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