Putting the BRAIN behind centralcasting

It may sound strange to have a brain in the heart of a facility, but that's just what Harris is looking to do with its Broadcast Resource Asset and Information Network (BRAIN) approach to centralcasting.

BRAIN will incorporate facility monitoring and control, wide-area automation, network-ready broadcast products, network gateways, connectivity and transport readiness. "It's bundled together to form a total solution for the group that is looking at consolidation," says Harris' Jay Adrick. He adds that, at this point, final pricing hasn't been determined but he does expect some cost savings vs. buying components individually.

Like other manufacturers, Harris doesn't provide every piece of the centralcasting puzzle. And it is also working with other manufacturers to make sure connectivity isn't a problem, with the use of such programs as its Connectivity Partnership. Eighteen companies have signed on to work with Harris and make sure their products interface with Harris' Broadcast Manager via Simple Network Management Protocol. Among them are Grass Valley Group, Leitch, Miranda, SeaChange and Snell & Wilcox.

"A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes among certain manufacturers that is aimed at interactivity between products," says Adrick. "There's the wide-area automation and protocols related to that; there are the monitoring and control standardization protocols. But the goal of the talk isn't a single product but rather an architecture."

With such broad definitions of what centralcasting is, Adrick and Harris have been busy trying to formulate some general theories of what centralcasting entails. The key, of course, is making it economically viable.

"Right now, the biggest barrier has been the high cost of interconnection," says Adrick. "Two years ago, a 155-MB/s OC3 connection from New York to Los Angeles would have averaged $40,000 a month. Today, that same connectivity is $10,000 a month, and it's believed that, in two years, that will be $2,000 a month. The bad news is, it's still expensive to get from the station to the long-distance carrier in the market. And you have to repeat that connectivity at the other end."

One solution to this last-mile problem may reside with either microwave or even working with local cable companies. "The FCC put out a notice of proposed rulemaking recently that would allow for digital microwave transmission identical to what the common carriers operate in what they call Part 101 service," adds Adrick. "And it would become conceivable that the last mile could be a privately held microwave channel from the point of presentation to the station."

Adrick says that cable companies could also help out by providing a fiber conntection to the station in exchange for programming. "Stations could also beat down the costs with local phone companies," he says. "I think those barriers are about to be overrun, and, when that happens, I think there will be a much stronger commitment to move ahead with centralization. Today, the connectivity costs and the savings in manpower just about balance each other out."

Harris' offerings include a combination of automation and monitoring products, and Adrick notes that the company's recently released Network Device Control Protocol will play a part in the company's automation solution. "The traditional automation system is a device server and localized control using RS422, but I'm talking about wide-area automation where we're using new protocols to talk to devices."

The second area in which Harris fits is facility monitoring and control: being able to look at what's happening at a remote site from a central monitoring point. "Exchange control and monitoring are realities that everyone is going to have to own up to if they're going to survive in this broadcast world we're moving into."