Harris will head to NAB in April with a number of new products the company hopes will help broadcasters control their ever growing number of facilities staffed by an ever smaller number of engineers.
"One of the key things is there are fewer engineering technologists available who understand this technology," says Hal Wilson, vice president, studio products and systems.
That makes broadcasters' top challenge keeping pace with how equipment is operating. If there is a problem, the staff needs to know what is wrong and whether the problem will have an immediate impact on on-air operations or if there is a time cushion for solving it. To answer that challenge, Harris is introducing Recon, a system that lets an engineering staff not only know the status of equipment but also differentiate alarms so that they can tell how quickly the engineering problem will become an on-air problem.
An important aspect of the system, says Jay Adrick, vice president, strategic business development, is its ability to read the scheduling system. That allows it to know when equipment will be involved in the on-air chain or can be taken out of the chain. "It dynamically changes with the schedule."
A new networking product is NetVX, a one-box system the company says provides functionality that currently requires up to 14 separate components. More important, it allows transport of video, audio and data over ATM and IP networks simultaneously. And it can bridge different network types.
"If a station uses an ATM backbone from a centralcast location and then an IP backbone from the station to the transmitter site," Adrick explains, "this will translate the ATM network protocol into IP."
The system has two sizes: a five-rack system that can hold up to 15 cards and a one-rack unit that can hold up to three.
"The 15-card unit might be used at a centralcasting location with multiple encoders or transport-stream interfaces," Adrick points out, "while the five-card unit would be used at the station, which would only need a single decoder and the other cards."
That need for improved monitoring extends outside of the station to the transmitter. One new product in that area is eCDI, which allows for the networking and monitoring of transmitters via SNMP and TC/IP.
"The era of dialing up a transmitter and checking its parameters by phone is a thing of the past," says Dale Mowry, vice president, transmission systems. "It's not only time-consuming and expensive but also cumbersome."
The one-rack-unit system, he says, provides monitoring that isn't point-to-point. The result is that engineers can tie into the system in a number of ways (provided they have security clearance). A computer with a Web browser can do the job as can a Web-enabled cellular phone or even a Web-enabled PDA.
Because it is Web-based, the system has new monitoring features that go beyond those that could be checked by phone. A constellation diagram to check demodulation is available, as is the ability to check signal-to-noise ratio on a number of sites and compliance with the FCC mask. The system can also monitor more than one transmitter, an important feature as centralized operations and duopolies grow in popularity.
"An engineering staff that has several stations can contact and monitor the different sites on an automated basis," adds Mowry. "They can check every transmitter every hour for up to 15 different parameters."
The system will be available for DTV transmitters first, with a demonstration at NAB featuring the Harris Sigma transmitter.
In other transmitter news, Harris customers can now expect the Apex exciter to be standard in all transmitters, with the exception of the company's low-power, minimum-feature units. Among the strengths of the Apex exciter, Mowry says, are its electronic platform with a VGA display and the ability to get back up and running within seven seconds of any failure. It also has linear adaptive correction for signal-to-noise and distance as well as nonlinear adaptive correction for power.