Northern exposure

CTV consolidates its master-control operations

CTV has no regrets about the video-server technology it chose in 1997 to centralize and consolidate master-control operations for its many channels. As a testament to the network's confidence, it continues to build on the three-year-old MediaStream server framework.

Pinnacle Systems' MediaStream video servers handle commercial storage and playback for the three-feed Canadian network as well as four sports network feeds, three stations, three specialty-channel feeds and 24-hour news channel.

Independent broadcaster CTV initially placed 11 MediaStreams-two isolated mirrored sets of four Fibre Channel servers and three additional sets for program time-delay-in its Toronto facility, according to Vice President of Engineering Allan Morris. Four other facilities use two servers each, also mirrored with Fibre Channel interconnect.

Morris says the high-tech servers were needed to allow CTV to effectively switch between live and recorded segments throughout its stations.

CTV's long-form programming is played back on either Digital Betacam or Betacam SX tape. With master-control rooms in Toronto; Vancouver, British Columbia; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Calgary, Alberta; and Sudbury, Ontario, smaller studios in outlying areas no longer need their own control rooms.

When the initial choice of servers was made, CTV looked at models from Sony, IBM, Grass Valley, Avid, BTS and DEC. It chose Hewlett-Packard as the supplier before its server business was sold to Pinnacle.

"We wanted MPEG-2. Most did not have it. IBM had it, and Sony had an option for it," Morris says. "We also needed eight outputs, and MediaStream had the most efficient way of doing it. We needed them because our initial installation in northern Ontario had four stations, each with two master controls, and we wanted to consolidate them into one master control."

The first installation, in northern Ontario, cost less than $700,000 including the Louth automation system, which is driven by a play list, says Morris. The Toronto operation ran about $4 million, including digital master-control switchers, routing switchers, four Louth automation systems and peripherals.

One thing still being decided is what's the best way to upgrade the main server facility in Toronto. "We've maxed-out the main box that stores commercials. It's feeding a series of smaller boxes, so we'd just have to replace the main box with the newer series to provide more online capacity for commercials and promotions," Morris notes. "We now have 90 hours in the mainbox, but we expect to have over 200 hours."