Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BlackMagic's Broadcast Convertors & VideoHub

Having bad-mouthed the BlackMagic UltraScope a couple of weeks ago (it really is a waste of time!) I approached a recent job with some trepidation. For reasons of economy the customer wanted to use BM for glue products as well as the 16x32 VideoHub matrix. The VideoHub I knew from previous jobs and in the past I'd viewed them as too unreliable for TX or dubbing work (the three we put into a facility in 2007 crashed daily). However, we'd heard from the UK importer that they've moved manufacturing, improved QC and re-written the control software to make a much more reliable product.
So - we put this one in and I intentionally hooked one of the outputs to a ForA multi-tile display which has an alarm when one of the inputs drops. In a week I didn't hear the ForA complain once but we'll have to see if the reliability really is there.
The software has improved much since I last put one in - you control the matrix over a USB connection, but the controlling PC/Mac can re-share over TCP/IP and you can use the client software on many machines. In effect you can have a matrix control panel on every Avid or FCP - even at home over the web (if you open a hole in the firewall).
I think the only critique is the old TX/RX cross-over in the RS422 path. Proper matrices (Probel, Quartz etc) know when a device is a controller (typ. an Avid) and when something is controlled (typ. a VTR). The BlackMagic refers to these as 'workstation' and 'deck' respectively but this is silly if you're using a two-VTR edit pair (the recorder is now a 'workstation'!) or using an Avid in VTR-emulate mode (so the Avid is a 'deck'). This is one area where the VideoHub looses out to a matrix in that is doesn't have that proper control system. However - at a quarter of the cost of a comparable 'proper' setup it's a small moan.

The Broadcast Converters are a 1u 'everything-in, everything-out' box that you can 'wrap-around' a BetaSP machine (typically) and have it look like a DigiBeta - analogue to digital (for both video and audio) and back again simultaneously for not much money (less than a grand). It's a ten bit device and has the added advantage of HDMI for displaying on modern HD panels. My only criticism would be that although you can select which embedded/de-embedded audio group you work with it only has stereo analogue i/o (but on XLRs mind you!). All levels and input standards (composite/s-video/component) are controlled over USB which probably allowed them to keep the cost down. It is quite usable and you could see it being used as a control panel (on the FCP's or Avid's desktop?) rather than just for the engineer to dip into with his laptop. They really are hard to beat on features/economy and I'm impressed with the quality of the analogue signal handling.

So, it's not all bad news from BlackMagic (but the UltraScope is still pretty useless!)

Stop Press! I've just discovered that the Broadcast Converters don't pass the vertical interval! So - no VITC, caption data, widescreen switching etc etc - just the kid of things a Broadcaster would need! So - not the perfect solution I hoped for.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Philips SRU5170 universal remote

With some birthday money I got one of these chaps - I have to say I was very impressed having used/programmed Cambridge/Logitechs etc in the past. This one has an automated identification function that got everything (Philips DVD-R, XBox 360, old Aiwa VHS, Panasonic TV, no-name 2nd DVB-T tuner) but missed my home-brew PVR (bit of a stretch!). However - it was trivial to dig out the IR mini-PS/2 keyboard and programme the buttons for the PVR individually. So, lots of remotes banished to the cupboard.

Oh - and PC World have them on half-price at the moment - £24 and the Tottenham Court Road branch had loads in stock yesterday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

3G cable 'shoot-out'

Three gigabit HD-SDi video has been around for a couple of years now but I've yet to see a comprehensive review of different cable types and how they handle the newer 1080p50 signals. Bryant Broadcast contacted me a couple of months ago and asked if I could conduct a test of the six cable types they recommend for HD work. So, I've borrow a brand new Tek WFM8300 (launched at IBC, not that I'd have known!) and have six drums of cable and all the BNC ends and appropriate crimp tools at the ready! I'll be measuring jitter, noise and the overall state of the eye pattern at 10m intervals from 200m down to 10m and then when we have a good feel for the various cable types we'll turn our attention to the damage that jackfields, u-links and BNC couplers do to the signal.
The image above is a screen capture of the machine with 2m of Belden 1694 cable - rated at 4.5Ghz!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Broadcast Service Centre

Today is my birthday - I'm 42 (the age Elvis was when he died!) and so it's twenty-one years since I started at the Beeb. As I think back over my time as a broadcast engineer I can honestly say the most intellectually challenging time was when I worked in maintenance at BBC Television News and spent a lot of time fixing VTRs/cameras/monitors/DVEs etc. There is a sense of real achievement when you get a VTR making good recordings and send it back on it's way to studio/editing/graphics/transmission department. I never understood electronics as well as I did then and although things are generally more interesting (video compression is definitely up there) I rarely feel that satisfaction whereas in 1990 it was a daily occurrence.

Anyhow - Broadcast Service Centre is one of the mainstays of the industry - if you don't have in house engineers who fix VTs (and I don't think many firms do now) BSC are good guys - properly trained engineers who do a good job quickly. Looking around their website I felt a pang of envy! David Reid who runs BSC is a nice guy as well. They also do sales and service of other equipment.

Monday, September 07, 2009

One DVB-T upgrade that's close to my heart!

This must be a new antenna in anticipation of DVB-T2 as The Wrekin has been carrying digital TV for years (my parents get their Freeview from The Wrekin). The Shropshire Star is their local tabloid and their pictures are quite good. You can see some a picture I took of the same transmitter a couple of years ago here and I couldn't miss the chance to quote a bit of Housman.
ON Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Free internet tethering on iPhone without jailbreaking

Apparently O2 know about this but feel they couldn't go after anyone as their T&Cs specifically say unlimited data - how can they then say what you can use that data for? It reminds me of when broadband was just kicking off ten years ago and all the telcos had some ridiculous clause that you could only connect one computer to their aDSL! I was running a proxy server on my network back then and so I could legitimately say there was only one computer connected to their line!

Anyhow - This works like a dream, over USB and Bluetooth. Follow Richard Lai's walkthrough and you'll be in internet tether heaven in five minutes.