By Robin Brown,
Product manager for Vitec Group’s Autoscript and Autocue brands
As media operations continue their migration from baseband SDI to packet-based Internet Protocol (IP) workflows, operators and system engineers are rethinking their approach to virtually every aspect of production.
The potential benefits of IP are highly compelling, but they can only be realized if all production elements – from servers, routers, and switchers to cameras and prompting systems – can work together in a tightly integrated and seamless way.
Sometimes overlooked, prompting is nonetheless a broadcast essential that should be carefully considered in any forward-looking production studio driven by an IP infrastructure. While some form of prompting has been around since the dawn of television, computer-based prompters lately haven’t kept pace with the rapid changes transforming the broadcast industry. For IP-based production facilities to succeed, prompting systems will have to be brought into the new world of packet-based signal distribution workflows.
At Autoscript, that premise was our launching point as we set out to define a next-generation prompting system for the IP age. What might this solution look like? What are the essential characteristics of an IP prompting solution, and how does such a solution fit into a broader production workflow? In this article, we’ll take you inside our thought process as we designed our IP prompting solution.
Defining IP-based prompting requires much more than a simple software or hardware upgrade to existing solutions; it demands a system-wide approach. The prompting system must fit seamlessly into the fully networked and geographically dispersed IP production facilities that are now under development in many parts of the world.
An important aspect of this “networkability” is the significant amount of intelligence built into state-of-the-art prompting monitors. This intelligence allows prompting monitors to be identified on the IP network and controlled both locally and remotely by a single operator from a centralized location. The operator can access multiple prompters and determine, at a glance, whether each is functioning correctly. Such a setup also ensures seamless upload of new scripts from the production facility’s in-house newsroom system for output on the operator’s chosen monitors.
With built-in intelligent scroll technology, each monitor can render the script image locally from small unicast data packets sent from the prompting software. In this manner, the prompting system can avoid sending video over IP and sidestep the drawbacks that go with it, including lack of bandwidth, latency issues, and synchronization errors. With much less data sent over the IP network, all of the monitors can remain in constant communication with the master application to ensure reliable synchronization and easier operation.
As we’ve mentioned, the prompting solution should connect to the studio IP network to allow a single operator to control the system locally or from anywhere in the world. (This configuration allows, for example, an operator in New York to control a prompter in New York and then, from the same workstation, begin operating a prompter in Los Angeles.) The prompting system can send control signals over an IP network to the prompting monitor to manage script, speed, and other attributes, whether the monitor is located down the hall or across the globe.
For the first time in the history of prompting, an IP-based workflow makes such capabilities possible with speed and accuracy. It’s easy to see how IP prompting might help reduce crew costs across locations and also serve as a backup for studios in different regions of the world.
Reduced Cabling for Improved Productivity
Using on-camera monitors with built-in intelligence, an IP-based prompting system can allow all elements to be connected with off-the-shelf Ethernet (Cat-5/6) cable. Because just one standard of cable is required, the prompting system can be easily and efficiently integrated with other equipment.
In addition, Power over Ethernet (PoE) can play a key role by removing the need for additional power supplies to drive devices such as desktop hand controllers and foot controllers. Large production facilities can route hand controller signals dedicated to each individual prompting monitor through an Ethernet switch with a PoE injector. At the same time, independent prompter operators can use a scroll engine with PoE to provide the necessary connectivity to the main studio’s IP network, without having to use an Ethernet switch.
Ideally, the prompting solution should integrate key IP technologies tightly into the prompting infrastructure. One such technology is Network Time Protocol (NTP), a networking protocol for clock synchronization between computer systems over packet-switched IP networks. Within a standard workflow, prompter clocks require additional time code generators and networks to produce linear time code (LTC) or vertical interval time code (VITC). By utilizing NTP, the prompting system can allow all devices on the network to be accurately synced both locally and globally — and keep cabling requirements to a minimum.
Flexibility, Ease of Use, and Reliability
At Autoscript, our greatest challenge in enabling prompting over IP was figuring out how to make the software and monitor talk to one other in the IP world. By adding Ethernet connectivity into every component of a prompting system, we guarantee smooth and fully compatible integration with other parts of the IP workflow. Additionally, as broadcast facilities evolve, the availability of built-in video inputs help to ensure a smooth transition to IP. During our development of the workflow, we also addressed other key production challenges by reducing system weight, simplifying setup, and making transport easier. All of these factors help to streamline operations, giving users additional flexibility in improving productivity and realizing more efficient resource management.
In summary, as the production world moves its video routers, cameras, switchers, and other components to IP, studio engineers and system integrators would be wise not to overlook that ancillary but critical element of production, the teleprompter. For the first time, prompting can include built-in intelligence from software to hardware, which allows each individual system to be identified and controlled by a single operator from a centralized location.
At the end of the day, broadcasters and production studios want a seamless IP prompting workflow that combines the connectivity, flexibility, ease of use, and reliability required in the highly competitive environment in which they operate. Thanks to breakthroughs in prompting over IP, such workflows are now possible. Indeed, the new age of IP-based prompting systems promises to have a profound impact on general studio operations, as well as on the nature of prompting itself.