Red Bee Media has handed broadcast systems integrator TSL the multimillion pound contract to build a new playout facility for Channel 4.

The Maidenhead-based company won a competitive tender to design, integrate and deliver a dedicated file-based operation which will provide media management and play out 43 separate channels and services, including C4, More 4, Film 4 and all the +1 channels.

The entire C4 channel operations department - including library, quality control and transcoding - will relocate to the new facility at Red Bee's Broadcast Centre in White City. Post-production and graphics will remain at Horseferry Road under the management of Red Bee Media.

It is predicted that the new operation will deliver significant improvements in the efficiency of Channel 4's operations. The facility will not be fully operational until next summer, but the initial deadline for the handover of the technology is February 2009.

TSL chief executive David Phillips believes his company's size and ability to work quickly helped to win the contract. “There are very few systems integrators that would have the capacity in terms of skillset, number of people and build space to allow this to be done in a very tight timescale,” he told Broadcast. “This is something that we majored on in our proposal.”

Red Bee Media senior development manager David Popper said TSL had demonstrated, “an excellent understanding” of key technology challenges and that it presented, “innovative cost-effective solutions to resolve them”.

The new resource will be pre-built and tested in Maidenhead before it is installed at Red Bee. It will consist of a range of technologies including four Omneon Spectrum media servers; Morpheus automation and Cygnus routing from Pro-Bel; a Snell and Wilcox Quasar Ph.C for up-conversion; and Axon Digital Design modular infrastructure equipment.

The entire facility will operate in high definition, with any standard definition services being subject to down-conversion.

Project management

The project has been broken down into eight components to make it more manageable. Each part will have its own deadline and TSL will receive payment on delivery of each component.

“On a project that is so technically complex it's very important to have clear boundaries that everyone can work towards,” Phillips said. “This gives us clear deliverables so the customer understands what he's getting and when.

"From the commercial side there are clear milestones that customers can sign off. They need to see that a certain aspect has been done before they release the finances for it.”

TSL is currently completing the design of the system. Orders have been placed with manufacturers and kit should arrive either later this month or in October.

Once the technology has been installed, staff orientation and training will be required. The migration of channels will begin on a gradual basis with the full system operational by summer 2009.

More technology details

The Snell & Wilcox Quasar Ph.C will provide Channel 4 with a motion-compensated HDTV upconverter to produce clear and sharp HD outputs from a variety of SD inputs.

“Quasar Ph.C is a key component in Channel 4's strategy to bring HD programming to the market as quickly as possible, while laying the groundwork for future delivery of native HD content,” said Joe Zaller, vice president of marketing, Snell & Wilcox. “The Snell & Wilcox Quasar Ph.C is the only HD Upconverter that uses motion compensation technology improving the traditional delivery workflow.”

AXON Digital Design is supplying the modular infrastructure equipment (glue) for this project. The equipment will be used throughout the main play-out, back-up and linking facilities. Over 600 Synapse modules will be used and these will be placed in 45 SFR18-frames.

The Synapse modules for Channel 4 includes down converters, cross converters, aspect ratio converters, audio description processors, back-up switchers, logo inserters, signal integrity checkers (HD & SD), video delays (HD & SD), frame synchronizers (HD & SD), distribution amplifiers (HD, SD, analogue video, analogue audio & AES) and Dolby E encoder and decoders.