AKA Broadcast

Media Technology students were visited yesterday by founder and director of AKA Broadcast, Kris Whitely. Kris formed the company six years ago with the vision of creating a light-weight systems integration service that could bring the most appropriate equipment together to deliver cost-effective and timely projects. Since then AKA has worked with and for several big-name integrators such as Ericsson, Evertz, TSL, Gearhouse, SAM, Imagine Communications and VizRt to name a few. AKA Broadcast are also developing portable production kits and other out-of-the-box solutions to meet industry needs. Kris brought along one of the prototypes and showed students how a simple rig can be put together for small sports and music events.

The main purpose of Kris’ visit was to advertise some graduate positions within the company. AKA Broadcast have identified some niches in the market and are willing to invest in the next generation of broadcast engineers to help service those needs.

Teddy Rocks Festival

On the 27th April through to Monday 1st Teddy Rocks festival was in full swing. With multiple stages and tents it was a challenging technical brief but Media Technology student delivered for the charity event. Students provided technical support for their Production and Journalism cousins who were providing all the coverage and feeds for the event.

Nick Arbenz and Oliver Davies acted as technical lead and point of call respectively. Using the OB Truck as the centre of operations for main stage, feeds from 9 cameras and sound were fed in, vision mixed and distributed to the large screens next to the stage as well as screens in the VIP areas. A key technical challenge for this was the integration of a variety of formats including system cameras, Go Pro’s and laptop feeds.

The sound was mixed and recorded to accompany footage that would later be pieced together to use in advertising the event and as show reels for some of the bands involved. The event was a great opportunity for the students to demonstrate their ability to be self-sufficient and professional. Well done to all those involved.

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A Headphone HAT-Trick

A hat-trick of staff from Media Technology went up to G.R.A.S. Sound in Vibration in Bedford yesterday (15/05/17) for a series of seminars on headphone and headset measurements. Matt, Lee and Paul attended sessions on headset test systems and tools, learning about the latest improvements to ear couplers and anthropometric pinna. They saw a range of their tests fixtures from the fully-fledged KEMAR Head and Torso Simulator (HATS) – aimed at research and design applications – to simple flat-plate systems for checking consistency in production lines. It was a great opportunity to see some technical data on the systems and understand how they relate to current standards. There were interesting discussions around testing Bluetooth and noise cancelling headphones as well as the importance of phase response and filtering in high resolution audio.

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How Legacy Broadcast Definitions of Colour Impact on Video Systems Today

Senior Lecturer in Media Technology Paul Bourne presented a lecture to the local network of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) on Wednesday 10th May. Titled “How Legacy Broadcast Definitions of Colour Impact on Video Systems Today”, the talk discussed how divergent standards from the past bring challenges within the present converged world of computer graphics and broadcast technologies. It explored the concepts of valid and legal colours and the impact this has on production workflows. There was a good turnout from members and non-members including several from the broadcast sector as well as plenty who were new to the concepts. This stimulated a good amount of discussion and made for a thought-provoking evening. We hope to announce some further projects with the IET in the near future.

Vision of the Future for Second Years

Yesterday a second year cohort dropped into Ericsson Television to learn about future technologies within the broadcast sector. Steven Woodhead (Woody) and Rod Harris invited the students for a tour of Ericsson’s facilities including their Picture Quality analysis suite, experience centre as well as their systems verification and customer support labs.

Algorithms expert Chris Duxbury presented us with a comparison between HD and 4K images on a couple of consumer displays before demonstrating the benefits and limitations of High Dynamic Range pictures on an OLED display. Chris described the formats and algorithms currently in use and discussed the increasing importance of software-based pre-processing to optimise compression efficiency. We had an interesting discussion about the subjective nature of Picture Quality Analysis and how vendors and now choosing a particular look and feel as part of their brand – this often includes sharper but noisier pictures rather than the softer pictures that have traditionally been transmitted for HD. The students were particularly interested in the block structures used within H.264 and H.265 and how the alignment of graphics impacts on artefacts.

Next the students visited the systems verification testing area where engineers put complete systems through their paces by measuring and observing their performance under a plethora of configurations and operating conditions. We met Marvin – the Motor / Armature Robotic Verification Interface. Marvin was built on site to automate the process of pushing buttons, engaging connectors and pulling option cards. This allows Ericsson to thoroughly test hardware issues, quickly, continuously and consistently. We also looked at device verification including climate control ovens and radio frequency interference labs.

After a quick coffee we met up with Ron who looks after the customer experience centre. He introduced us Ericsson’s latest cloud based IP platform ‘MediaFirst’; this allows consumers to assimilate content from multiple vendors into one profile-based interface. MediaFirst is able to track your content across multiple devices and make recordings and recommendations based on your profile. We also looked across a range of equipment demonstrated to customers and discussed current trends.

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Ericsson’s Customer Experience Centre

We finished off with a visit to the build lab where systems are assembled and verified before they are shipped to the customer. This is also where Woody’s team earn their crust by reproducing and rectifying faults where they do occur. We also bumped into a Media Technology graduate James Grant who gave us an overview of the next generation control systems, which have moved away from dedicated servers to virtualised services that can now be run as virtual machines on pooled hardware or cloud platforms.

Thanks to Rod, Woody and their colleagues for their hospitality. The students were certainly impressed with the facilities and the tour showed several fascinating facets to the broadcast sector.

Sky Television in London

Before the Easter break, Brian Young took a party of students up to Sky Television in West London for a look around. The students were from the third year Broadcast Systems Design course and the second year Television Operations course.

On arrival at the Osterley Campus, they were met by Ian Fraser the Technical Operations manager for Sky Production Studios, who supply all the technical staff to Sky’s many and varied studios. They began with a tour of Sky News and saw the Sky News set surrounded by in-vision Newsroom desks.

They moved to the newest building on campus, Sky Central, which houses the Glass Box studio that now acts as the presentation space for most of Sky News’ output. The next stop was Sky Studios. They first looked into the Sky Sports News control rooms, production and audio. We saw how a second sound operator controls communications with outside contributors, checking talkback is working OK and sound levels are satisfactory before handing the live circuit over to production.

Students saw how the monitoring screens both in the front stack and at each operator position were individually configurable within the production and Sound control rooms for an unused studio. They also looked at the wall box layouts and Ian explained how any general purpose studio could be attached to any gallery, allowing sets to be struck and reset and lit, while the gallery was used with a different studio floor for maximum efficiency.

A quick tour of Transmission and MCR was next followed by the Sky Sports News Newsroom at close hand. The students saw a live studio operation taking place before it was time to board the coach back to Southampton.

Brian commented that as far as he could tell the students had had a worthwhile day and some of them had even asked mostly sensible questions. We hope to be able to repeat the trip next year.

Uncle Sean Returns to Solent

He may not quite be the father of Media Technology but Sean is certainly something akin to an Uncle. He was there at it’s inception and has been a key player throughout its formative years. Sean now works as an independent broadcast training consultant as Media Technology Training and is Education Director (Academic) for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.
Last week Sean came to share some of his industry insights with final year Broadcast Systems Engineering and Television Production Technology students. He introduced us to Media Asset Management processes and implementations based on a recent case study of Turner Broadcast. The session put many of the theoretical concepts from the unit into context and highlighted some of the challenges still facing companies that are implementing these complex and often proprietary systems. It was great to hear from Sean and the students found the session very insightful.