GEARING UP FOR NAB: GRAPHICS

Graphics Makers Tout Workflow Integration

At this year’s NAB Show, a number of vendors including Avid, Chyron, Orad, Vizrt and Pixel Power will be featuring graphic production and playout tools designed or updated to offer TV stations greater ability to share, revise and re-use content. Also in the mix are improved ability to incorporate social media functions, compatibility with third-party applications, virtual studio offerings and broader multichannel capabilities.

The top vendors of graphics tools for broadcast TV are all heading into the 2012 NAB Show with mostly upgraded versions of their most popular graphic production and playout tools with an emphasis on integrating systems with more versatile workflow and overlapping functions.

While Avid, Chyron, Orad and Vizrt have focused on adding functionality plus ancillary apps to existing software, Pixel Power is bucking the trend by also introducing new hardware solutions.

Chyron’s major focus for 2012 is end-to-end graphics workflow for TV station groups, according to Chief Technology Officer Bill Hendler. “We’ve done a lot of work to enable and automate sharing between producers in an enterprise, and to allow producers to revise and re-use content over a wide area network, without having to rely on an art department every time.”

To that end, Chyron will demonstrate the latest iteration of its BlueNet workflow platform, already the centerpiece of the majority of Chyron’s U.S. station sales. BlueNet offers artists, producers and techs the simultaneous ability to distribute and manage content on many systems, including master control. “As master control graphics become more sophisticated, a lot of our work has been to integrate channel branding and master control products,” Hendler says.

And Chyron’s most popular master control and graphics application gets a major overhaul for 2012 as ChannelBox version 4.6 makes its debut at NAB. In addition to typical promo displays and supers, ChannelBox “can automatically translate any data — RSS feeds, traffic, financial, weather and more — into graphics formatted for on-air, the Web or anywhere else,” says Hendler.

Chyron is especially keen on the Social Media Editor now built into ChannelBox, which recently debuted on air during live coverage of the Screen Actors Guild Awards on TNT and TBS. This software-based product allows an operator to monitor and select incoming tweets from any feed and quickly display them on-air.  

BRAND CONNECTIONS

“A lot of the social media products we’ve seen to date are designed to complement primetime network shows,” says Hendler. “Our social media tools are tailored to the needs of local station production, especially news.”

At NAB, Chyron will announce partnerships with leading social networks that “integrate with social television platforms for a second- or third-screen viewing experience,” says Hendler. That includes a return path that invites viewers to engage and interact with TV programs while they watch.

To ensure compatibility with a wide range of third-party editing and media management applications, Chyron will unveil MediaMaker, new software-based technology that seamlessly integrates Chyron graphics with file-based workflows. MediaMaker employs Media Object Server (MOS) standards, “which almost all newsroom graphics are based on,” Hendler says.

“The new extensions of that standard let us exchange content seamlessly with any systems, whether they are cloud- or ground-based.” As a result, MediaMaker can drag graphics or video content in or out of project timelines whether created by tools from Chyron, Apple, Adobe, Grass Valley or others.

Beyond mere compatibility, Chyron believes this cross-platform initiative benefits the entire enterprise. “It eliminates several labor-intensive tasks from the workflow, for example manually translating formats for editing,” says Hendler “This lets producers use the newsroom as the content hub for anything needed for a story.” Hendler says that Chyron will be showcasing specific cross-platform partnerships with several other vendors “between now and NAB.”

Orad is synonymous with the high-end visual effects and virtual sets seen on broadcast and cable networks around the world. Now they plan to leverage those international innovations on the local level — specifically, by making high-end tools less labor-intensive and more affordable.

“We can reduce a large number of systems into one system,” says VP of Sales and Marketing Shaun Dail. “If you streamline your workflow, you can put more time and money into creativity and produce a better show.”

Dail has presided over an eightfold sales increase since launching Orad’s North American division just five years ago. “We are just starting to enter the call-letter market, but our market share is growing about 15% per year.” Dail believes local stations will embrace Orad’s network-quality graphics to help them compete against the many national news platforms available to viewers 24/7.

At NAB, Orad will showcase the latest version of Maestro, its primary tool for building and finishing graphics and animation, then organizing the finished files for playout on air and other platforms. “Maestro is very news-oriented, designed to work with the AP’s ENPS, Avid’s iNews and other rundown-based newsroom systems.”

Maestro’s feature set includes shortcuts such as the After Effects Manager that allows producers or a technical director to quickly access and change pre-built graphics — to correct spelling, add a freezeframe or stretch the duration of an animation — and drop the corrected file back into the newscast rundown.

And now, many of these functions can be controlled using Maestro’s new iPad app — a variation on the iPad Controller Orad developed for network newscasts during the 2010 elections with its Interact graphic display application, now upgraded for 2012.

“Very often, these tools aren’t available on [the] station level,” Dail says. “This is a relatively inexpensive system that lets you get the talent out from behind the desk to interact with graphics. Unlike a touchscreen, you don’t have to turn your back on the camera. The iPad lets you face the audience.” Orad’s iPad controller can also be used as a Telestrator.

Maestro and Interact work seamlessly with Orad’s channel-branding solution, 3DPlay, which generates vivid 3D graphics for promos, video clip playback and multiple data displays — and not just for one station. 3DPlay can consolidate control of centralized devices and applications to provide real-time graphics and templates for a large station group. This dramatically reduces cost at the station level, while maintaining a customizable, high-end graphic look.

Orad is especially proud of its high-end virtual studio solution, ProSet, and its several state-of-the-art camera tracking solutions, which for 2012 have been made faster and easier to operate. Combined with 3DPlay, these systems can create the illusion of an enormous studio enhanced by flying video graphics as in this virtual set “built” by TNT for the NBA Playoffs. Together with Maestro, ProSet can be put to a very different use, animating and displaying numerous streams of data.

Most graphics vendors sell customized third-party CPUs and GPUs to run their software. Not Pixel Power. By building both the hardware and software platforms, Pixel Power believes it can deliver higher-quality output more reliably in systems that are simple to expand and upgrade.

“Dedicated hardware for graphics gives us an edge in terms of achieving new capabilities and levels of real-time performance,” says CEO Pete Challinger, who credits those advantages as important reasons why Pixel Power “has several hundred clients in the U.S., including many who have been customers continuously for more than 10 years.”

Pixel Power’s best-selling products in the U.S. are its LogoVision branding and playout devices and Clarity, its family of switchable graphics production system designed for news, sports and mobile production. Both products will announce software upgrades at NAB.

But two Pixel Power products will be making their first appearance at NAB: The ChannelMaster family of scalable channel playout systems and the Gallium graphics and media management software.

ChannelMaster integrates storage, graphics, DVE, subtitling, master control functions plus other features in a single dedicated hardware platform. “It can replace many devices in the traditional playout chain with no compromise in quality,” says Challinger.  Among the devices built into ChannelMaster are dedicated processors for generating real time 3D graphic, and a master control switcher with two video inputs.

ChannelMaster can be controlled by third-party automation and media asset systems or by Pixel Power’s own Gallium system. Gallium boasts its own set of features including the latest client/server IT architecture, modular and scalable workflow that can handle multichannel installations and advanced redundancy and failsafe features.

With more stations monetizing their digital channels, “Gallium can put new channels on the air in a matter of days, not weeks,” says Challenger. Because a Gallium/ChannelMaster solution combines so many functions in one system, “it costs less than conventional equipment and automation. And even less if full feature graphics are required.”

Best known for its high-end graphics solutions, Vizrt’s clients include nearly every broadcast network and 130 U.S. television stations. Vizrt’s new and upgraded products for 2012 range from a streamlined all-in-one graphics creation system to specialized smartphone and tablet apps that make content creation and display fully mobile in the studio and in the field.

Vizrt has especially high hopes for the redesigned Viz Media Engine, “a complete end-to-end platform that handles the creation, management and delivery of all your media to any channel,” according to Corporate Communications Editor Chris Black.

In fact, Black thinks the Media Engine will even drive sales of other Vizrt products. “We think they’ll like the workflow of the Vizrt system and will eventually want to “scale up” to our product.”

To make that more likely, Vizrt has made sure that all their products are as compatible and scalable as possible. “We can’t replace everything that’s out there, we need to do this in pieces. Almost any media asset manager can utilize graphics and other capabilities of the Viz Media Engine,” Black says.

Like other vendors, Vizrt’s 2012 products make it easier to scale and deliver the same graphics to multiple consumer screens, but Vizrt puts extra emphasis on creative control. “We enable TV stations to customize their graphics and make each story their own. We provide tools that build out underlying applications and change the way your graphics look and interact.”

Vizrt’s tools apply to every step of the graphics process, from content creation to playout. The updated VizReporter iPhone app lets reporters  stream or upload video directly to the Viz Media Engine, along with the metadata needed to track it.

The VizAnchor iPad app lets on-air talent trigger and control graphic events onscreen, including 3D “immersive graphics” that appear as objects within a virtual set. Vizrt’s proprietary tracking technology ensures that both background and foreground graphics smoothly change perspective even during complex camera moves.

Even viewers can influence onscreen graphics when stations employ Vizrt’s toolkit for building branded consumer apps for both Apple’s IOS and Google’s Android devices. “The audience can use a smartphone or tablet to vote, and almost immediately the results are displayed graphically as 3D objects on the virtual set or on a multitouch screen,” Black says. A similar Web-based voting app is also available. (See how CNN turns polling into immersive graphics by clicking here.)

Immersive graphics and virtual sets are really different uses of the same technology found in Viz Virtual Studio. But U.S. stations have been slow to embrace the virtual sets themselves. “American audiences seem to prefer the warmth and simplicity of a physical set,” Black says. “It’s just recently we gained the ability to generate that realistic feel.”

Vizrt expects budget considerations to eventually seal the deal. “The choice may come down to $600,000 for brick and mortar set versus $100,000 for a virtual set that includes the tools to update or redesign it.”

Avid’s solid foothold in newsroom editing systems has given its graphic tools a similarly strong presence among TV stations. At NAB, Avid plans to announce new versions of its Avid Motion Graphics line as well as stronger integration with workflows in news and sports.

Last fall, Avid set the stage for upgrading its graphics tools when it announced new 64-bit versions of its venerable Media Composer 6 and ProTools 10 video and audio editors. Each featured a streamlined interface and architecture designed to speed production workflows, including graphics.

The revamped Avid Motion Graphics products — from simple 2D supers to complex 3D rendering — will see faster “speed to air leveraging real-time processing, a dedicated playout controller and tightly-integrated news and automation workflows,” says Dana Ruzicka, VP of segment strategy and planning. Avid has also beefed up the Motion Graphics feature set with a more intuitive user interface with 3D views, built-in text effects, presets and more programmable keyboard options. These make it easier to create and replicate customized 3D effects and transitions for featured news and sports segments.

Clearly one industry-wide trend is growing emphasis on shared standards and interoperability. Vizrt’s Black thinks the future has already arrived. “While we have many different graphics tools, the real differences are how the user interacts with the system.” 

Chyron’s Hendler feels users are best served by fostering interoperability that takes advantage of “best-of-breed” applications. “Specialized graphics hardware will continue to become more generic, primarily at the software level,” he says.

Orad’s Dail agrees. “Stations and networks are automating as much as possible to reduce staff and maintenance. A consolidated platform makes this easier than with multiple tools.”

Adds Avid’s Ruzicka: “It would make sense to merge various graphics applications into one product to enhance collaboration and sharing of resources. But well-designed, single-purpose applications can also find a place, especially if they are easily integrated into broadcast workflows.”

But Pixel Power’s Challinger offered a contrary view. “There’s a need for both systems that can do everything and continued need for discrete systems. But there’s a [greater] need to break down the barriers in broadcast operations between technical and business functions such as traffic, accounting, automation and branding systems. That will have a much more profound impact on broadcasters.”


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