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Newsroom Automation

The term automation is broad and covers many functions. Historically, different packages have been used to manage different applications, and they have frequently relied on other systems to provide planning and scheduling information. There are now complete integrated solutions.

Over the past 15 years, Autocue (established in 1955), and QTV, its sister company in the U.S., have come to control 75% of the global pointer market, and have concentrated on newswriting systems, as a logical extension of the sale and rental of pointers.

During this time, experience with the application of three distinct network systems, each with its own innovations, has allowed to build a solid environment for the development of WinCueNews, the next generation of programming for newsroom automation.

Officially launched at IBC'98, it has since operated in Japanese, for more than a year at Bloomberg's Tokyo headquarters. Every aspect of its operation has been designed to provide a fully integrated solution, which makes it, at the same time, a multi-user pointer system, a network for the newsroom, and an automation system for the transmission and production of notebooks, in addition to other services.

Transmission integration

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WinCueNews has been designed to incorporate programming and control functions into a single integrated application, to handle different automation requirements. Its open architecture is capable of working with any device that has a remote protocol, regardless of whether it is a video server, a subtitle generator, a photo-still or frozen image file, a router, an image mixer, a robotic camera controller, or any type of transmission equipment.

Its most common use is to provide some level of automation of devices during transmission, based on information contained in a certain programming order. WinCueNews provides two types of transmission control: discrete and continuous.

Discrete transmission control (called News Automation) is frequently used in live programs, allowing studio montages to be interspersed with pre-recorded packages, and simplifying the control of devices such as character generators and still image files. This style of operation depends on human intervention to start the video or to fade a title, for example.

Continuous transmission control (or transmission automation), by contrast, provides a flexible and automatic way to handle material that, for the most part, if not entirely, is pre-recorded. This type of control provides similar characteristics to news automation from the point of view of the devices it can operate, but it can also provide a fully automatic program output.

It should be emphasized, however, that, although there are two "ways" of automated control, in WinCueNews there is a significant degree of overlap in the way the program handles the process and the operator is free to move from one style to another almost at will.

Hardware description

The simplified diagram in Figure #1 illustrates the components that could be melted together to create a combined newsroom and broadcast automation system using WinCueNews. Broadly speaking, the WinCueNews workstations shown on the right form the newsroom portion of the system, while the workstations on the left, and the transmission devices, make up the automation component.

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The most important element of any WinCueNews system is the DBServer – in this example, in the conjunction of two PCs. The DBServer saves and provides access to all schedule and scheduling information. The server of the set saves the database of the clips, which contains information of video material in file, regardless of its location: online servers, archive servers, low-resolution systems, copies of tapes, etc.

The structure of the database is designed to allow a material to be recorded throughout its useful life, and to control the use and transmission of particular elements. This base is saved on the server of the main set, to protect it from any failure in the computer.

The DBServer also contains a module called the Asset Controller, which handles the allocation of physical resources to system modules. Different processes will require different resources at different times. Therefore, it will be efficient for them to be dynamically assigned. Resources may include appliances such as video servers, recorders, subtitling generators, routers, etc. and will generally be connected through Device Control Interface (DCI) servers.

Between the physical appliances and the rest of the system there are one or more DCI servers. Most controlled appliances, including video servers, tape recorders, subtitling generators, transmission switches, timecode readers, etc., are connected to a DCI server.

System modules have high-speed access, via a DCI server, to a specific network resource, without necessarily having to know the low-level instructions for a device in use. A DCI server is transparent to individual users, even though they are indirectly using controls and functions it provides.

Similarly, the Automation Relay Server is transparent to most users. This software provides the central control point for the entire automation system, and usually runs on your own PC.

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It is in intense communication with the DCI server to send commands and receive information to and from specific transmission devices. In fact, dedicated devices that are only required for transmission purposes could be directly connected to the transmission server, but those devices that share other functions are accessed indirectly through the DCI.

The Automation Relay Server does not have its own user interface. All configuration and control are carried out from the Transmission Control Centre (TCC), which can run on any WinCueNews client workstation. CBT allows you to start a transmission from a specific time or schedule, and makes it possible to control and monitor all connected devices.

For news automation, the Automation Relay Server is not required and the TCC is replaced with the Automation Control Centre (ACC). However, a DCI server is still required to control the hardware, but all control of the programming is carried out from within the client.

The Acquisition Controller (AC) is another module that runs from the client software . This allows the user to control the respective devices to upload material to one or more video servers. Although it is not directly related to transmission, it would obviously be impossible to transmit material that has not yet been digitized.

Different types of material are uploaded at different times and in different ways: for example, the video of the press agencies could be handled fully automatically, the material recorded on tape could be loaded under a partially automated control, and other material could be recorded as if it were "live", with an operator manually controlling the mixer, sound, etc.

Other features

Another type of news automation solution provides a Betacart-style operation, based on a video server instead of a cart machine. The operator uses a switch box similar to the Remote Betacart, giving it facilities to enter, interpret and re-enter the video clips, up to four channels of the server.

Clips can be loaded manually— the operator can choose any object on the server—or automatically, based on a pre-set order. In addition to the above, WinCueNews also provides all the other features you would expect from a high-quality newsroom system.

File servers and cables share the same indexing technology that allows very fast searches. Search terms can include whole terms or parts of words, and contemplate a large range of search expressions. Future searches can be scheduled allowing a user to specify categories or content in which they are interested. In the same way, you can send emergency messages can inform all users that important news has arrived.

Finally, the software includes powerful tools to manage programming, which allow you to make changes quickly and easily. Extensive chronological information allows production personnel to plan live programs accurately and immediately observe the effects of any changes to the scheduling order.

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