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CANAL PLUS goes tapeless with Pinnacle MediaStream

 

Introduction

When the CANAL+ group decided to upgrade their ingest, playout and preview facilities at the Espace Lumiere site to provide a shared digital infrastructure for their premium and multi-channel programming they turned to Pinnacle France to oversee the project and install MediaStream networked servers.

In the event the project was managed by the CANAL+ Project and Engineering team as a partnership with major suppliers such as automation specialists SGT and archive specialists Front Porch Digital working in synergy with Pinnacle France and CANAL+ planners.

The CANAL+ Espace Lumiere facilities at Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris is now responsible for the 24/7 delivery of the Premium channel CANAL+, three Multiplex channels comprising CANAL+ Sport, CANAL+ Cinema and CANAL+ Confort together with Sport+ and American basketball channel NBA+. In addition to their own programs, the multiplex channels broadcast programs from the Premium content at staggered times.

CANAL+ transmission/continuity - simplified

 

A separate master control room in an adjoining building manages 14 pay-per-view CANAL+ Kiosque channels operated by a fully owned subsidiary of the CANAL+ group.

The new installation allows the CANAL+ premium channel to be the first and only broadcaster in France to playout all program content from digital playout servers with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. In addition, the transmission upgrade is HD ready and supports a tapeless, shared-media SAN based environment for ingest, playout and preview.

Although most material for transmission comes into the Espace Lumiere building ready for transmission, there are also studio, editing and voice over facilities for making sports bulletins and entertainment shows or conforming ingested material to the playout schedule.

Editing is Avid based on a separate AVID Unity SAN and there are plans to interface it with the MediaStream playout servers whilst preserving the security of the transmission ready material.

I spoke with CANAL+ Project Group Manager, Patrick Guillou, to find out what the upgraded facilities at the Espace Lumiere site had been expected to achieve.

“Our goals were to integrate the previously disparate CANAL+ facilities together, to upgrade our aging LMS based infrastructure to a tapeless environment, to support 5.1 audio on our Premium channels and to ease any future migration to HD,” revealed Guillou.

To illustrate the problem CANAL+ had suffered with its previous infrastructure, only last year CANAL+ in France was spread across some 25 buildings, and now there are just three or four, with the two main centers within walking distance of each other over the Pont d’Issy les Moulineaux across the Seine.

Also, since the entire transmission chain was tape based, any time a copy was required it had to be physically dubbed and couriered to its destination. In addition, because the Premium and Multiplex channels were managed in different centres each had their own operational team. Now there is one playout system for both with one team simplifying planning, operation and maintenance.

Although the 14 channels of the pay per view Kiosque have their own master control area, the goal has nevertheless been to harmonize all operations as far as possible and broadcast Kiosque channels on a 24/7 basis.

Going tapeless was very important at CANAL+ due to the significant cost associated with duplication. Not only are main and backup copies required, but multiplex channels often need the same program material to be played, requiring additional copies. These and a host of other related tasks made substantial demands on staff levels and associated planning. Once the tapes were replaced with files, multiple access was assured without the need to dub or maintain expensive VTRs.

For KIOSQUE pay per view coverage of L1 soccer matches (similar to Premier League in the UK), another benefit of the server technology was that a short delay of around thirty seconds was introduced to allow technicians to send a flag to the each viewer’s set top box indicating when a goal has occurred and on which channel. Viewers can then choose to watch the goal by simply pressing a button on their remotes.

Technical facilities

CANAL+ selected Pinnacle MediaStream 8000 servers since they are well suited to multicast operation and could provide a highly redundant architecture for fail-safe operation.

 

Although each MediaStream cluster has redundancy built in at every level, the CANAL+ system design goes further and implements two entirely complete main and backup playout Fibre Channel based SANs, which are constantly monitored, kept in perfect synchronization and put into operation on alternate weeks. Each playout cluster also has its own separate SGT automation system. The SGT automation systems are always fully synchronized to be mirror images of each other. This approach ensures that when a backup is needed, it can be brought on line in the knowledge that is was thoroughly tested no more than a week ago.

The ingest function is supported by a further Pinnacle cluster with its own dedicated Fibre Channel SAN, and an additional Pinnacle cluster is used for software testing and operator training. In fact it was this extra system that allowed operators to be fully trained even before the rest of the installation had been completed, ensuring trouble free operation right from the start.

MediaStream 8000 can be configured in two different architectures, Direct Attached Storage (more usually and incorrectly referred to as ‘Stand Alone’) and Storage Area Network (SAN). DAS systems can support up to 16 channels of I/O whilst SAN systems can be expanded to over 100 channels. Not surprisingly, CANAL+ use SAN architecture.

The heart of the system is the MSS 8000 video engine, which is a 5RU chassis with eight video I/O slots. Real-time operation of the MSS 8000 is assured by the use of a real-time NTFS complaint version of UNIX known as LynxOS running on a PowerPC CPU.

Additional MSS 8000 frames can be added for up to 100 inputs and outputs and a maximum of 8 Palladium 1000 arrays can be supported to provide up to 28 Terabytes of storage when 400 Gigabyte disks are used.

The architecture is designed without a single point of failure. This means that critical file system components are supplied in pairs, for example there are two LAN switches and two Ethernet LANs and each of the three main Pinnacle SANs (ingest, playout main, playout backup) has two Palladium File System Controllers,  two Fibre Channel switches and a dual Fibre Channel network. Each SAN also has its own MediaStream Interface PC for configuration and control.

The Palladium File System Controllers are synchronized, so that file system changes as a result of schedule updates or ingest operations are reflected on each unit.

Each PS1000 Palladium store is RAID3 protected and every part of the array is mirrored and hot-swappable. There are dual redundant RAID controllers, Dual Fans, Dual PSUs (and dual power cords) and 10 hot-swappable ATA disks.

The redundancy doesn’t stop there. The 10 disks of the PS1000 are split into two arrays of 5 and within each set, 4 disks are used for data and one for parity. This means that up to two disk failures can be tolerated in each unit provided failures occur as one from each set.

Since each playout SAN is duplicated at CANAL+, the overall redundancy is increased well beyond that of a simple mirrored design.

Pinnacle has added a number of refinements to the architecture over time. For example, whilst each PS1000 has two RAID controllers working in active/passive mode, the passive controller gets used during disk rebuilds, drastically reducing the re-build time and decoupling the process from server load. This in turn helps system administrators predict the time when the server is not RAID protected.

Other enhancements include a short spot playout facility, a colour frame insert facility and a jog & shuttle utility for both video and sound.

The spot playout facility allows compiled spots to run back-to-back using only one SDI output without needing an external router and the colour frame insert facility provides a means of separating clips without needing an external mixer.

Audio is particularly well supported and each stereo pair can be configured independently for a range of uncompressed 16 and 20-bit audio formats, as well as Musicam compressed audio, pre-compressed audio, pre-compressed AC-3 (Dolby Digital) and the 16 and 20-bit Dolby-E formats.

Automation

SGT, founded in 1990, has over 300 channels of their DBOS automation installed all over the world. Fifty percent of their projects are outside France and not all are in predominately French speaking countries. For example there are seven in Germany, five in Italy, four in the Netherlands, two in Poland and two in Indonesia. SGT support Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic characters and have just finished a large installation in Qatar, although CANAL+ remains one of the biggest so far in terms of channels controlled for any one broadcaster. CANAL+ also use SGT automation for the 15 channels of Multithematiques.

SGT is based on a modular distributed architecture comprised of a ‘back office’ range of DBOS products such as DBOS Device Controller, DBOS Loader, DBOS Server and DBOS Supervisor.

Each installation tends to have a unique combination of modules to provide one or more of the three main complementary product lines, Media Management, Transmission Management and Traffic Management. The exact mix will vary depending on application details such as whether DVB broadcasting is involved, whether journalists should have browse facilities or if graphics automation is needed.

CANAL+ did not take the SGT Traffic Management product as they have their own self-developed Antenne traffic management system.

Antenne software is a fully integrated traffic system that allows broadcasters to manage program planning, purchase, production, transmission and legal responsibilities related to media rights and regulatory organisations. Antenne performs more than 20 different functions including load balancing and failover and it is easily interfaced with third party systems. It works well with SGT automation and takes full advantage of XML in handling schedules and reconciliation.

Each SGT module has dedicated tasks, for example, DBOS Loader is responsible for locating and managing all of CANAL+ assets in servers, near-online storage and archive. This responsibility is system wide and is performed according to CANAL+ rules. This ensures that, not only is material for which the rights have expired deleted, but that above all, SGT automation is always looking ahead into the schedule to obtain the needed material for transmission as transparently as possible, so that operators are only alerted when scheduled items are missing.

SGT was able to extend their DBOS Device Controller functionality to include support for some of the enhancements that Pinnacle had included, for example SGT now support Pinnacle’s built-in ARC functions such as 16:9 conversion to 4:3 and the colour frame insert feature is used to add seven frames of black between commercials.

All SGT software runs on standard PC hardware and Microsoft Windows operating systems. Failover redundancy is provided in the form of the continuously monitored main and backup automation systems.

Archive

Movies are sometimes received well ahead of the intended transmission date. For example, in general, four months for the USA majors and one year for the European and French production if CANAL+ participates in the film.

This means that the archive does far more than archive old material, as Guillou explains, “For us, archive often acts as a near on-line store as it helps us to stock and not just archive media.”

The archive and near on-line solution of CANAL+ is managed by Front Porch Digital’s DIVArchive (Distributed Intelligent Versatile Archive) solution. DIVArchive not only enables interoperability between digital media storage devices, video servers and digital media workflow applications, but it also helps take care of media life cycle and legal aspects.

For example material for which they no longer have any rights has to be purged without fragmenting the tape or disk storage.  This is an important aspect of content management at CANAL+ together with list size management and adherence to format migration policy.

DIVArchive interfaces to an L700 StorageTek tape library, equipped with four T9940B tape drives.  DIVArchive allows material stored on the archive/near on-line store to be restored in one operation to both main and backup servers.

DIVArchive can also manage off-line storage consisting of tapes stored on shelves. Access to this material requires operator intervention just to load and blank the tapes.

It should be remembered that operators interface with the archive solution through the SGT automation interface. DIVArchive software acts as ‘middleware’ and operates at a lower level than the operator interface to control the movement of content between servers and the StorageTek tape archive.

At CANAL+ DIVArchive consists of a main DIVArchive Manager and a backup DIVArchive Manager, which control a number of data movers referred to by Front Porch Digital as ‘Actors’. These components connect to the L700 through a 16-port Fibre Channel switch and to the main and backup Pinnacle servers by Gigabit TCP/IP network via redundant Ethernet switches. SGT control extends directly to the Pinnacle servers and to the DIVArchive system, but not to the L700, which is managed only by DIVArchive.

Fibre Channel versus Gigabit Ethernet

Fibre channel is used internally in four main systems, ingest, playout main, playout backup and archive. However, CANAL+ made the decision to use Gigabit Ethernet based ‘ftp’ for system interconnection. The reasons are related to real-world problems such as Fibre Channel’s lack of support for large systems and the absence of agreed protocols, as Pinnacle France Business Development Manager, Patrice Clément explains, “Some companies, like Pinnacle are using SCSI protocol on top of FC, but it’s not mandatory, and no real standards are defined. It’s therefore unlikely that two vendors can inter-operate on the same FC network without deep testing and real partnership. Unlike Fibre Channel, Gigabit Ethernet, TCP/IP and ‘ftp’ are agreed standards, and support networks that are almost unlimited in terms of attached devices and reach.”

Conclusion

The upgraded facilities at Espace Lumiere have enabled the CANAL+ group to meet its objectives and obtain valuable commercial benefits and added competitiveness. Extra channels can easily be added in the future and at low incremental cost whilst continuing to enjoy low maintenance costs and high system reliability.

The upgrade at Espace Lumiere is joined by a further roll-out of MediaStream enabled channels at CANAL+ Media Overseas which has recently been enhanced to uplink some 120 channels to more than 500.000 subscribers in France’s major outre-mer territories in The Caribbean, Indian Ocean, South Pacific Ocean and French speaking Africa.

 

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