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Hot Button Discussion
By Michael Goldman
Three years ago, when broadcast system integration consultant Keith Graham, then a systems design expert for Azcar USA, was working with officials at Las Vegas PBS television station KLVX to help them develop a brand new facility, he quickly came to realize that "the broadcast industry is not terribly ecologically friendly," in his words. This was an important realization, because those designing and building the new KLVX building had committed themselves to putting up a fully state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly broadcast facility that would eventually earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), WEEE (Europe's Waste Electric and Electronic Directive), andRoHS (Europe's Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment) certifications.
They succeeded, and over the past couple of years, the KLVX facility has been regarded as a model for a green broadcast facility. However, most broadcast stations around the country are not exactly finding money and other resources to build new facilities like that one from scratch. Most are hunkering down and retrofitting existing infrastructures as best they can.
"This is a couple years later, but as far as I know right now, that [KLVX] building is the only LEED-certified [television] broadcast station in the country," Graham says. "They did a lot of interesting and innovative things in the design of that building to reach that status."
What they mostly did, according to George Molnar, who was, until recently, an engineer at the station, was follow methods and guidelines promoted by the green architecture movement generally in recent years. Thus, most of the building's efficiency savings come from its overall architectural design and construction, rather than from technologies that are specific to the broadcast world.
For instance, Molnar says the structure was built with 90% recycled steel, has multi-pane windows, and includes renewable solar energy panels on the roof (providing about 180kw of energy during peak sunlight times), which "cut about 20% off our electric bill."
"By using desert landscaping, rainwater collection [the facility has a 100,000 gallon tank to store collected water], groundwater cooling, smart design, such as 101 HVAC zones, light-level and occupancy sensors, and even dual-flow toilets, we managed to cut water use by 40% over our old building, despite being in a facility that is five times larger," Molnar adds.
As noted, however, most typical broadcast operations will not soon have similar opportunities. Therefore, to aggressively pursue increased energy efficiency and resulting cost savings is a tough goal for them to prioritize ahead of an already large list of needs in the current challenging economy. But for facilities old and new, retrofitted or not, the issue of power consumption is a huge, ongoing issue for broadcasters since their plants, by definition, hungrily require massive quantities of power to operate properly.
Typically, transmitters and production lighting are the two big energy eaters that broadcast stations have tried to examine with the help of new products from various vendors in recent years, as noted below. More generally, moving down the line from cameras to monitors to servers to switchers to lights and a lot more, the industry is, at least, more cognizant of trying to find ways to be more energy efficient.
"Anything we can do to reduce power consumption will help," says Graham. "Most basic, modern equipment that you might see in a TV station tends to be manufactured to meet international and consumer level [power consumption] standards. "RoHS and other standards are a bit stricter in Europe, so most manufacturers tend to adhere to those standards if they plan to sell equipment in Europe."
Thus, Graham says, electronic equipment in facilities intended to be truly green need to be worthy of WEEE and RoHS certifications. RoHS will assure products have no lead or other hazardous substances that might become harmful as they break down, and that they are capable of being safely recycled when their lifespan is finished. He also says the Las Vegas station was careful to install consoles made exclusively with wood certified to be from sustainable plantations, and featuring Forest Stewardship Councilcertifications to prove it.
But, he adds, understanding, planning for, and executing broader strategies for reducing power consumption is the central issue the industry must address in this arena.
"When doing an upgrade, you have to be mindful mainly about keeping power consumption down," Graham emphasizes. "When we [designed systems for KLVX], we made a 'power budget,' which allowed us to look at each piece of equipment we liked to see what their average consumption level was. If everything else was equivalent, we went with the [product] that was the lower power technology."
Studio lighting, he suggests, is a popular area in which broadcasters are broadly making changes, moving away from heavy incandescent instruments to LED and fluorescent lighting. This helps in both power consumption and reducing heat in a studio. Lighting changes, of course, can pose image-capture problems due to the sensitivity of digital studio cameras. Graham suggests that it may well end up being cost-effective in the long run, in terms of power cost savings, to upgrade studio cameras at the same time lighting is being swapped out in order to integrate newer cameras that require less light. The end result, he suggests, is "the less light into a studio, the less heat, and therefore the less heat you take out of it, and therefore, less power is used."
Of course, there are a ream of other technologies in a typical broadcast facility that impact overall power consumption. Graham suggests the industry's conversion to spinning disc storage from videotape is one such category earning greater attention. Disc drives obviously consume energy, and so, manufacturers are investigating how to reduce that consumption. One promising approach that could find its way into a more prominent role in the industry, according to Graham, is the Massive Array of Idle Disc (MAID), or spindown, method. The idea there is to rely on a large grouping of hard discs for storage, but only keep the hard drives spinning that are specifically needed to complete an operation at any given moment. This method can reduce drive wear and power consumption and produce less heat than comparably sized systems. Videotape for storage, on the other hand, requires no energy whatsoever, but can be difficult to recycle and takes up physical space.
Exciting improvements to playout and signal processing boxes have also taken place in recent years. Central to this shift has been the arrival of more efficient single-card processors, which mean some transmission technologies no longer require multiple boards, and thus need less heat-producing hardware built into the box.
Some transmitter and amplifier tools are also benefitting from Envelope Tracking (ET) technology to reduce power requirements while transmitting RF and other signals. The notion is to optimize a signal consistently to avoid peaks, while synchronizing supplied voltage with the RF signal, thus reducing the amount of voltage needed to process and transmit that signal overall. (For an interesting article explaining ET technology in broadcast transmitters, check out this piece from the Power Management section ofConnecting Industry Electronics magazine from earlier this year.)
Other initiatives, like improved recycling programs and increased reliance on videoconferencing to reduce the carbon footprint associated with travel, are happening more frequently across the broadcast industry as in other industries. All these strategies combined can eventually lower costs and improve a company's working environment substantially, which can help lead to a more efficient workforce. Indeed, Molnar insists that KLVX experienced a measurable reduction in the number of sick days taken by employees after it opened its new facility.
Still, Graham emphasizes that in the era of budget cuts, automation, bottom lines, smaller staffs, and strict quality requirements, few broadcasters are currently in a position to transform their facilities into the kind of truly green operation that KLVX has become. He expects the industry to take a long time to make the leap in a fundamental way.
"The big challenge is [the industry] is not yet really fully embracing green tech beyond the general idea of cutting power consumption down," he says. "And you can see why. The initial cost, whether you are putting up a building or doing ad hoc upgrades, is almost always going to be greater. You need a long-term vision to implement it, to see the benefits long before you start experiencing them. But most engineers and station managers have to focus on what they need to do to get the daily job done, not on the power demands of each piece of equipment. It's not that they don't care; they are interested. It's just a second priority in this environment. But, that said, everyone is now aware that lowering the use and cost of power is extremely important. Eventually, I expect it will become a higher priority."
Modern Olympic Broadcasting
The intersection of traditional broadcast viewing with new mediums was exemplified quite well this summer by the strong viewership of the 2012 Summer Olympics from London. Broadcast Engineering magazine reported on statistics that illustrate that more of the Games were viewed online, in the form of over 75-million streamed videos during the Olympics, than ever before. But the report, and the Pew Research study that it cites, also indicate that NBC's reported television ratings of the Games were also outstanding--about 73% of Americans told Pew they watched at least portions of the Olympics on traditional broadcast television. The results suggest for high-profile events and other types of programming, Internet and television can co-exist nicely, supplementing one-another, as networks have been hoping for years, as they have built out their online offerings while laboring hard simultaneously to get viewers not to abandon their TV sets. What did not fare as well, however, was 3D home viewing of the Olympics, at least in the U.K. Broadcast Engineering also recently reported that the BBC's online and traditional broadcasts were similarly strong, but their 3D viewing options, by contrast, performed far less robustly.
Apple TV's Next Moves
Much discussion has recently appeared across the Web, about Apple's plans for the next iteration of its Apple TV technology. Some reports suggest Apple is planning to produce its own television that incorporates such mobile device tools as Siri voice-activated control, FaceTime video calls, a touchscreen remote, and much more. But the Wall Street Journal's technology section recently ran a report that suggests the real innovation will not be the hardware as much as the innovative way of accessing and playing content on-demand through a cloud-based version of a state-of-the-art DVR. The notion would be to let viewers access, start, and stop any show at any time from the cloud, combined with a user interface similar to the iPad--a method of simplifying the way existing cable company on-screen menus operate--and possibly incorporating social media features. The article suggests Apple has been talking to major cable company operators about allowing consumers to use Apple devices as their set-top boxes, and to major entertainment companies about how they could directly distribute shows new and old through Apple's service. Apple isn't confirming anything just yet, of course, but many additional reports point to some major moves along these lines in the near future. Among those reports are recent items from MacNewsWorld and ITProPortal.
Higher Frame Rate Buzz
One of the likely film exhibition trends expected to get a lot of attention in coming months is the notion of high frame rate cinema. This is largely due to Peter Jackson's decision to shoot his upcoming movie, The Hobbit, in 48 frames/sec and show it in selected theaters at 48 frames/sec, combined with vocal presentations around the industry by fellow filmmakers such as James Cameron and Douglas Trumbull, promoting the notion of capturing and exhibiting movies at higher frame rates; an idea Trumbull has been promoting since the 1970s. This topic was the subject of a major panel discussion at the recently completed Siggraph 2012 show-a discussion that included Cameron by videotape, Trumbull, ILM legend Dennis Muren, and many other industry luminaries. Creative Cow's Debra Kaufman attended the event and offers a fascinating look at the issues raised by higher frame rate cinema at the event, which you can read here. Andhere is Bryant Frazer's report on the same event, adding additional information from the Studio Daily site. Douglas Trumbull will also discuss HFR in his keynote address at the SMPTE 2012 Symposium on High Frame Rates for Digital Cinema to be held in Hollywood, CA, 22 October 2012. Read a report on this upcoming event in The Hollywood Reporter.
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