The Section meeting on February 16 saw the largest attendance at a Washington DC section meeting in many years. Over 120 members and guests, some traveling considerable distances, visited the new Discovery Television and Technology Center in Sterling, Virginia. This new facility, which opened in August 2005, provides the main origination center for Discovery's 18 North American standard definition and high definition channels, including Discovery, The Learning Channel, Travel Channel, Animal Planet, and Discovery HD Theater.
John Honeycutt, Executive Vice President, Media Technology and Operations at Discovery, and Jonathan Perkes, Vice President of Engineering, gave presentations describing the technical infrastructure and systems and some of the concepts and work that went into their design and implementation. The 53,000 square foot building houses ten multi-channel master control rooms, a live control room, ingest and archiving. Following ingest of program material, all program storage and distribution is tapeless with a state of the art system architecture. The facility relies heavily on IT networks and systems, with 16 VLANs, 66 core and master control servers, two ingest servers, two SD and two HD playout servers with more than 25 TB of storage, and a StorageTek data archive system. All critical systems are backed up with redundancy, providing extremely high levels of system availability. An interesting feature is the three-hour delay server built-in to all on-air channels, with seamless changeover to a live playout server. This provides a considerable buffer when needed for late schedule changes, troubleshooting, and maintenance in the air chain.
Following the presentations, attendees had the opportunity to tour the facilities and discuss further issues about the system design and operations with John, Jonathan, and Don Johnson. Particularly impressive, and an indication of current system architectures, was the small number of staff required to staff such a large number of on-air channels while maintaining highest levels of on air quality and service availability.
Many thanks are extended to Discovery for their hospitality and to Evertz, Miranda, Omneon, and Omnibus, for sponsoring the excellent refreshments. It was also evident that advanced equipment and systems provided by these companies contributed significantly to the success of the new technical Discovery facilities.
-Graham Jones, Section Manager and Program Chair
John Honeycutt, Discovery Communications, with some of the 120 attendees at the February Washington DC Section meeting