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WELT Switches to a Software-Defined Vision with Vizrt

The free-to-air news channel runs 24/7 and provides regular news updates toother German channels.The WELT team, led by CTO Thorsten Prohm, Technical Lead, Ralf Hünefeldand Senior Director Philipp Kern took the move as an opportunity tocompletely reinvent its infrastructure and at the same time allow it to makestudio presentations graphically stunning

WELT’S REQUIREMENTS -CREATIVITY ENHANCEMENT WITH SIMPLIFIEDTECHNOLOGY

Creativity enhancements with simplified technology. “WELT had severalideas, both creative and technical,” says Philipp Kern. “The creative ideasincluded a hybrid augmented reality (AR) studio and a physical studio withdifferent creative layers, such as moving LED screens with content that canbe in different positions and configurations around the studio, a cycloramicLED backdrop and AR graphics”.

WELT wanted a unified workflow that would simplify and control the manyinputs and outputs for production at the touch of a button. It neededredundant systems for operational security but didn’t want the rack spacecrowded out with extra hardware. In short, it wanted to have more flexibilitywhile depending on fewer components.

“We wanted to give the day-to-day production the possibility to take allthe media elements and put it together in a form they wanted and give thejournalists the ability to put their ideas directly on screen,” adds Kern.

Automation

WELT wished to have a studio that offered maximum automation through robotic cameras and IP-controlled lighting systems.The moving LED panels, which could be arranged to form different backdrops, would need to be filled with content as wellas maneuver according to the needs of production. WELT also wanted to be able to switch over to a completely virtual studionewscast in a matter of seconds or transition seamlessly when adding live sources as contributors to a current broadcast andredesign the screen on the fly.

All this would demand precise control and a lot of material to be generated, not just the normal news show media such asvideo feeds and graphic overlays, but the content for the screens and backdrop, the virtual studio and the AR graphics. WELTwanted more scope for creativity but also required less complex routes to deploy and update its graphics output.

THE CHALLENGES

“We had the problem of constantly moving visualdata, such as that originating from the creativedepartment using Cinema4D, moving that intoVizrt or another graphic system and then movingthat into Vizrt Mosart which then fed the videoswitcher. This meant the original creative assetswere being translated a second or third time,” says Kern. It was plain to see that modern storytelling mightend up involving a lot of extra complexity, and alot of hardware

Find out how WELT reinvents production using Vizrt Software-Defined Solutions.


SOLUTIONS

However, the WELT team were thinking outside the box. Rather than have fixed hardware components routed through copperSDI to a hardware mixer in the gallery, they saw the potential in software, namely a SMPTE 2110 NMOS-based networkedsolution to build on the automation already in place.

“We had the idea to input the graphics directly into software and control all the broadcast media in one real-time softwareenvironment,” says Kern. Vizrt offers an advanced range of software solutions for media management, automation andgraphics that the broadcast engineers at WELT were already very familiar with. A long-established relationship has seen Vizrtdevelop specialised solutions for WELT over the past twenty years. Thanks to tools such as Viz Mosart the daily production wascompletely automated and each pre-planned news show required only two to three people in the gallery. Operationally WELT

CUSTOMISED UNIFIED WORKFLOWS

CUSTOMISED UNIFIED WORKFLOWS“They wanted to have more unification,” adds Lang. “So, we had to create unified feeds for the LED panels and monitors insidethe studios, to drive the virtual set and define the look and feel of the programmes, as well as deliver the graphics that areneeded to tell their stories. We wanted to streamline their operation to use very little components, so they were not trying toorchestrate a huge amount of technology to get to a certain look and feel.”

“Their idea was to integrate a lot of the workflows into one centralised solution and replace the hardware-based studio mixerwith a software-based mixer,” says Adrian Fiedrich, R&D Project Manager at Vizrt. “We saw how we could modify and extendcomponents to meet the new ST 2110-based workflow, and of course add a lot of new features to fit the customer’s needs. It’sa very tailored solution for WELT. Certain software components had to be introduced because those devices didn’t exist beforeand other products updated, but everything, all the various components, all the routing, is controlled by Vizrt products.”

In a traditional live studio environment, a vision mixer panel allows the operator to bring in and cue up media from videoservers, graphics servers, clip servers and live camera sources, all routed via copper cables. “Viz Engine and our other solutions,such as Pilot Edge for journalist workflows and Viz One for asset management, can do the work of standard default studioworkflows, combining them within one or two software components instead of five or more,” says Fiedrich. “Our engine canhandle everything internally, so we refer to it as a ‘Mixerless’ or ‘Dynamic Input Handling’ workflow.

VIZ ENGINES INFLUENCINGEVENT BASED LOGIC

Everything runs on event-based logic, with VizEngine providing the power. “Each gallery hasat least four Viz Engines just independentlyswitching network streams, all the timewhenever they need,” says Fiedrich. “A newplug-in architecture was developed for theengine which takes care of requesting thesource from the network, they talk to thesystem orchestrator which talks to the routersand it gets proper feedback as soon as thesources are switched.”

“It allows WELT to have as many as 100 sources across the whole building ready for the broadcast within a few seconds -operators just drag them into a template-based rundown on the UI,” he adds. “ The plugins take care of creating the commandsand prepare the source for routing. The operators get notified as soon as the source is ready to avoid any content issues.”

The whole system has a one-to-one redundancy. For example, it contains two vision mixers in parallel, always producing thesame output. So, at any time, WELT can switch over into the backup and just keep producing the same show with the samefunctionality. Plugins listen to hardware inputs and will switch things over if something goes wrong. The system doesn’t rely onhardware with a fixed number of inputs or outputs.Instead, it can have many ‘instances’ running onthe same machine to provide different kinds ofoutput, such as a different aspect ratio. It can thusbe easily scaled up not only in size but also infunctionality.One Viz engine supports WELT’s seven camerasbecause of the way the mixer-less workflow canswitch them. “Camera control is something we’vebeen doing for years,” says Fiedrich. “This systemjust asks them to select the cameras they want tohave, and the camera positions are handled by therobotic interface.”

SOFTWARE DRIVEN AUTOMATION

Due to the software-based environment, previously discrete devices can communicate with each other a lot more. So the visionmixer can talk to the camera tracking system as well as drive functions like tallies. It’s a similar set-up for the IP-controlled lights;the system just wants to know which lights to use and the brightness levels and everything is automated.

The massive cyclorama video wall is also driven by the Viz engine. It can be controlled directly via Viz Multiplay or automated byViz Mosart.

“You can have the whole programme rundown completely automated or have an operator hitting ‘next’. But there is nohardware vision mixer, and no panel and no copper-based routing, because the switching at the backend is all now completelydynamic,” says Fiedrich.

“As soon as you accept the rundown, then all you need to do is press play,” he continues. “You no longer need the person whocontrols the audio mixer because this is done by Mosart; there is no video mixer because the engine itself knows what comesnext and mixes it. It handles all the content, such as combining graphics and clips and compositing different layers of graphicson top. It all just switches.”

AN ECO-FRIENDLY PRACTICE

Sustainability concerns are also satisfied. “If you look into the WELT server room where the hardware now sits, there are juststandard HP machines pulling a few hundred watts, rather than the power required for hardware video and audio servers, clipservers and huge mixer panels,” Fiedrich adds. “They only need a rack, instead of a whole room.”

TRIED AND TESTED

The full development period was one and half years, much of which took place during the lockdown and social distancingrestrictions Germany was operating under due to COVID-19. However, work advanced greatly from October 2020 to April 2021,with Vizrt and WELT teams working together with solution integrator, Qvest Media.

“WELT was the first to think about these particular dynamic workflows at this scale,” says Fiedrich. “So we had to be the first tohave to find the solutions. There was already a huge level of trustin us to achieve the things they wanted to do. It was good to havesuch a strong partner because what we are doing at WELT hasn’tbeen done anywhere before.”

But the best thing we’ve heard is some of the users saying there’sno difference between a real video switcher and the Vizrt software.”

“This solution has run since April 24 without any problems at all. It’s incredible.” The journalists have more direct responsibilityfor the show and it gives the day-to-day production more possibilities when putting the show elements together. We are nowworking with colleagues to integrate the virtual environment in Studio 2 with a real environment.” adds Philipp.

Although the system very much reflects what WELT originally requested, and so is tailored to that customer, theVizrt components have been developed to be easy to adapt to the needs of another customer.

“We see this project as the prototype for this way of working,” says Fiedrich. “There are already other customers in Germanywho are starting to create some test setups on a smaller scale, and we are looking at how the system can work for them.”

“We wanted maximum flexibility for modern storytelling”

Intrigued? Read the full story to find out how WELT enhanced creativity and simplified workflows through Vizrt Software-Defined Solutions.


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