Imagine Communications has taken a leading role in Al Wousta, a new television channel owned by Sharjah Broadcasting Authority (SBA) and broadcast from Al Dhaid, the capital of the Emirate of Sharjah. A completely greenfield installation set in a striking state-of-the-art new building, the station is entirely reliant on IP connectivity using the SMPTE ST 2110 family of standards. The technology platform was collaboratively developed by engineers from Al Wousta and Sharjah Broadcasting Authority, and supported by Imagine Communications, in association with UAE systems integrator Tek Signals.
“With the rare opportunity to build a brand-new facility, of course we were going to use the most powerful, agile and future-ready technology available,” said Aisha Alzareef, broadcast technology & information systems director at Sharjah Broadcasting Authority. “The whole industry is moving towards SMPTE ST 2110 because of the real benefits open systems and IP interconnectivity deliver, like compact and flexible installations, and the ability to add new functionality and standards like Ultra HD almost at the touch of a button.
“This is a flagship installation and a real industry leader in the Middle East,” she added. “We were already familiar with Imagine Communications through our main playout center, and we trusted them to deliver the highest level of support and understanding of our requirements. That is why Imagine’s equipment is at the heart of our installations at Al Wousta and in the disaster recovery operation.”
The new facility includes a large studio, post production and a playout center, with the infrastructure and automation for playout driven by Imagine Communications. Virtually all of the functionality of the center is implemented in software on COTS hardware, delivering cost-effectiveness, operational flexibility and the ability to easily scale in the future. All connectivity uses IP over fiber, with sufficient bandwidth to move to 4K and HDR Ultra HD in future.
As well as building the master control and automation facilities at Al Dhaid, Imagine Communications was also tasked with implementing a four-channel disaster recovery (DR) site based on the Versio™ modular playout system with ADC™ automation. This provides backup playout not just for Al Wousta, but also for other channels from SBA, ensuring comprehensive business continuity. Nexio® Motion™ software provides workflow management, optimizing content movement and exchanges between the main playout center and DR site, ensuring complete business continuity with minimal operator intervention.
Al Wousta’s main channel relies on Imagine Communications’ Nexio+™ AMP® video servers with Versio IOX SAN storage for its central storage and playout preparations ― with overall control again handled by ADC automation. These systems interface seamlessly with other broadcast equipment, including those in the live studio and the post production network ― delivering flexibility in workflows today and in the future. It also ensures tight integration with SBA’s existing Broadcast Master™ suite, also from Imagine, for automation and error-free management of linear and nonlinear rights, sales, scheduling and media ― boosting SBA ability to drive productivity and revenue streams.
As the DR center provides redundancy for other SDI channels, it needs SDI connectivity. To integrate this content into the IP environment, the system includes a Platinum™ VX compact router for baseband signals and Imagine’s powerful Selenio™ Media Convergence Platform (MCP) for signal conversion, alongside an EPIC™ MV multiviewer, which allows engineers to monitor IP and SDI signals on the same screen. The equipment at the DR site also works under the management of Imagine’s Magellan™ SDN Orchestrator, a field-proven software control layer, seamlessly integrating IP technology with legacy systems to protect existing capital investment while maximizing efficiency.
“Al Wousta is a ringing endorsement of the benefits of standards-based IP solutions for broadcast and is an important step in the broadcaster’s migration path to IP networks and virtualization,” said Anas Hantash, head of Middle East, South Asia and North Africa for Imagine Communications. “Thanks to SMPTE ST 2110 and Imagine Communications, every element in the chain is connected seamlessly, over fiber, with no restrictions on routing or bandwidth. When Al Wousta wants to expand, whether with more content or to move to UHD, it can be accommodated with a simple software change and absolutely no disruption to their operations or their viewing audience.”
As well as reflecting the culture of the emirate, with 90% locally created content, Al Wousta has an important educational role, working with local media universities to provide practical experience for students in its production and playout center.
Al Wousta went live from Al Dhaid in February 2020.