As the broadcast industry began the transition from tape to digital video in the late 1980s, the need grew for a solution that could link broadcasters' existing control infrastructures with new serial VTR technology. DNF Controls, a Sylmar, California based developer of control solutions, responded to that need with a parallel-to-serial converter that bridged the gap.
"The ST60 Universal Controller, which we introduced in 1990, allowed existing parallel machine control systems and master control switchers to control the new serially controlled VTRs that were coming to market," explains Dan Fogel, president and founder of DNF Controls. "The ST60 put us on the map, and we've since developed three succeeding generations of modular product platforms designed for easy customization and straightforward operation."
Since the introduction of the ST60, DNF has continued to develop affordable off-the-shelf and customized control solutions to meet the demands of users worldwide specializing in sports, news, live entertainment, production, post-production and other broadcast-related industries. The company's broad scope of application-specific control solutions integrates with a diversity of third-party broadcast products, utilizing a number of different protocols.
"Though our products get more complicated every day, most of our development simply builds on existing technology or functionality," says Fogel. "If a client asks for a feature, we add it, test it, and follow up with technical support to ensure we've addressed the customer's request."
DNF's expanding product line now includes VTR and video server control systems for applications including automation back-up, sports control, playlist playout, instant replay, and slow motion control. Products also include a router protocol converter, a peripheral bus interface, and RS-422 port switchers. A Media Object Server (MOS) interface is currently in development. Each solution developed by DNF has been in response to a direct request from a customer or manufacturer.
As broadcast facilities make the transition to digital television or HDTV, improve their production workflow with new systems, install remote VTR/DDR control, or centralize control of multiple devices, inevitably they will require a control solution to link their production systems together. DNF products have been designed to fulfill the role of providing this critical link within broadcast operations.
The Missing Link
Production switchers once were the most important piece of equipment in the production workflow. The advent of video servers provided the foundation for fast access to stored material. Once control solutions were developed to link the production switcher and video server, the video server took the spotlight. DNF's aggressive development of control solutions that could tap into the power of the video server and allow it to "talk" with the production switcher was instrumental in bringing servers into the mainstream of production.
"Each product we have developed has been designed to maximize the efficiency of critical on-air, production, and post-production operations," says Fogel. "As we created solutions that give production switchers control over server systems, we realized that our innovations would change the way broadcast facilities produce their programming."
With the flexibility provided by the powerful switcher-controller-server trio, engineers, technical directors and other production staff found themselves in a position to implement more advanced clip management and playout techniques. DNF, in turn, refined its product offerings to include solutions that not only link the production switcher and server, but also give the operator greater control over clip access and playout.
To take full advantage of a server's potential speed in delivering audio and video material, operators require control devices capable of bypassing the PC-based method of recalling stored material. DNF created control solutions that replace scrolling through menus or using a keyboard and mouse to select material for air, providing instead complete control over time-critical playout functions with just a few keystrokes.
DNF addressed the need for fast, precise playout with further development of its clip access systems. Several of those solutions have changed the way broadcasters use their production tools.
Innovative Control Solutions
Before DNF entered the control industry, high-performance VTR controllers were available, but with a high price tag to match. DNF offered more economical control solutions for playout, and as server solutions evolved, manufacturers of new server solutions were willing to work with DNF to develop control solutions designed specifically to enhance the functionality of their existing products.
DNF's ST300, introduced in 1996, represented a breakthrough in price/performance for a slow motion controller. Quickly adopted by sportscasters, the ST300 became the most commonly used slow motion controller in U.S. mobile production trucks. With exclusive menu options, precision control and highly personalized control features, the ST300 is popular in sports broadcasting because it offers operators the speed and ease of use necessary for fast, accurate replays.
In 1998 DNF introduced the Shotbox, a compact, stand-alone clip access manager. The Shotbox features a backlit display and LCD buttons showing clip names and clip lists for precise and instant one-button access to video clips on a video server.
"The Shotbox is quite unique in that you can call up clips instantly with just the press of a button," says Darryl Rose, a U.K. based freelance tape and slow motion operator who specializes in outdoor broadcasts of sports and live entertainment events. Rose, who has worked in the industry for 12 years, says he looks forward to seeing the Shotbox integrated into DNF's latest product releases.
The newest incarnation of the Shotbox is the ST450, which controls up to eight channels and has the ability to learn up to eight channels on one key. The ST450 has 20 banks of 30 buttons for instant access to 600 clips or clip combinations.
The year following the first Shotbox release, DNF introduced its Peripheral Bus Interface Option (PBIO), the solution that brought servers into the mainstream of production by giving production switchers timeline control over video, audio and graphic devices. The PBIO integrates with production switchers that support PBUS II - such as switchers from Grass Valley, Kalypso, Sony and Philips - to give vision mixers direct control over playout of prerecorded audio and video elements from video servers. Typical applications include merging graphic effects such as fill and key clips with live action and creating multi-layered show openings.
Building on its growing reputation as a leading provider of control solutions, DNF launched its DMAT controller, a comprehensive sports controller with super slow motion and "ELVIS" functionality. The DMAT may be configured either for effects or for super slow motion recording. In addition to simultaneous record and playback capability and control over two record and two playback channels, the DMAT can work in conjunction with a video server to enable clip management for instant replay, highlights and segments.
DNF's DMAT Sports Controller for the Sony MAV-555 is one product that has opened the door to new opportunities for the company. DNF's DMAT has found its way into broadcast facilities worldwide by providing critical functionality to the MAV-555, a Sony video server dedicated to sports production.
"DNF really broke into the European market with its DMAT solution for the Sony MAV," says Rose, who now is Sony's primary demonstrator of the DMAT/MAV combination in the U.K. "Creating a controller for the MAV as it continues to develop was a real challenge, but with the DMAT/MAV, DNF has managed to shoot a moving target."
DNF's upcoming major control solution is the FLEX CONTROL NETWORK?, which blends distributed control architecture with Ethernet technology to provide efficient and affordable control in the development of integrated networks in broadcast, postproduction and audio/video operations. The result is a high-quality network enabling real-time, shared access and control between multiple users from multiple locations. The network is designed also to support integration with industry standard architectures, protocols and processes such as MOS, a key part of ENPS.
"We currently use three Sony MAV-555s for playing graphics, replay moves and interstitials between replays during broadcasts of football, rugby, tennis, golf and a variety of studio programs," says Darren Long, head of operations for Sky Sports, a division of broadcast giant British Sky Broadcasting. "We realized we were underutilizing them, so we developed a new structure with DNF controllers on the front end to allow our studios to pull material from the MAVs."
With the addition of the DMAT controller, says Long, Sky Sports staff will be able to operate their Sony MAVs from across the corridor or across the U.K. An RS-232 interface box linked over a network provides local control, while boxes in between connect to the main unit. From there, lines back connect to Sky Sports' main studios.
The DMAT/MAV-555 unit's simultaneous recording and playback operation allows broadcasters to continue recording interviews and other event activity even after cutting away to spots. Working in conjunction, the two devices constitute a comprehensive sportscasting system. In addition to easy access to clips, transitional effects and replays, the unit offers maximum speed control to technical directors and operators as they create highlight playlists easily using instant replays.
"We discussed potential solutions with DNF for a long time," says Long. "The key is that with some servers, you can buy controllers that come with the unit - and they're usually quite good. But in some applications, as with GVG Profiles and Sony MAV-555s, you have to look to a company like DNF for a solution.
"DNF was very responsive to all our requests, increasing page numbers and sending updates to provide the functionality and flexibility we needed. Every situation is different, and DNF was able to come up with solutions each time."
Darryl Rose's recent experience with the DMAT/MAV combination includes work on the Commonwealth Games Athletics for the BBC. Sony brought Rose in on the Sky Sports project to test and refine the new system.
"We were given a control unit to test out for two-and-a-half months," says Rose. "At first it needed a new jog wheel and a few other things sorted out, but after that, we'd send DNF a wish list, and in response they would modify the software to meet our requests. They implemented 99 percent of what we felt needed to be changed for the better, and the whole process took only about nine months."
Sky Sports, one of DNF's newest clients for the DMAT, also is using DMAT/MAV systems for "story of the match" clip compilations, which will be broadcast shortly after live events have been completed. Operators at Sky will be able to quickly compile clips labeled with a timecode and arranged with the necessary wipes and fades to produce a high-quality broadcast piece.
DNF Controls' customer list includes television stations, production facilities and mobile production trucks around the globe. DNF's growth in the European marketplace has been facilitated by companies like U.K.-based Mitcorp, a provider of broadcast and professional equipment, which has facilitated Sky Sports' implementation of the Sony/DNF solution. According to Rose, the choice comes down to personal preference. He notes that features such as DNF's large, easy-to-see LCD display can be extremely helpful in playlist management. It's those features, as well as the company's responsiveness to market needs, that DNF and its clients rely on to stay at the top of their game.
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