New program delivery technology now in beta testing, after holdups

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PBS’s Next Generation Interconnection System-Non-Real-Time Program File Delivery Project (NGIS-NRT) is back on track, after challenges including federal funding snags, a management change and technology issues, reports Broadcasting & Cable. The project is working to deliver programming as compressed digital files. “Catch servers” are now in place at 15 stations. Each server has 12 terabytes of storage for about 10 days of content. Files are encoded using MPEG-2 at high-quality mezzanine compression rates-33 megabits per second (Mbps) for HD video and associated audio, and 13 Mbps for standard-def video and audio. If beta testing is done by the fall, rollout to stations could begin by the end of the year.

This is the second phase of a federally funded, 10-year, $120 million initiative to overhaul the transmission infrastructure that PBS, American Public Television and the National Educational Telecommunications Association use to deliver about 200 hours of content to stations weekly. The first phase of NGIS replaced satellite receivers and shifted linear feeds to a new SES satellite (AMC-21), which was done in 2008.

There’ve been complications along the way to beta testing. The NRT project was put on hold in 2006, after Congress balked on around $35 million in funding. PBS engineer Ed Caleca also departed that fall (here’s his 2005 commentary on the project), and was replaced by current CTO John McCoskey. The process of ratifying AS-03, PBS’ implementation of the Material Exchange Format (MXF) networking specification that would be used in the NRT system also took longer than expected.

For background, see the story in Current, Aug. 29, 2005.

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