1997 IC Player Configuration: The Lenfest Cable Television Solution Example
Lenfest, the eighth largest cable “multiple system operator” (MSO) in the United States, through its Suburban Cable TV subsidiaries, was in need of a “Cable Photo Classified” solution in the Philadelphia area. Scala provided a robust rack-mounted head-end solution for 14 sites serving over one million subscribers ranging from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to metropolitan Philadelphia, to Wilmington, Delaware, to Atlantic City, New Jersey!
Four Computers Push Content to 14 Markets
Four IC Master stations push customized content from a centralized location to 14 markets through a combination of ScalaNet via Modem and ScalaNet-TCP/IP on Lenfest’s regional Wide Area Network.
The Players are configured to provide traditional photo classified ads such as Local Business, Used Cars, Real Estate, Birthdays, News, Community Events, Weather forecasts and current conditions. MPEG2 video clips are sometimes used to display short ads or half hour infomercials.
Basic Computer Television Platform
The basic platform is a custom built PC in a ATX form factor rack mountable chassis. For reliability the standard $30 power supply was removed from the case and a $125 PC Power & Cooling SilencerTM-brand PSU is used instead. The motherboard is a Tyan Tomcat IV-a dual Pentium MMXTM capable Intel 430HX based motherboard with 512 KB of Pipeline-Burst Cache soldered on board, eight 72-pin SIMM memory slots [for Fast Page or EDO RAM], standard “Super-I/O”, and a good arrangement of accessible expansion slots. The video solution is either a Video Logic GrafixStar600TM or a Jaton 58P — a PCI Tseng ET6000 video controller with 4 MB of MDRAM memory. The MPEG solution is an Optibase PCI MPEG2 decoder card. Networking support is provided by an Intel EtherExpressTM PRO-100/B 100BaseTX PCI network card. Extra serial ports were added in the form of a Digi Acceleport 8R ISA multi-port serial card. An inexpensive hardware RAID solution took the form of an ARCO DupliDiskTM EIDE RAID-1 adapter. The Audio solution is an OEM ESS-1868 AudioDriveTM chip on a 16-bit ISA card. An American Power Conversion “Back UPS 1400” provides the battery backup solution.
The machines were configured with a single Pentium MMX CPU at 200 MHz, with 64 MB of EDO RAM, a 1.44 MB HD Floppy Disk Drive, a 24X EIDE CDROM, and 3 GB of usable hard disk storage.
NOTE: One year later (1998), upgraded players were also configured with dual Pentium II 350MHz on an ASUS P2B-D motherboard with 128MB of SDRAM, ATI XPERT@Play98 8MB 2X AGP, ESS 1869, two 11GB EIDE Hard Drives with Arco DupliDisk RAID-1 controller, Intel 10/100 NIC, 3.5″ FDD, 24x CD, 56K External USR Modem, Optibase VideoPlex PCI, Davis Weather Wizard III with WeatherLink Interface, Digiboard 8R, APC 700VA Rack Mount UPS with PowerShute cable (PowerShute software disabled), and an external Vine DeltaScan Pro GL genlock/scan converter. The BIOS was set to automatically power up (which prevents ATX power supplies from turning off on a reboot of the player).
28 players have since been added to this successful InfoChannel-based cable classifieds channel endeavor.
The software load on the Players consists of Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Workstation with Service Pack 3 with Internet ExplorerTM 3.02, Microsoft Windows NT Workstation Resource Kit; Current chipset-vendor supplied drivers for Video, Audio, Network, MPEG, UPS, and Serial cards; Norton Utilities 2.0 for Windows NT, and Scala IC200 Service Pack 3 with the Weather, VCR, Optibase, Text, and Switcher EXes.
The two 3 GB EIDE hard disk drives are connected to the system’s Primary IDE interface through the ARCO DupliDisk RAID-1 solution. Since this is an OS independent disk mirroring implementation, there are no device drivers to worry about. The RAID adapter is configured from a DOS-based utility and the host computer only detects the presence of a single 3 GB hard disk drive. The hard disk drive was FDISK’ed with three partitions: a 750 MB NTFS Operating System and Utility partition, a 500 MB NTFS Temp & Swap file partition and an approximately 2 GB NTFS ‘Scala’ partition for IC200, Scripts, MPEG-video, Image, and Audio files. The CDROM drive was installed as a single ‘Master’ device on the secondary IDE interface.
The NT OS is configured with a fixed swap file on the ‘Temp & Swap’ partition of 256 MB — 4x physical memory is the practical limit for effective virtual memory under Windows NT. The system “TEMP” and “TMP” environment variables were configured to point to this partition. All “Spool” and “Log” files are configured to write to this partition as well. The Norton Utilities Delete-Tracking utility is configured to purge files every five days. The Norton ‘SpeedDisk’ service is configured to defragment files on the ‘SCALA’ partition every Sunday morning between 03:00 and 05:00 a.m. [this activity adversely impacts playback] The NT ‘Scheduler’ service is configured using the Resource Kit’s ‘WinAT’ utility to dump the System and Application Event Logs to a specific directory every Sunday at 05:15 a.m. A system Shutdown & Reboot is scheduled as well for 05:30 Sunday morning. When possible, services and applications were configured not to display dialog boxes or alert messages but instead to place these notices in the Application or System Event Logs.
The I/O ports and expansion slots for this system were allocated as follows:
- ISA Slot 1: ESS 1868 Sound Card
- ISA Slot2: Digi Accelport 8R Serial (see COM3-10 below)
- ISA Slot3: Open
- ISA/PCI Slot 4: ARCO Mirroring IDE Controller
- PCI Slot 5: ET6000/4M VGA
- PCI Slot 6: Optibase MPEG2 Decoder
- PCI Slot 7: Intel 10/100 NIC
- COM1: DB9 Powershute cable to UPS
- COM2: DB25 to Davis Weather Station
- LPT1: Scala Dongle
- COM3: USR 33.6 Modem (external)
- COM4: Future VCR
- COM5: Future VCR
- COM6: Future VCR
- COM7: Future VCR
- COM8: Future VCR
- COM9: Future VCR
- COM10: Future Switcher
Possible configurations include:
- Configuration 1: Full screen MPEG or full screen Scala, no overlay
Video chain is from SVGA to Vine to Optibase card to the RF modulator. Audio chain is from Optibase card to Sound card to Balanced AGC to the RF modulator.
In this configuration, any debugging on the Player should be done with a VGA monitor connected to the Vine Scan Converter since the composite output will be blocked by the Optibase card until the Optibase card is initialized by Scala. This has the added benefit of not having the Windows desktop ever on-the-air during startup. This configuration only allows full screen MPEG or full screen Scala with no overlay or inlay. Please see the Optibase EX Acrobat file included with Service Pack 4 for more details on the Optibase EX.
- Configuration 2: Full screen MPEG with full screen Scala with overlay.
Video chain is from black burst to Optibase card to Vine Genlock combining with SVGA to the RF modulator. Audio chain is from Optibase card to Sound card to Balanced AGC to the RF modulator.
This configuration is similar to Configuration 1, but is able to provide full screen MPEG with VGA overlays of text and graphics. A black burst house sync is needed to provide a reference for the Optibase card. Please see the Optibase EX Acrobat file included with Service Pack 4 for more details on the Optibase EX. When using the Vine Genlock in overlay mode, please note that it is not possible to control the transparency from Scala. You must set the transparency and “forget it”. Please also note that dark blue colors in the VGA graphics will be considered transparent (the same as black).
- Configuration 3: Full screen MPEG or VCRs with full screen Scala with overlay
Video chain is from VCRs and Optibase card to Switcher to TBC to Vine Genlock combining with SVGA to the RF modulator. Audio chain is from VCRs and Optibase card to Switcher to Sound card to Balanced AGC to the RF Modulator.
The Optibase card must have a stable video signal on the video input either from the house sync (black burst) or from a TBC or Scan Converter such as the Vine Genlock. Failure to do this will produce unstable video both in sync and colorburst. This configuration requires additional serial ports to control the VCRs and Switcher and the optional appropriate VCR and Switcher EXes. When using the Vine Genlock in overlay mode, please note that it is not possible to control the transparency from Scala. You must set the transparency and “forget it”. Please also note that dark blue colors in the VGA graphics will be considered transparent (the same as black).
- Configuration 4: All video sources feed into the Switcher. No overlay, but very clean
The video and audio chain is very easy here. All sources feed into the switcher. This includes the outputs from the Vine Scan Converter, each VCR, and the Optibase card. The output from the switcher is fed into a TBC to clean up the video (either from poor quality tapes or from switching) prior to feeding into the RF Modulator. The audio output from the switcher is fed into a Balanced AGC box before connecting to the RF Modulator.
No overlays are possible in this configuration but the hookup is very straight forward, even with a large number of video and audio sources. Please note that you will need to control the switcher EX directly when playing MPEG in this configuration. The VCR EXes can however automatically control the switcher EX without creating a special event.