Italy’s RAI Selects Axon to Manage Digital Switch Off

RAI, the Italian state-owned broadcaster and largest television company in Italy, has chosen Axon’s Synapse product line to manage its transition to 16:9 format for digital terrestrial broadcasting operations.

RAI is currently engaged in a complex transition to digital content production and transmission. Several geographical areas have already moved to digital broadcasting, while other areas are still analog. Most of the programs are still produced in 4:3 formats, but the goal is to quickly switch to 16:9 to take into account both the spread of 16:9 televisions among Italian families and the introduction of HD.

A key step was the decision to broadcast advertising in 16:9 since last November 2009. The agreement with the advertiser associations ruled that advertisements be produced and broadcast in 16:9 in all areas of the country, including those ones still covered by analog transmission. In these areas the 16:9 format must be automatically converted into 4:3 letterbox format.

To properly manage these mixed production and transmission environments, RAI has designed and built an infrastructure that allows the information about the program aspect ratio to be inserted into the video signal. RAI choose to insert both the WSS index (valid both in the analog and in the digital domain) and the VI index (valid only in the digital domain) in order to avoid losing that information across its range of digital and analog equipment facilities. This allows RAI to keep programs in their native format and to apply format conversions where required. In this way RAI can broadcast 16:9 programs into digital areas and convert them to 4:3 letterbox into areas that are still analog.

“Since RAI is one of the largest and most respected broadcasters in Europe, we are proud to be selected as one of the suppliers to help RAI in making the transition to HD,” says Harry Kanters AXON’s Director of Marketing & Sales. “Together with RAI, we have developed new products that seamless suites to their needs. Thanks to the flexible architecture of our Synapse range we were able to do this in a short period of time at very affordable costs

The regional channel RAI 3 was the most complex situation to manage. The national RAI 3 channel signal is always transferred to the regional stations in order to allow the insertion of regional Teletext lines and the transmission of regional news programs. For this reason, all regional studios have been equipped with the infrastructure needed to handle the WSS and VI indices, and to perform format conversions for analog transmission areas.

For this deployment RAI installed more than 22 Synapse frames equipped with over 120 modules (converters, data inserters, aspect ratio converters and audio delay lines) across its entire operations, from the national broadcast center in Rome to the three main production centers (Milan, Naples and Turin) and the 17 regional studios.

“We used the Synapse line for the availability of all functions required by us, and more importantly for the ability to process all the auxiliary information in the video signal in a transparent way,” says the project manager of RAI Production TV department, engineering group. “Moreover the Synapse line have multi functions cards that give significant cost benefits for complex environments like ours. This is the case of the INS400 card, a Teletext inserter that accepts input from two sources, one analog and one digital, and allows to select which lines to insert from which source. This will allow us to complete the digitization of the Teletext in the regional studios without having to change the equipment we have just installed, but simply by reprogramming the INS400 cards.”