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City of Naples Broadcasts Meetings Seamlessly with Automated Captioning Engine

City taps Link Electronics ACE-2000 ACE for automated captions.

JACKSON, Mo.–The city of Naples, Fla. broadcasts live meetings and replays them on local cable Comcast Cable Channel 98 as well as streaming video for live and archived meetings. In a typical week that’s about 24-30 hours of meetings that are broadcast and streamed live – everything from City Council meetings, to committee workshops, planning meetings and more. To make it easy for residents and interested parties to stay abreast of current events, they even have a link on their website which allows users to “Click here to watch the current NTV broadcast online.” Now, thanks to innovative technology, they automatically generate closed captioning so that the hearing-impaired community can stay informed on city happenings as well.

The decision was made to add closed captioning to all meeting broadcasts early in the year, and Communications Manager David Fralick started looking at various options. At the time the city was also upgrading some of their broadcast capability from analog to digital (SDI), so Doug Taylor of Encore Broadcast Solutions provided options for the captioning component. While manual captioning was one possible route it has some drawbacks. There are low up-front costs with little required in the way of equipment – but the scheduling and budgeting was potentially problematic. Unlike regularly scheduled TV programming which has hard stop times, meetings can end early or run late. Fralick’s research indicated that manual captioning contracts required users to pay for the stated amount of time (so no refunds for meetings which end early) and overtime rates apply when meetings run over, making it difficult to budget accurately.

Taylor introduced Fralick and his Naples colleagues to the ACE-2000 Automated Captioning Engine from Link Electronics. Taylor and Link President Dave Kendall were installing the same technology at the City of Fort Myers. Fralick made the 1-hour drive north and after seeing the ACE-2000 in action, was sold on the concept.

About the technology

Using a cutting-edge computational linguistics program, the ACE-2000 converts speech to text and sends that text out with captioning data, either by RS232 (Serial) or TCP/IP. Designed for two through four-line roll-up captions, and compatible with most closed captioning encoders or devices, the ACE-2000 is ideal for applications involving closed captioning in a studio or in the field.

The ACE-2000 can accept audio by de-embedding the first two channels of audio from a SDI or a HDMI video input or through balanced AES or analog audio. Additionally, the unit can accept audio using http, tcp, udp, mmsh, and most types of rstp and rtmp, including most commonly used codecs.

For remote controlling of the device, the ACE-2000 has a web-based Graphical User Interface (GUI) that contains an event scheduler, allowing the user to use different audio inputs and caption outputs on demand, with selectable caption location. The unit comes preset with standard audio and caption data outputs for Link Electronics encoders, making setup for the device quick and efficient. The ACE-2000 is also available in two convenient bundles. The ACE-2000/492 includes the SCE-492 superior caption encoder, and the ACE-2000/494 includes the AIP-494 caption encoder and audio over IP creating a complete automated captioning and encoding solution. The ACE-2000 is backed by 1-year warranty and free 24/7 customer support.

The Link output is more consistent in its throughput of captioning. There is no “pause” then release of a flood-gate of captions that are simply displayed too fast to read, as routinely happens with live manual captioning. Feedback from the community, which tends towards a more mature demographic, has been positive.

In addition to ease of installation and use, the ACE-2000 can be updated with local vocabulary, like the council member names, street names and unique neighborhoods.

How it works in the studio

NTV personnel connected their ACE downstream from the final out, just before the SDI signal is distributed to streaming and cable transmission equipment. The signal comes from the program output of the broadcast system’s router that has audio embedded on the SDI signal path. It then goes to a distribution amp that feeds the server and a Link Electronics 492 closed caption encoder. The server and encoder interfaced using a RS232 cable so that they are fed simultaneously, with no possible network interference. Final output from the Link CC Encoder then out to streaming and to the cable company.

While live captioning of meetings was the primary reason for the purchase, the city also archives the captioned broadcasts so that they can be viewed at a later date.

“We’re pleased with the ACE-2000,” said Fralick. “It is about 93% accurate and has performed well.”

Fralick recalls a time or two when the unit was a little “glitchy.” They shut down the ACE and rebooted the system, which then worked well.

Fralick also appreciates the clean layout that Encore provided. That, coupled with clearly marked cables, makes it simple to trace and troubleshoot cables if necessary.

Fast Payback

The ACE-2000 was a one-time purchase at a cost of $44,380 – which includes a year of support and upgrades. Manual captioning in south Florida ranges from $95 to $150 per hour. Using a base rate of $100 per hour, the ACE-2000 will pay for itself in 444 hours. Based on their non-summer meeting schedule of 24-30 hours of meetings per week, the city of Naples achieved a payback in 18.5 weeks (based on 24 hours of weekly captioning and a cost avoidance of $100 per hour for manual captioning).

After the first year, the optional annual warranty which includes service such as updates, live 24/7 support (connecting to an engineer not an answering service) and training and support runs just $5,000, significantly less than a captioning contract.

There is a lot going on in Naples these days – as the weekly meeting schedule will attest. Thanks to the innovative technology of the ACE-2000 Automated Captioning Engine, now the City maintains ADA compliance, and allows their hearing-impaired residents the opportunity to stay informed.