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TSA Studio Goes Tapeless

The Transportation Security Administration has taken flight with a top-notch facility for producing its own high-definition video.

As a relatively new organization, the Transportation Security Administration (a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) didn’t have legacy facilities or internal video standards driven by formats now on the rubbish heap of technology.

by Bob Kovacs

When it came time to build a new studio for internal news, training and conferencing, the TSA could start from scratch and go for the best technology at the best price.

For TSA’s new studio in Arlington, Va., the agency went with high-definition video in the XDCAM HD format, a digital switcher and more than 6 TB of server space. The studio was completed and put in operation in the fall of 2010.

“There are some unusual capabilities in this facility,” said Jim Hatcher, chief technology officer for Professional Products Inc. (PPI), the Washingtonbased integration company that built the new studio for TSA. “The studio can do either 1080i or 720p format, with the XDCAM HD signals fed directly into Harris Nexio AMP servers.”

Once in the servers, video is edited using Final Cut Pro. Live productions are switched through a Ross CrossOver switcher and viewed on a 52-inch Sharp flat-screen LCD display driven by an Evertz VIP multi-image system.

The studio space measures 24×30 feet, with a full lighting grid and cyclorama as well as a separate studio control room. The cyc provides a chromakey surface that is feathered into the floor for seamless effects, and there is a news-style set with a typical news desk.

Studio control in the TSA’s Arlington facility On the studio’s ceiling is a lighting grid, energized by a Strand controller. The lighting package includes DeSisti fresnels, fluorescent fixtures from Brightline and Mole Richardson, and several LED instruments from Color Kinetics, the latter of which can be remotely controlled for color as well as brightness.

Two Hitachi SK-HD1000 cameras are in the studio with a provision for a third camera to be dropped in as needed. These are ENGstyle cameras with Fujinon 17x ENG lenses installed, with full studio controls. A Clear-Com intercom system and AutoScript prompters round out the camera complement, all of which is supported on Vinten Vision pedestals.


Cutting free from old-school formats, TSA’s studio has no video tape recorders.

“TSA does have the option to go to XDCAM recorders, which is a DVD technology,” Hatcher said. “Otherwise, this is designed around a tapeless server workflow.”

Video from the Hitachi cameras and Ross switcher are fed to XDCAM codecs at the Nexio AMP servers. Two Final Cut Pro systems are attached to the Nexio AMP servers using CIFS (Common Internet File System) protocol. There are two Harris Nexio AMP servers, each with a capacity of 3.2 TB.

The audio path is handled with a Yamaha mixer, then fed through Crown amplifiers to Tannoy studio speakers.

In addition to standard studio operations, TSA also has a Tandberg teleconferencing codec in this facility. This can be used as both a source and destination, so that a remote feed can be grabbed from the Tandberg and used in a production. In the opposite direction, studio video can be fed to the Tandberg and sent out on TSA’s conferencing network.

As for distribution (other than the Tandberg teleconferencing path), much of the finished material ends up on TSA’s internal fiber network and some is available on the Internet.

PPI assembled the studio equipment in its 43,000 square-foot facility, then shipped it to TSA for a relatively brief on-site installation.

“All the gear was pre-racked, pre-cabled, tested, burned in, and then we delivered it pre-assembled,” Hatcher said.

Final on-site assembly and commissioning took about a month. Hatcher said that installation went smoothly with the exception of TSA blocking access to two engineers who were not U.S. citizens. Integration could only proceed at TSA’s site with employees who were U.S. citizens.

PPI was also responsible for the set and studio features such as the cyclorama. With the relatively small studio, the set was designed to be placed as close as possible to the walls so that shooting angles could have maximum flexibility. The set has two usage configurations, one as a three-position news desk and the other for interviews.

TSA’s new studio in Arlington is typical of a modern tapeless facility. Distribution of programming is not the problem it once was—all you need is a solid Internet connection and you can get your signals anywhere they’re needed.

Technological change seems to accelerate every year, so it’s quite likely that this studio system will need upgrades and new gear over time. However, with its solid foundation and smart equipment selection, this TSA studio should be productive for many years.

Bob Kovacs has been an engineer for educational and corporate television systems. He can be reached