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DE
deejay
RyanE posted:
Robotic cart machines could be extremely reliable, if maintained well and looked after properly. But you needed excellent operators to ensure if they did run into problems you could get the tapes out and play them in standalone machines. You also needed to leave enough time for them to cue up! However many channel playout companies and news operations used machines like MARC, Betacart, Odetics and Flexicart successfully.

This wasn’t possible with the very earliest 2” machines though, because the tape cartridges were not playable in any other machines.

And like with all machines, when you combine mechanics with electronics you are always going to run into problems every so often.


It seems they weren't as bad as it first appeared. Didn't the BBC have the MARC machines in NTA, but they seemed to be quite short lived?


The NTA MARC machines were in use from around 1996 until probably only 2000. Originally they were procured to provide all channel playout for BBC 1 and 2 but in the end were used solely for trails. This was not because they were particularly unreliable in themselves but because they were integrated into a separate automation system, and the two occasionally fought with each other!
SP
Steve in Pudsey
Wasn't the Heaven Can Wait debacle down to the MARC machine?
RT
Run_Telecine
The Sony Betacart was quite brilliant and reliable day in day out.I always found the RCA TCR100 mentioned by deejay to be reliable and the Ampex ACR25 too but not everyone did and some companies would not use them on-air for commercials.

The ACR25 - happy memories of working with that beast of a machine. Not extensively used at my site, as we didn't have Presentation/Comms. We did, however, use the ACR to play out items on the Late News (clipped up bits from the 18:00 PasB recording on 1").

I've been through the range of compiling inserts onto an A/B roll 1" setup - which takes a bit of planning to make sure the right inserts are on the right tape. You could either type timecodes in to cue tapes, or use 3 memories per machine.

Also used to play News inserts in from Umatic and Betacam, which as has been mentioned meant making piles of the appropriate tapes by each playback machine, ideally checking the tape is more or less cued beforehand to save time. Betacam (std) and Umatic generally rolled from a 5" clock, so a Director would have to mark up a script approx 15 words back to roll a tape.

Also there for the introduction of Betacarts, initially typing a playlist of tape IDs in, and later on playlists remotely loaded from ENPS"]BASYS/iNews. Generally reliable, though lots of mechanical bits to go wrong in the tape elevator/robotics. Took about 45" to recue a playlist - not bad going to change tapes in 4 machines. Tapes could be grabbed and played in from stand-alone decks if the cart machine died, or manually scanned and fed into the side-loading VTR decks if just the elevator had jammed. Very flexible, really. (And the system could be run with the door open if you stuck a biro into the safety lockout detector hole)

These days, it's all server playout - running orders can be reloaded in a couple of seconds, but Playout software can crash as you go on-air.
IS
Inspector Sands



The NTA MARC machines were in use from around 1996 until probably only 2000. Originally they were procured to provide all channel playout for BBC 1 and 2 but in the end were used solely for trails. This was not because they were particularly unreliable in themselves but because they were integrated into a separate automation system, and the two occasionally fought with each other!

They were taken out of on-air use at the latest 1998. Once the DTA opened all the interstitials came from server (either one of their Profiles or a local stand alone one). However because of the newish technology and because the apps room the servers lived in was being extended they dual made all trails on D3 and placed in the MARC for a while longer. Although with the turnover of operators in that area I don't know if the knowledge would have been still there to use it
DE
deejay
Wasn't the Heaven Can Wait debacle down to the MARC machine?


I’ve wondered this too, but I don’t think so - YouTube puts August 1996 as a TX date for that. If BBC One was running from the nta then (and I think it was) programmes were transmitted from standalone VTR machines. I don’t know the story but I guess it was established far too late in the day that the film was missing from the trolley - the wrong tape in the box or some other reason. Either that or it jammed in the machine and simply was damaged beyond repair.
RE
RyanE
RyanE posted:
Robotic cart machines could be extremely reliable, if maintained well and looked after properly. But you needed excellent operators to ensure if they did run into problems you could get the tapes out and play them in standalone machines. You also needed to leave enough time for them to cue up! However many channel playout companies and news operations used machines like MARC, Betacart, Odetics and Flexicart successfully.

This wasn’t possible with the very earliest 2” machines though, because the tape cartridges were not playable in any other machines.

And like with all machines, when you combine mechanics with electronics you are always going to run into problems every so often.


It seems they weren't as bad as it first appeared. Didn't the BBC have the MARC machines in NTA, but they seemed to be quite short lived?


The NTA MARC machines were in use from around 1996 until probably only 2000. Originally they were procured to provide all channel playout for BBC 1 and 2 but in the end were used solely for trails. This was not because they were particularly unreliable in themselves but because they were integrated into a separate automation system, and the two occasionally fought with each other!


The NTA seemed quite a short lived facility, I think I've read it lasted around 6 years? It's a shame really as from the couple of clips I've seen of it on YouTube it looked smart and must have seemed a bit futuristic back in the day. Why did they move to using the DTA only and closing the NTA instead of using NTA for BBC 1 and 2 and using the DTA for digital only channels? The only thing that I can think of is if the NTA wasn't capable of widescreen and moving to the DTA was easier than upgrading the NTA?

Also, where were BBC World and BBC Prime broadcast from when they first launched in the mid 90's? They must have had a control room each and (to get this back on topic) some VTR's as well. Did they have MARCs or did they launch slightly too early to get them?
JA
james-2001
I presume they considered it was a waste of resources effectively running each channel twice.

Would there be any point upgrading the NTA to widescreen anyway when it was used for analogue only?
IS
Inspector Sands
RyanE posted:

The NTA seemed quite a short lived facility, I think I've read it lasted around 6 years? It's a shame really as from the couple of clips I've seen of it on YouTube it looked smart and must have seemed a bit futuristic back in the day. Why did they move to using the DTA only and closing the NTA instead of using NTA for BBC 1 and 2 and using the DTA for digital only channels? The only thing that I can think of is if the NTA wasn't capable of widescreen and moving to the DTA was easier than upgrading the NTA?

There were two reasons why the NTA wasn't suitable, one was that it was built for two channels: BBC1 and BBC2 and the digital offering was 4 channels plus interactive etc. It wasn't possible to add the extra suites, it was too small. Secondly as you say it would have required upgrading everything, not only for widescreen but also the DTA was totally component digital. There was the other reason that they wanted to 'dual message' with different junctions on analogue and digital versions - so on BBC1 analogue there would be trails about getting digital TV, while on the digital version there'd be a trail for a programme on BBC Choice.

The DTA was originally fairly basic and not as much resilience as the NTA, in fact the first broadcasts of BBC Choice I think came from a temporary suite on the floor above. Eventually in late 1999 the DTA became the primary TX area, on air 24 hours a day and it was upgraded to add all the things that analogue TV had that digital didn’t and make it more resilient


Quote:
Also, where were BBC World and BBC Prime broadcast from when they first launched in the mid 90's? They must have had a control room each and (to get this back on topic) some VTR's as well. Did they have MARCs or did they launch slightly too early to get them?

They were from suites on the floor below, in amongst the UKTV channels (although World and Prime were there first) Deejay will be able to go into more details, but I remember always being amazed by how basic and manual their suites were.


Incidently the other TV company I know who had MARCs were Thames, although not till about 1990 so they didn't have much of a life either. However after they stopped being used for ITV they went to Teddington and were used for (amongst other channels) BBC World's European adverts, of which there were few (originally BBC World at the BBC didn't handle any adverts)
Last edited by Inspector Sands on 28 March 2021 8:36pm - 2 times in total
SP
Steve in Pudsey
Wasn't the Heaven Can Wait debacle down to the MARC machine?


I’ve wondered this too, but I don’t think so - YouTube puts August 1996 as a TX date for that. If BBC One was running from the nta then (and I think it was) programmes were transmitted from standalone VTR machines. I don’t know the story but I guess it was established far too late in the day that the film was missing from the trolley - the wrong tape in the box or some other reason. Either that or it jammed in the machine and simply was damaged beyond repair.


Thes story from somebody who was there, but working on BBC Two that night


DE
deejay
The BBC World, Prime (and old Arabic service) were three fairly similar suites built around analogue PAL infrastructure I think and were all based on Betacam SP format. There was one Odetics tape jukebox which was originally assigned to Prime but was reallocated to World. (There was a door from the Prime Suite into the odetics room right up until the area closed in 2004, but the world director had to go out into the corridor and around the corner!). This was because Prime originally was a very complex channel to direct, with a schedule that jumped in and out of BBC One to BBC Two and filling between programmes it didn’t have the rights to. The prime suite had four Outside Source lines too right up to the end (world only had two, plus a dedicated news circuit).
All programme tapes were loaded manually and on Prime you could only have two trails per junction when it lost the odetics to World. Happy days.
IS
Inspector Sands
I had a bit of involvement in World and Prime in those days and as I say it always felt very primitive to me. I couldn't imagine other international channels being run from such a set up. CNN being run out of a little room tucked away in the back of their Atlanta building, one person, some beta tapes and a laserdisc player Shocked

It worked though
Last edited by Inspector Sands on 28 March 2021 10:50pm - 2 times in total
RE
RyanE

There were two reasons why the NTA wasn't suitable, one was that it was built for two channels: BBC1 and BBC2 and the digital offering was 4 channels plus interactive etc. It wasn't possible to add the extra suites, it was too small. Secondly as you say it would have required upgrading everything, not only for widescreen but also the DTA was totally component digital. There was the other reason that they wanted to 'dual message' with different junctions on analogue and digital versions - so on BBC1 analogue there would be trails about getting digital TV, while on the digital version there'd be a trail for a programme on BBC Choice.

The DTA was originally fairly basic and not as much resilience as the NTA, in fact the first broadcasts of BBC Choice I think came from a temporary suite on the floor above. Eventually in late 1999 the DTA became the primary TX area, on air 24 hours a day and it was upgraded to add all the things that analogue TV had that digital didn’t and make it more resilient


I'm assuming that there were no signs of Digital TV's emergence at the time the NTA was created? I don't know how much it cost, but it can't have been cheap to set up and move the control rooms for BBC1 and BBC2 from the area that they were control from since TVC opened? Was it just a case of bad luck that they invested in the NTA only to find it outdated a few years later?


They were from suites on the floor below, in amongst the UKTV channels (although World and Prime were there first) Deejay will be able to go into more details, but I remember always being amazed by how basic and manual their suites were.


Presumably some old office space that was converted?

At risk of going a bit off topic here, what happened to International Control. I think I've seen elsewhere on here that it became BBC1 Network Control room. What prompted the reshuffle and where did International Control move to assuming it still existed?


Incidently the other TV company I know who had MARCs were Thames, although not till about 1990 so they didn't have much of a life either. However after they stopped being used for ITV they went to Teddington and were used for (amongst other channels) BBC World's European adverts, of which there were few (originally BBC World at the BBC didn't handle any adverts)


It's good to hear they found a second home. How late into the 2000's did tapes stop being used for most channels?

The BBC World, Prime (and old Arabic service) were three fairly similar suites built around analogue PAL infrastructure I think and were all based on Betacam SP format. There was one Odetics tape jukebox which was originally assigned to Prime but was reallocated to World. (There was a door from the Prime Suite into the odetics room right up until the area closed in 2004, but the world director had to go out into the corridor and around the corner!). This was because Prime originally was a very complex channel to direct, with a schedule that jumped in and out of BBC One to BBC Two and filling between programmes it didn’t have the rights to. The prime suite had four Outside Source lines too right up to the end (world only had two, plus a dedicated news circuit).
All programme tapes were loaded manually and on Prime you could only have two trails per junction when it lost the odetics to World. Happy days.


I wonder if the Odetics tape jukebox was used as a bit of a trial before the NTA was constructed with MARC machines? Had the BBC used robotic tape machines much before then?

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