The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: Capital Off-Track Betting, Schenectady, N.Y.
Jun 1, 2008 12:00 PM, Staff Report
Racing information, supplied by TrackData Systems of San Diego, is downloaded over an FTP connection every 15 minutes. This is an essential piece of the facility's digital-signage system workflow. While it sounds simple, the wealth of data received is so immense that the facility required an advanced data management solution to parse, translate, and manage selected dynamic XML racetrack data. This information — which includes venue, horse, jockey, and track assignment data — is later sent to the InfoCaster media players as a data crawl.
Programmers and integrators from Bannister Lake worked with TrackData and totalization firms such as United Tote of Woodland Hills, Calif., while building the data management solution. Bannister Lake representatives sampled data from each source company and developed data parsers to automatically pull and retrieve the required data for upcoming races. Each scheduled race is automatically given a start and end time, and track abbreviations are translated and written to the database track table. Open text fields allow operators to enter any last-minute information about racetrack conditions and scratches.
“Before installing the software in the signage application, we needed to understand where the content was coming from and how Capital OTB was receiving that content,” says D'Arcy Pickering, director of sales and marketing at Bannister Lake. “We developed data parsers for each source, with each parser formatted specifically for the layout presentation in the Harris InfoCaster player. This application communicates with the FTP site to retrieve, process, translate, and feed the files to InfoCaster as one large text file. That text file is then displayed as a continuous crawl over the inhouse signage system.”
The Bannister Lake solution is based on the Microsoft .NET environment, and it communicates with the InfoCaster players via basic open database connection (ODBC) protocols to display the data. Some of the applications run as required for data conversions, while other applications — such as OTB Crawl Manager — are constantly pulling and retrieving information coming in from the various external sources.
The InfoCaster players, along with a video server for archived material, are housed in a single equipment rack located in an area separate from the technical core. According to Barber, the main reason for the separation was a lack of space in the control room — already overloaded with gear assigned to master control, production, and signal routing and processing tasks.
“We converted a reception area into an IT room and built out a distribution system strictly for InfoCaster signage and archival playout, with most of the material from the video server streamed to our website or scheduled into our pre-race morning lineup,” Barber says. “We wired the space with Cat-5, with direct connections to the Sigma routing system. The InfoCaster signals are routed to master control to mix the video and data. The final broadcast product is then routed to our outbound cable equipment for transmission and around our facility for our CCTV network.”
The CCTV network offers a select number of channels that are only seen inhouse, but those channels feature races and other information that will eventually be mixed into the live cable broadcast. One channel simply broadcasts an InfoCaster display featuring various racing information, including winning horses from recent races. That display page can also be switched to air at any time using a Harris Videotek 1×10 switcher if other programming is unavailable.
Barber says he believes that the digital-signage solution from Harris and Bannister Lake is the jewel of his facility, serving two distinct functions tied to the organization's mission. That mission involves bringing together data and video from multiple sources and making them available to viewers and bettors across the state, as well as delivering pertinent information to employees that is vital to the daily operation — all while allowing his staff more creative freedom in piecing together the broadcast product.
“Our operators essentially produce these visuals race by race, using the system to generate creative displays that provide the information our viewers need,” Barber says. “But they are also putting together promotions throughout our organization about events taking place both here and at our branch locations. For example, we're using the signage system to promote ladies' day at the Kentucky Oaks, special giveaways, and handicapping contents. The InfoCaster serves as a posterboard of sorts when there is a lull in the racing action.”
Barber adds that the simple, intuitive operation of the technology is essential to keeping everything moving forward in a fluid motion.
“There's not a ton of bells and whistles to confuse people when the pressure is on, and the system provides a clear set of preferences for file conversion and managing the overall video and data workflow,” Barber says. “The need to process this amount of information requires a rudimentary application that any professional or volunteer can pick up within a matter of minutes, and we've found that with a simple but powerful digital-signage system that essentially replaces the traditional broadcast character generator.”
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