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IPE’s unknown presence in broadcast and radio studios

IPE is setting about putting itself on the map of the UK's leading broadcast systems integration companies

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you will have watched a TV programme or heard radio broadcasts that were produced in studios built by IPE Limited – everything from Strictly Come Dancing to shows on Radio 1. Few, however will have realised the identity of the company who built these facilities.

Over the years, IPE has acquired a strong reputation for delivering state-of-the-art solutions into live production environments with minimal disruption, on time and on budget.

IPE started out in 1983 as a specialist systems integration company working mainly in audio. Decades on, the company has completed a huge number of projects, becoming one of the BBC’s principal audio suppliers. In addition, it has built several hundred radio studios and has, more recently, installed television and complex audio visual systems for ITV and Tate Modern (the Starr Cinema, featured in PSNEurope October 2016).

A key offering from IPE – part of its ‘out of sight’ technologies, as highlighted on its webpage – is IDS, a scaleable, network-based display and control system that integrates with essential broadcast equipment: “We realised that there was an opportunity for a flexible, network-based solution, capable of delivering that same information and much, much more using off-the-shelf display devices connected and managed via IP,” explains Judge. “Since then, IDS has evolved into a sophisticated, modular display and control system that can be tailored to fit any installation. It gives users a powerful toolbox to create bespoke network systems using their own custom-designed information for display and control purposes, enabling them to carry out a range of critical and non-critical operations.”

The intuitive software employed by IDS provides a simple user configuration that enables it to display a wide range of broadcast and media information. No longer limited to clocks and cue lights, the system allows the user to display information from a wide range of sources (XML, IPTV etc ). It is this flexibility and IPE’s ability to solve the client’s problems in a simple and cost effective way, which has stood IPE in good stead to flourish in today’s competitive environment.

IPE’s customers drive many of its key developments, including both manually operated production timers and countdown timers driven by playout schedules. ITV, for instance, wanted an interface to a newsroom system to show the availability of audio and video media files that were being moved from site to site. “We’ve developed the remote control of PTZ cameras and robotic camera systems,” explains Judge (pictured). “There is an increasing trend for IDS to become more of an integrated solution. Operational simplicity is the key, people just want to be able to press a button and have the system do what they want. This is particularly important with the increase in unskilled, non-technical staff using the system.”

Having long-standing relationships with clients such as the BBC (Radio 1 studio pictured top), ITV, CNN, Tate Modern and Chatham House, IPE is not only seeing a move towards IP but also recognises that it is only a matter of time before core hardware products become applications running in the Cloud or on virtualised in-house servers. “Ultimately, all the key broadcast systems will exist as software applications,” explains Judge, “and IPE is well positioned to meet this changing environment. Having our own in-house team of software developers gives us the flexibility to adapt to changing market needs whilst having direct control of our comprehensive support offering for both IDS and our systems integration business.”

Over the last year, the team at IPE has also seen the speeding up of the convergence of ‘high-end’ AV and broadcast solutions. “IDS has now reached a critical mass in so much as it is fully proven in broadcast critical situations and everyone wants it. For many years, our core business has been broadcast, but we are now seeing AV system requirements that challenge or exceed the complexity of those from the broadcast sector.”

IPE is currently working with the BBC to deliver its ViLoR (virtualised local radio) initiative. This project will see IPE refurbish all of the BBC’s local radio stations (pictured) over a three-year period. Unlike traditional local radio stations, the ViLoR stations have most of their audio processing and control systems running on virtualised servers in just two BBC data centres, with each local station essentially having only control surfaces and local audio monitoring on site. This gives the BBC several advantages, not least the fact that it massively reduces the number of equipment racks required at each local radio site, which in turn simplifies maintenance. Centralisation and the use of virtualisation also reduces the amount of physical hardware needed in the data centres and greatly simplifies both maintenance and software upgrades.

Always looking to innovate and integrate with third party systems, IPE recently installed a combined digital cinema and presentation auditorium at the Tate Modern. The Starr Cinema was an opportunity to combine innovative systems design with an operationally friendly IDS solution. “Traditionally, cinema audio systems are kept separate from auditorium presentations systems,” explains Judge, “but this, in effect, means that two separate audio PA systems are installed. This is not cost effective, particularly when the cinema sound system is based on Dolby Atmos, requiring over 40 loudspeakers. IPE came up with a single integrated technology solution for the Tate that met all the requirements of Dolby Atmos certification, whilst also delivering exceptional auditorium PA sound, largely using the same equipment.

“IPE is proud to have delivered The Starr Cinema as it is the first facility in the UK to incorporate presentation, live performance and Dolby Atmos sound in a single fully integrated room.”

Looking forward, 2017 is already looking very promising for IPE with an increase in overseas projects. “IPE is going from strength to strength and this success is thanks to the experience of the entire IPE team,” enthuses Judge. “We are able to give clients everything from initial design and implementation through to comprehensive support. IDS is very popular because it’s unique and, quite frankly, it’s the best there is.”