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BBC uses Zynq and ZedBoard to replace entire rack of NICAM audio-coding equipment dating back to 1983

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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Thanks to Hackaday’s recent article, "35 Million People Didn’t Notice When Zynq Took Over Their Radio," Twitter, and Xilinx’s Social Media wrangler Nicole Whalen, we now know that the BBC switched over from an entire rack full of NICAM audio-coding and -distribution gear developed and fielded in 1983 with one small rack-mount box based on the Xilinx Zynq SoC and the low-cost ZedBoard development kit. The news originated with a January 20 posting titled “35 million people didn’t notice a thing…” by Justin Mitchell, a principal engineer at BBC R&D. Mitchell writes “The output of these coders are listened to by about 61% of the UK population (35-40 million people) each week,” so you get the sense that this was a high-profile project.

 

As Mitchell explains: “The NICAM equipment … in the basement of Broadcasting House was originally installed in the autumn of 1983. The circuit boards that made up the NICAM equipment were failing due to their age and the supply of spare circuit boards was running out. In addition, the faulty circuit boards were becoming difficult to repair because some of the components they use have become obsolete and can no longer be bought. So we looked to make a replacement.”

 

 

He continues: “…the new coder … replaces the 3 data combiners (which combine the RDS data with the transmitter control information), the 6-channel audio coder, the CRC inserter, the CRC checker, the 6-channel audio decoder and the 3 data splitters (which separate the RDS data and transmitter control information). It also includes the NICAM test waveform generator.”

 

Here’s a photo of the inside of the new NICAM codec box with the ZedBoard located in the center of the image:

 

 

BBC Zynq-Based NICAM Codec.jpg

 

Zynq-based BBC NICAM Audio Codec with ZedBoard in the center of the image

 

 

How well did the switchover work? It’s all in the title of Mitchell’s article. Nobody noticed. That’s the hallmark of a 100% successful replacement effort.

 

 

 

 

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