BSkyB turns to automated test

Author : Alistair Winning

06 August 2012

Alistair Winning
Alistair Winning

Automation is often lauded as having the ability to save both time, and in the long run money. But how does it really compare?

Recently I had the chance to talk to Fernando Solorzano, an Automation HW Test Engineer from BskyB, whose department recently moved from testing with discrete instruments on desks to a fully automated testing methodology.

There are a few reasons for BSkyB making the changes; among them are the number and type of services that the company offers which have evolved. Originally, BSkyB offered only TV channels via satellite, but now the company has extended its range of services to video on demand, high definition television channels, 3D channels, television over IP and broadband Internet.

Even if we only look at the company’s core competency, delivering TV channels, there has been a complete change. Now there are almost as many differing modulation, bandwidth, compression and frame rate variations as there are channels.

All of these services and delivery methods have to be tested across BSkyB’s range of receiver devices. While the company only offers three types of receivers, there are up to 15 legacy receivers still in consumer homes. Every new channel, service or even GUI change delivered must be tested on all equipment that can receive it, both to ensure that it is working properly and also that it doesn’t interfere with any other service.

Some of the tests that every STB must be subjected to include HW Regression Test (HRT), CGMSA – Copy Protection, HW Integration Test (HIT), Beep Test, IR Control, RF Signal Test, TV SCART, Analogue Video, HDMI (Digital Video/Audio), VCR SCART, Audio Narrative, Stereo, Mono Switching and Signal Disruption Test

Obviously having such a big selection of services, equipment and test scenarios has made testing much more difficult and time consuming. BSkyB needed a way to include more automation in the test phase and cut the time taken during this phase without compromising on quality.

The hardware solution the company finally settled on consisted of a 5122 digitiser/oscilloscope, PXI-2557 2.5GHz Multiplexer, 4x1 Multiplexer, 3532 Crosspoint matrix switch and a PXI-4070 DMM and digitiser, all from NI. LabVIEW primarily controlled the hardware, with reporting taken care of by NI’s TestStand software.

The new automated test system was installed and led to some immediate benefits. Now multiple boxes could be tested in series on a single rack. The rack will also be expanded to allow more boxes to be tested at the same time. BSkyB also used a parallel configuration to allow it to perform the hardware integration test routines, as well as overnight hardware stress testing.

An innovative example of the new automated test routines is the noise injection test to measure picture quality. The test uses a C/N generator, controlled by a GPIB and software, to inject different levels of noise into multiple boxes to allow the testing of software stability. Mutiple boxes are tested at one time without the need for an image on screen. LabView captured the results from the set top box and then used optical character recognition to determine pass or fail and placed the results in a database.

If a fail is flagged, an image is grabbed from each STB under test and NI Vision toolkit is used to determine the interference. The results are then published in Web format. The whole routine is automated with no manual interjection necessary.

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