Cobalt Digital is a US company that designs and manufactures electronic equipment for the HD & 4K television production and broadcast markets. I recently spoke with Jesse Foster, Cobalt Digital’s VP of Marketing and Strategy, about the company, their industry, and the design challenges they face.
DANNY: Jesse, Tell me about Cobalt Digital. What is their product line and who are their customers?
JESSE: A large segment of Cobalt’s product portfolio is comprised of modular cards that reside in the openGear terminal gear platform. These products cover a wide range of applications including high density signal processing and distribution for many different signal types. External customer-facing I/O is terminated with industry standard BNC / HD-BNC coax connectors for digital and analog video, RJ-45 for Ethernet, and terminal strip connectors for balanced audio, GPIO, and serial communications.
Cobalt has a diverse customer base that ranges from Government entities such as the White House and Navy submarines to commercial installations such as TV stations and sports venues. Each market has its own requirements and the flexibility of the openGear terminal gear system along with other stand-alone products have made Cobalt a go to vendor for mission critical applications.
DANNY: What is Cobalt Digital’s differentiator? What makes them unique?
JESSE: What sets Cobalt apart from our competitors is our ability to quickly adapt to market changes and demands. This is a result of being a privately-held engineering company that thrives on solving a problem and the win that comes with it.
Also, Cobalt is known for highly integrated products that can do more than the competition with less pieces. For the most part, Cobalt has a built its product portfolio based on direct customer interaction and the fact that we are an engineering-centric company.
DANNY: Why do your customers use Cobalt Digital?
JESSE: Cobalt delivers highly reliable systems to the Outside Broadcast / Mobile Production Truck operators, and this market demands that systems be as compact as possible. With that in mind, Cobalt’s products are engineered to be as space-efficient as achievable and our solutions are very dense.
This is true both in the Mobile Production space and others such as rental companies who build and maintain “fly-packs” which are often combined on location and add up to what a production truck does. Fly-packs are essentially rolling cases full of gear, so the smaller and lighter, the better.
DANNY: We were discussing the openGear compatible terminal gear frame. Tell me about that.
JESSE: Cobalt Digital is a founding member of the openGear terminal equipment platform. openGear is a consortium of manufacturers that all build products to the openGear spec which defines the physical characteristics of a card and the software control system which is called DashBoard.
Cobalt manufactures an openGear compatible 2RU frame called the HPF-9000 and the advantage of this frame is that it provides additional usable power per card slots. This means the end user can increase density by stuffing more functionality into that 2RU frame.
DANNY: What were the design challenges your faced when developing this product?
JESSE: The extreme density available across Cobalt’s line-up meant that they needed to specify a robust, high-capacity edge connector to facilitate the ingress and egress of the various signal types. Cobalt openGear rear modules are mostly passive devices and are mounted on the rear of the frame and they mate to the front-loaded cards with a positive click.
Over the life of a card it can be removed and reseated into the connector hundreds of time. The connectors also needed to be able to withstand the stresses of shipping and rolling down the highway in a 53 foot production truck trailer with all of the potholes and other jarring bumps they may take.
A big issue that Cobalt had to deal with on previous openGear frame versions was the fact that the connector on the Module Interconnect (MI) plane that mates the card power and control interfaces was surface mount solder type. This meant that they would sometimes shear off in shipping if the cards were loaded in the frame. This was a serious issue because Cobalt’s competitors would ship cards in frames at a customer’s direction and this would greatly reduce the time needed to build the systems on the end user’s side.
DANNY: What Samtec connectors did you use and why?
JESSE: For the rear module requirement Cobalt selected the Samtec HSEC8-160-01-S-DV-A-K-TR due to its high-speed capacity and the fact that the connector was designed to handle many mating cycles. The connector also provided the amount of contacts needed to support Cobalt’s signal I/O density for SDI signals that run up to 3 Gbps. This has proven to be a great connector and it is used on Cobalt’s latest designs.
To solve the MI (Module Interconnect) connector problem Cobalt consulted with Samtec and defined a custom, through-hole solder-able connector known as the ASP-175605-0. This is an Edge Card Connector with posts, but it’s still the same overall length as the standard connector. Once this connector was introduced Cobalt started shipping frames fully loaded from the factory at the customer’s direction and it fully resolved the issue. This is a great example of why Cobalt likes to work with Samtec.
(Note: Samtec does not provide drawings or details of modified or custom interconnects. But you can click here to learn more about Samtec’s line of high-speed, micro edge card connectors)