Playout system is an industry term used to describe the equipment, software and/or processes—typically within some kind of broadcast environment—responsible for "playing" source media and converting or rendering it into a form which may be "put to air", or presented, for external use.
A playout system theoretically could be as simple as a CD/DVD player, or as comprehensive as the multi million-dollar equipment typically used as part of network television infrastructure. The so-called broadcast environment could be traditional broadcasting (eg. radio/TV) or a small room of guests at a party or gathering, or even just yourself!
Real and functional playout systems are far more than just mere "players", such as the ones you may be accustomed to for playing CDs within a domestic environment. A modern media playout system will generally offer at least some of the following functionality:
Capable of precise control concerning position, timing and latency when playing, stopping or otherwise manipulating media items, with little or no delays and ambiguities. Within a manual context this generally means that the playout system will respond to commands near-instantaneously or at the very least with a pre-determinable and constant delay.
The ability to play more than a single item simultaneously, or at least of playing items end-to-end with no gaps in between.
Fully automated operation usually also including comprehensive scheduling of the media items to be played.
Easy and fast retrieval/access of source media—in modern systems this is normally in the form of electronic media files stored locally or on a server accessible via a computer network.
A tightly-coupled media transport control system allowing for a high degree of control and the flexible manipulation of media item playback (speed, pitch, tempo, key, direction, levels, etc).
Segues and transitions (both audio and video) between media items can be controlled/configured and the system is capable of a professionally "tight" output.
A high degree of control over the characteristics and specifications of the output, generally independent of the source media. Audio (levels, compression, conditioning, etc) and video (system, frame rate, aspect ratio, etc) will be configurable and able to be maintained no matter the format or characteristics of the source media currently being played.
Audio/video overlays, embellishments, titling, supers, watermarks, lower-thirds, etc, can be seamlessly mixed into the output.
Support of control interfaces and can be programmed or commanded via external means or interfaced with other equipment.
In essence, the difference between a simple player and a comprehensive and fully functional playout system is that the latter directly allows for the production of a professional and tightly choreographed output, appropriately mastered, polished and ready for broadcast or other pro use. On the other hand, a player merely plays something which has already been produced—typically without (much) additional scope for media control, manipulation, layering and presentation attributes.
OtsAV is an innovative, comprehensive and flexible playout system—in development for over 12 years and used extensively in the marketplace for over a decade—which offers all of the above and much much more, in a convenient PC-based software architecture at downright amazing prices. This is especially so when you consider that even many systems/equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars don't offer the same time-saving and presentation-quality functionality and innovations found in OtsAV at a fraction of their cost.