Serving up TV's next generation
Networking, scalability drive development in broadcast video servers
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/19/2002 8:00:00 PM
There's little doubt that the video server has become a well entrenched tool in a broadcast facility. And, with the continual developments related to newsroom environments, that entrenchment is only getting wider and deeper. Video servers were once used primarily for nonlinear editing, but today they're the backbone of on-air operations for an ever increasing number of stations.
Each year, a myriad of product developments emerge from the myriad of companies manufacturing video servers. This year was no exception. On the following pages, leading video-server manufacturers discuss their products and general trends in a product area that seems to have limitless potential.
Accom's latest video-server improvement is version 4.0 software for the Abekas 6000 video production server. The Abekas 6000 handles both DVCPRO and MPEG-2 formats at 25 or 50 Mb/s and can be configured with two, three, six, or eight input and output channels. It can store more than 130 hours of video on a single server, and up to 32 servers can be networked together.
Among the new features are the ability to record vertical timecode on MPEG and the option of preserving discontinuities in the timecode or synthesizing timecode for clips after recording. A new content-management application allows Ethernet-connected users to view material stored on the servers at their computer workstation via TCP/IP. According to Doug Johnson, product manager for servers and digital disk recorders (DDRs), the content-management feature provides thumbnail browse images for MPEG-2 clips inside the server and also permits clip searches.
The performance of the Fibre Channel option in the Abekas 6000 has also been improved, allowing clips recorded at the 25-Mb/s bit rate to be transferred between Abekas 6000 servers at more than four times real time, says Johnson: "A one-minute clip now transfers in less than 15 seconds."
Another new feature is enhanced defragmentation, which "always runs as a background task," Johnson says. "And that opens up as much free space on the disk array as possible without the need to take the server offline and without interrupting or diminishing the operational features of the server."
He says broadcasters are seeking video servers that can insert edited video and audio into any frame of the clip, without restriction. "Versioning, the repackaging of media into different versions for different viewing audiences, is a task that's frequently requested. Having the ability to alter audio tracks without affecting the video (or vice-versa) directly inside the video server is a solution that's commonly asked for."
Accom also has introduced a new version of the WSD/HDX DDR. It's based on high-performance Ultra 160 SCSI drives and comes configured for a standard record capacity of 22 minutes of uncompressed 1080i 60-f/s high-definition video, equivalent to 88 minutes of standard-definition video. Optionally, storage can be configured to 44 or 88 minutes of uncompressed HD. Standard-definition and HD content can be stored together in the same compact 2–rack-unit chassis.
"A single-channel uncompressed DDR can be used exclusively within a graphics department inside a television facility," he says. "Graphics material is then delivered to the Abekas 6000 server via an Ethernet LAN using a compression codec—or even faster by serial digital video (SDI), with a channel on the server controlling the DDR as a slave device."
Another channel of the server, he adds, can be using this same graphics clip in an online edit suite to produce a promotional package. "As soon as this editing is finished, the completed clip is then immediately available to insert into an on-air playlist on yet another channel of the server under automation control."
Avid continues to build its efforts around Avid Unity, a shared-storage system it believes is ideal for newsroom or other collaborative creative work areas in a broadcast or post-production facility.
According to Broadcast Group Director David Schleifer, the company blurs the lines between traditional servers, storage and clients. He cites new versions of Avid Unity introduced at NAB in affordable packages: "Our LANshare product starts at $22,500 and delivers the power of Unity MediaNet to smaller workgroups."
Avid also introduced Xdeck version 1.0, a direct-ingest product for transferring material to shared storage devices. It supports multiple resolutions—including DV25, DV50 and D10 (MPEG) as well as JFIF formats—and also has a browser-based remote application. Cost is expected to be around $18,000, with delivery in the third quarter.
The company's bread-and-butter broadcast server is the AirSPACE, which is available in either DVCPRO25 or DVCPRO50 as well as IMX 50 formats and can store from 12 to 244 hours in a 6–rack-unit frame.
"In the traditional server market, Avid AirSPACE has the ability to record directly to Unity as well as play back material while the transfer is still in progress," says Schleifer. "At the high end, we raised the bar on large systems, showing our new 2-GB architecture for Unity that gives us the ability to stream hundreds of DV25 streams."
With digital technologies continuing to displace analog, Avid, like other companies, is endeavoring to serve the entire market, Schleifer says, from smaller sites looking for a cost-effective entry point into nonlinear workflow to the high-end customers that need to integrate complete facilities or workgroups. "More and more, we are finding that customers are no longer interested in 'playing' with technology. The strongest customer demand is for systems that work as advertised, can be installed quickly, and let them get to work without distracting their facilities. Much of our development has gone into specific features that support this ultimate goal."
Ciprico's latest server product is the DiMedia 2400, a product that combines SAN (storage area network) technology with NAS (networked attached storage). Ciprico says the system can offer aggregate bandwidth of 120 MB/s with scalable storage up to 16 TB that can support 256 file systems. The system also uses Gigabit Ethernet technology, which the company says eliminates the need for installing and maintaining a separate storage network like Fibre Channel.
For those using Fibre Channel, the company has the 7000 Series of RAID Disk Arrays, with a 100-MB/s Fibre Channel interface. Each 7000 enclosure can support 144 GB to 1.4 TB of storage.
Doremi's V1 digital media server is designed for live-broadcast applications, audio post-production, and program-delay needs. It has up to 24 independent channels, and multiple feeds can access the same video data. It supports MPEG-2 and motion JPEG standards and is compatible with automation systems from Odetics, Harris, SGT and Etere. The server reads video and audio data stored in internal files or on an optional Video Storage Unit. The files are then transferred for playback on the video channels. The V1 connects to the VSU via Fibre Channel, allowing up to 126 hard disks to be connected per interface card.
James Brooks, head of development for Drastic Technologies' DDR products, says customers today are looking for products that provide more-comprehensive integration with existing and future infrastructure, both traditional and digital.
"Video servers are now standard for bumper/tag, interstitial, promo, commercial and even long-format programming," he says. "Broadcasters have been forced by the most popular systems to record via analog or D1 digital into the server before playout is possible."
Drastic servers support a wide variety of file formats (for example, Mov, Omf, MPG, Avi) on standard file systems. "That allows other devices—like nonlinear editors, compositing devices, graphics and audio—to add new media directly to the server's cache," Brooks says. "This, along with extremely comprehensive Sony, Odetics and VDCP support, creates an efficient nondestructive bridge between master control, ingest, editing and production."
Pricing ranges from $20,000 to $50,000.
Drastic is involved with both server systems and DDRs and, Brooks says, finds that customers are requesting integration of these two areas, with DDRs used for production and servers for playback.
"The first step to this goal is data and control sharing between DDRs and servers," he says. "The structure of the DDR/server and SAN is critical for the next step as well, which is to provide consistent and simple access for the rest of the operations.
Drastic, like many other server suppliers, uses the word scalable a lot when it comes to product development. "With each server type we produce [HDTV uncompressed, STDV uncompressed, MPEG-2, DV, DVCPRO25, DVCPRO50]," Brooks explains, "we provide a scalable set of tools to connect our own products as well as the products of other companies that may already exist at the facility or provide features we are not developing."
That allows the broadcaster to use a wide variety of tools to create media and send that media directly to digital transmission systems without converting back to baseband video.
Director of Product Marketing Eddy Jenkins, says Leitch's big news at the NAB show was a move to 2-Gb/s Fibre Channel infrastructure. "That increases the channel count of a single Fibre Channel loop from 44 channels to more than 100 channels at DVCPRO25 data rates." The company also now uses 181-GB drives, increasing storage capacity of a single Fibre Channel loop from 7.3 TB to 18 TB (1,250 to 3,000 hours at 8 Mb/s).
The company's new VRMediaNet media-management system boosts overall system size by integrating multiple Fibre Channel loops as one virtual server system. Jenkins says the loops can be local or geographically dispersed.
"Customers can now establish a business model that is not limited by the size or location of their infrastructure," he adds. "Interoperability allows systems to be implemented using multiple manufacturers' equipment."
Jenkins says customers can select from DVCAM, DVCPRO25/50, MPEG-2 at data rates from 4 Mb/s to 50 Mb/s. IMX compression will be available in September. The systems also provide interfaces for SDI and SDTI and for FTP file transfer over Ethernet, SCSI, ATM or OC3 networks.
For newsroom applications, Jenkins says, the company's NEWSFlash-II nonlinear editing system can now handle MPEG-2 I-frame-only editing for DVCAM, DVCPRO25/50 and MPEG-2. It also can render DV- and I-frame-only NEWSFlash timelines to a long GOP output.
Two other newsroom-server enhancements: Browsecutter-II, a browse/edit system, and Instant Online-II, the interface between the proxy-edit decision list and the high-resolution storage system.
"Instant Online-II also enables third-party browse systems to be integrated with Leitch Newsrooms and play-to-air systems," Jenkins adds.
Omneon's MCP 2101 MediaServer provides up to 32 real-time input and output channels and 600 Mb/s of IP network access over dual Gigabit Ethernet ports.
"The server system can scale up to 96 channels and 1.8 Gb/s of IP bandwidth in a common storage pool of 12 TB by ganging together MediaServers in a common file system," says Vice President of Marketing Tim Slate. "Customers also have the ability to mix and match applications from different vendors and leverage a common server infrastructure for all their needs."
Entry-level systems with 100 hours of storage at 8 Mb/s MPEG-2 start at less than $80,000.
According to Slate, general video-server trends have not changed significantly in recent months. Scalability and reliability remain at the top of the list, with scalability allowing new services and more content to be added as needed. "And reliability is a given for broadcasters who must stay on-air 24/7 to maintain profitability."
But compatibility and adherence to standards are also becoming more important, he adds. "Customers want to see video servers from different manufacturers able to easily exchange material on a file level. Formats like MPEG-2, DV, and MXF are making this happen, and we predict there will be significant progress in this area in the next 12 months."
He also says more customers want media available using traditional data networks so that content can be moved and shared with many users and applications anywhere. "This is true whether it's a large news network bringing news from the Middle East back to the U.S. or a small broadcaster who wants the footage of Tiger Woods sinking a putt at Augusta for the evening newscast."
The company's edit-in-place capability with Apple Final Cut Pro is an example. Slate says the Omneon server handles the ingest and playback of material in real time from centralized storage, providing high-bandwidth IP connectivity over Gigabit Ethernet to the Apple Final Cut Pro workstations.
"Material does not need to move to and from the Omneon MediaServer and Apple FCP in the editing process; hence the term edit-in-place," he says. "Once the material is edited, it is ready for real-time playback from the Omneon server."
An entry-level Omneon Media Server capable of supporting eight edit seats and 16 real-time channels starts at $90,000. Individual edit seats cost about $6,000, including Apple G4 Dual processor, studio display and Final Cut Pro software.
Another help in this regard is a newly introduced DVB/ASI interface module. MediaPort allows storage and playback of MPEG Transport Streams (MTSs) on the Omneon MediaServer. "This will enable broadcasters to easily make use of media being widely distributed via cable and satellite as MPEG Transport Streams on the standard DVB/ASI interface," Slate says.
Panasonic's AJ-HDR150 video server has a new feature in its arsenal: HD slow-motion playback. "The addition of slow-motion capabilities better suits the HDR150 to a wide variety of play-to-air applications," says Joe Facchini, Panasonic Broadcast director of product marketing.
The server, he points out, can handle DVCPRO25, DVCPRO50 and DVCPRO HD material simultaneously, an industry first. It also better suits broadcast facilities that may be faced with doing news in standard-definition format and long-form program delivery in high definition.
"The HDR150 is capable of mixing all of the formats at the same time, with the only caveat being the effect on storage time," says Facchini. "The need for stations to do a mixture of SD and HD was what we had in mind."
Pricing starts at $55,000.
Customers are demanding one thing above all out of video servers, according to Greg Lowitz, general manager, Broadcast & Professional Solutions Division: networking. networking. networking. "Once content is digital, broadcasters want to ingest, browse, edit and transmit without reverting to tape. Networking allows content to be shared and viewed within a broadcast plant, as well as outside the plant across an IP network."
Networking also makes it easier for centralcasting, targeted advertising and remote monitoring, all which are becoming important components of broadcast requirements.
The big move at Pinnacle Systems with respect to servers has been the launch of its Palladium Architecture. Early users of the system include the CBC, Atlantis Alliance and Turner.
"Through Palladium Exchange, a file-transfer gateway, files from Pinnacle's Vortex News, Liquid Editing, DekoCast and CineWave systems can be played out on the MediaStream Server," says Lowitz. "In addition, Palladium Exchange supports file import from Avid nonlinear editors as well as optional import from a range of third-party video servers."
Palladium incorporates the MediaStream 900 series of video servers, which interconnect on a high-performance storage area network built for video. The system is scalable to more than 100 on-air channels and thousands of hours of online storage.
Lowitz says the Palladium's open, no-single-point-of-failure architecture permits simultaneous storage and playback of standard-definition, high-definition and ASI MPEG-2 content from the same server.
"Prices for networked storage systems range from $150,000 to several million dollars, depending on configuration and channel count," says Lowitz. "Compact, entry-level MPEG-2 servers, based on the MediaStream 300, start around $40,000."
MediaStream 700/1600 series servers allow extended channel count in a small package, suitable for spot and program playback.
"Open systems are also key," he says, "because broadcasters want to interchange files from multiple vendors' equipment.
Quantel's latest server, GenerationQ, offers a number of technological developments designed to advance the company's product line. One goal was to help the company, known for high-end, black-box solutions, to broaden its customer and product base.
"The watchwords for GenerationQ are openness, scalability and cost-effectiveness," says News Systems Business Manager Trevor Francis. "Quantel quality is no longer just an aspiration or just for the major players: It's completely scalable with solutions to suit the operational requirements and budget of every production unit, whether large or small."
At the heart of the system is the sQ server, which is scalable in blocks. Each server block has eight ports and can store 400 hours of DVCPRO25 material. Cost for a single server is around $100,000.
One key development is that it stores each frame of video as a separate entity, not as part of a file. This allows what the company calls Frame Magic, which Quantel explains this way: When an edit is made between two clips of video, an instruction set in the sQ server reads only the selected frames from each clip in the new edit order. The theory behind Magic Frame goes back to the design of the Quantel Harry, the first true random-access editor released in the mid 1980s.
"It segments frames all over various disk drives within the system," says Quantel spokesman Roger Thornton. "And that gives a very fast readout time [which is necessary] because the system has to be able to read anything in any order from anywhere on the disks in real time. It's treating pictures as pictures rather than as data."
The sQ server also has Integrated Server Automation. "It includes both broadcast and browse media on the same storage and under the control of a single SQL database," says Francis. "Much of the automation and management overhead seen in current systems has been eliminated."
Francis says an operational and open live-production system can be purchased for less than $ 250,000.
"Broadcasters today demand open, interconnectable systems," he says, "and, in GenerationQ, Quantel has embraced all of the current broadcast media standards."
Those standards include MPEG, DVCPRO, HDCam, Gigabit Ethernet, AAF/MXF, CORBA, MOSs.
SeaChange's big change in its server offering is the Broadcast MediaLibrary (BML), which is not designed as a play-to-air server but can serve content into the play-to-air system (as well as into nonlinear, graphics and other devices). Storage is scalable from a couple of terabytes upward, and bandwidth reaches 19 Gb/s. Cost for a high-availability system clocks in at less than $40,000 per terabyte.
Because it's scalable, says John Pittas, vice president, Broadcast Products and Engineering, individual stations as well as station groups and networks can use it. "A mid-market and above TV station could have a smaller one that holds 4 or 5 TB, and they could use it to feed not only the on-air system but also news production and post-production," he says. "And I could see people shooting on IMX or that type of format, bringing it into a facility and then sending that via IP to the BML."
Pittas says the reaction to the BML at the NAB show exceeded expectations. Broadcasters, he explains, are realizing the limitations of putting too much material on an on-air server but also are finding that they want to keep material on a server. That's creating an online server system that is one level behind the on-air server because it doesn't have MPEG-2 encoders and decoders and it doesn't do real-time asynchronous recording and playback.
"Typically, it's just doing IP-connected file transfers to the outside world, so what is needed is lots of fault-resilient storage."
Pittas says that customers in the broadcast market are requesting more storage, more inputs and outputs, and the ability to handle MPEG-2 transport streams natively, which SeaChange is addressing with the MediaCluster and IO cards. Among new features the company has added to its MediaCluster (BMC) on-air servers: low-resolution browse proxy, 50-Mb/s IMX/ D10 format capability, MXF compatibility, and enhanced jog/shuttle functionality.
SGI's push in the broadcast facility has taken on renewed focus with the SGI Media Server for Broadcast, a video server for program acquisition, play to air, commercial insertion, distribution of video, and digital news production.
The file-based system supports popular digital broadcast file formats: MPEG-2 4:2:2 and 4:2:0 (GXF and MXF), DVCPRO (DIF), and uncompressed. Through high-performance networking, broadcast video can be distributed over computer networks.
"We've experienced data rates of up to 100 Mb/s over standard 100BaseT switched connections. In real-world operations, we see sustained rates of over 80 Mb/s," says Chris Golson, senior director, Media Industries, SGI. "Customers are telling us that no one else can achieve this in practical operations. For even faster file transfers, we also offer Gigabit Ethernet and ATM over OC3, where real-world sustainable rates of over 600 Mb/s [Gigabit Ethernet] are being achieved."
The new MPEG version of SGI Media Server for Broadcast is built on the company's Origin 300 server, with SGI Total Performance video storage options. It's available in two models; customers can choose among a variety of options for I/O channels and local and central storage systems.
According to Golson, broadcasters are looking to bring costs down by using systems that are already in place or are easy to install and manage: for example, using Ethernet for controlling servers and transferring files.
"They would like video files to act like e-mail–integral files that can be transferred with maximum speed and reliability," he says. "Moreover, the operating system needs to be very steady and secure."
Faster-than-real-time transfer of files is also in hot demand by producers and content decision-makers for integrating the server system into dozens of edit bays.
"Because encoding and decoding multiple times due to system compromise is no longer acceptable in 2002, keeping the file in a data format makes more sense," says Golson. "Today, the quality of the video needs to remain consistent, yet the content needs to be available almost instantly with its metadata."
With control of servers always an issue, the SGI Media Server for Broadcast allows automation control not just via RS422 connection but via LAN/WAN across any distance. And, in a news-production environment, it can serve nonlinear editors among an entire group or network.
"In this environment, the Media Server for Broadcast can share video through a central storage system even while the video is still being recorded, allowing everyone in the organization to access the material during breaking-news events," says Golson. "For management, control and diagnostics, a standard telenet connection provides total system control from anywhere."
Sony's latest incarnation of the MAV70XGI MPEG-2 networked video server has 252 GB of RAID-3 storage and six slots for optional input/output boards. Storage capacity is handled in 36-GB hard-disk drives, expandable up to 1 TB.
The system also features selectable MPEG profiles, levels and bit rates on a clip-by-clip basis. MPEG support includes the MPEG-2 MP@ML, 4:2:2P@ML, MP@HL and 4:2:2P@HL profiles.
As for networking and inputs and outputs, the server can handle synchronous I/O to secure real-time record and playback by using the SDI/analog composite interface. It also supports asynchronous interface for FTP on the network by using Gigabit Ethernet.
The system also has hot-swappable boards and disks and redundant power-supply units, all of which are standard. The RAID-3-protected HDD with on-line disk rebuilds in the event of a failure. Another option is the use of input and output boards to configure up to five of the I/Os as needed. Pricing for the server starts at $44,300.
The Thomson/Grass Valley company is hoping to be more than just the sum of its parts. Thomson had previous acquired Philips, whose Media Pool system was one of the first video servers. By combining the developmental efforts at Philips with the team behind the Grass Valley Profile server, the company is looking to step up technology innovation.
The resulting developments won't be seen for a while, but, with Grass Valley Profile developments that were under way prior to the NAB convention, Thomson/Grass Valley does offer some new server features.
"We introduced a NewsShare extension to the Grass Valley Media Area Network open-SAN architecture, which offers users up to 48 channels of video, terabytes of storage of MPEG and DVCPRO materials at data rates up to 50 Mb/s," says Michael Cronk, vice president of marketing/general manager, digital news production, for Thomson/Grass Valley.
Cronk says the NewsShare extension also provides real-time performance, architectural scalability, exhaustive media- search capabilities, and tight integration with the rest of the Grass Valley digital news-production system.
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