Compiled by Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/11/2003 8:00:00 PM
Avid's lineup of servers includes AirSPACE and MEDIArray ZX, the latter used for Avid Unity MediaNetwork systems.
MEDIArray ZX has a 16-drive chassis that provides nearly 3 TB of storage in 4RUs. It has a built-in, upgradable layer of software that manages storage and identifies developing problems within the storage subsystem and the clients. Configuration sizes range from 1.44 TB to 2.88 TB, with options for expanding as the need arises. A Unity Media-Network system supports more than 17 TB.
Avid's AirSPACE servers can handle from 24 to 198 hours of storage in DVCPRO 20- or 50-Mb/s or IMX 50-Mb/s MPEG formats. Avid says the server is designed for news-story playout, feed-room ingest or transmission applications such as spot and program play-to-air or time-delay.
Avid also has built an asset-management system for its servers, Avid Unity MediaManager. The system handles video and audio content from a central location outside of the editing station.
MediaManager is designed to integrated seamlessly with all the products in the workgroup. "It takes no additional effort for all for the metadata to be captured," says Avid Broadcast Director David Schleifer. "As a result, it is always there when you need to search it." The information is also Web-based, making it accessible from anywhere.
Avid's server lineup is intended to offer tight integration with the overall workflow. "Whether it is the ability to record directly to local drives and to shared storage, the ability to play to air while still transferring, the ability to synchronize transfers with the Avid iNEWS rundown," Schleifer says, "each is an integration point where we look to make our system work better."
Also impacting server performance is Avid's new DNA system. "The DNA architecture delivers many streams and layers to the editor with improved rendering and transcoding performance," he says. "In the overall solution, it lets you get more complex material to air faster than ever."
DoReMi's server lineup is based on the MCS Server, which can handle up to four channels and can be configured to handle two record/two play, one record/three play, or other variations. Input options include composite, S-video, component and SDI in/out, and MPEG-2 compression is selectable up to 50 Mb/s. The server is housed in a 3RU enclosure and has networking capability if more channels are required.
In addition, the front panel mimics VTR controls, and the server offers external RAID-5 storage.
Marketing Director Ramzi Shakra considers the front-panel design one of the server's more attractive features. "For example, we have a jog/shuttle wheel and record, play and fast-forward buttons. To record, simply press play and hit record."
An LCD display on the front panel, he points out, displays the video playing on the server channel, and buttons on the front panel allow for switching between the four channels.
Remote control is an important feature in a server, and DoReMi's software allows for that control via Ethernet. It communicates via TCP/IP with the server, and each in/out video channel can be given its own IP address on the local network.
Leitch's server architecture is based on a storage-area-network (SAN) approach but has evolved to also incorporate network-added-storage (NAS) systems.
Explains Eddy Jenkins, director of product marketing for video servers, "That approach provides the best of both worlds: the performance of SAN for mission-critical operations and the cost-effectiveness of NAS resulting from the use of equipment designed for the IT market."
It's important, he adds, to use industry protocols and easy integration into IT infrastructures. The servers are format-independent and can handle DV, MPEG, IMX and ASI formats. Data rates are selectable between 4 and 50 Mb/s. RAID technology is used to provide data protection and the choice of RAID 3 or ECC parity for the protection from any one or more drive failures in a single system.
"Our support of the MXF initiative and connectivity to IT infrastructure provides customers with the flexibility to design a server system that meets their needs from a physical and application perspective," Jenkins says. "The security and tracking of media and metadata is achieved through the development of VRMediaNet, an integrated SQL database available through the server/user interface, which provides comprehensive data and resource management."
One product in Leitch's server lineup is the VR440 shared-storage broadcast server. From 2 to 100 channels can be configured on 2-Gb/s Fibre Channel. In addition, a switchless infrastructure allows for a 16-channel VR server domain to be constructed without the need for Fibre Channel hubs or fabric switches.
The company has also introduced a complementary product, the NEO VR. Also known as the DVR-3901, it's the industry's first full-featured digital video recorder packaged on a single module for the NEO platform.
The DVR-3901 is a standard-size NEO module with dual fixed onboard high-capacity hard drives. With its standard and comprehensive array of interfaces for digital and analog video and audio, timecode and control, the DVR-3901 is suitable for a variety of applications.
Masstech hits the market with its MassChannel server and complementary products designed for networking a facility's devices.
It's intended as a high-quality, low-cost server to meet a specific need: quality playout with a focused application. "In our case," says Joe French, vice president of sales and marketing, "we see the need to have a complete server application that can do cable-network playout, disaster-recovery playout, and specialty playout, where the need for complex machine control is not a mandate."
French says Masstech believes the video server needs to have an IT-based infrastructure with standard network configuration. "The server has to be smart enough to request material when it needs it and smart enough to manage the networking on its own."
Omneon's latest server development is Media Server System version 2.1 software. New features include edit-in-place functionality, new SDTI-CP support (which the company says is an important requirement to enable the transfer of MXF, or Material eXchange Format, files; and single file system access across the entire Omneon Media Server System product family.
The goal of the system's open architecture is to improve interoperability with many different types of editing systems. As an example, the company points to integration with Apple's Final Cut Pro workstations and Pinnacle Liquid editing systems.
Among additions to the system's Media Tools lineup, DelayTool adds real-time program-delay capability to the Omneon Media Server System; TransferTool enables media to be copied, transferred and managed between Omneon systems and external standard platforms and workstations; ViewerTool allows the parsing and viewing of video program streams within MPEG transport streams stored on the Omneon server.
The lineup of servers from Pinnacle Systems includes the MediaStream family, a product line that has become well-established but continues to evolve. The MediaStream 900si has up to 12 video channels and is based on the company's Palladium Store 1000 storage subsystem. MediaStream 900, which, unlike the 900si, doesn't offer a direct upgrade path to networked storage, handles up to 12 video channels (both the 900si and 900 provide 240 or 370 hours of storage at 8 Mb/s). Also in the line: MediaStream 300 (up to five video channels and 9-25 hours storage at 8 Mb/s); MediaStream 700 (up to 12 video channels and 36, 150 or 300 hours storage at 8 Mb/s); and MediaStream 1600 (up to 16 video channels and the same storage capacity as the 700). All servers except the 300 are expandable to more than 1,000 hours.
According to CTO Al Kovalick, Pinnacle is revamping its entire product line to include MXF native on disk. That allows the servers to import/export MXF files as well as to store all media in MXF on the storage system. Among other changes: including HD capability on the servers for free and designing products for selected workflows, such as news or ingest/playout.
"That involves designing with proxies and metadata in mind," says Kovalick. "Our Vortex News system is a good example of a tightly integrated workflow composed of all networked media devices. The notion of a server is somewhat hidden, but it's still present as ingest/playout nodes."
Bulletproof reliability continues to be an important factor for customers, he says. "This applies to systems that are configured for a common-storage method of working. For us, that means Palladium Store."
Common storage means one thing: a common file system. The file system is important, Kovalick explains, because it allows every attached device to see the same files on the storage. Other important features include the use of common proxy formats, which enable all attached nodes to generate (as needed) and manipulate proxy materials, and the use of common disc A/V formats by all attached media components. "An ingest node," he adds, "will store a format that an editor can edit and an output node can playout."
Also needed is a common XML-based Metadata scheme. Kovalick says this is an area that is still immature in terms of standards.
It was only about five years ago that the future of Quantel, a company that had built its livelihood on proprietary black boxes and high-end post-production and production tools, seemed shaky in the age of open-standards platforms. The company's GenerationQ lineup has changed that.
Trevor Francis, business manager for news and sports, says that, today, the benefits of server-based production are widely understood and accepted. But the key factor is not just to replace a server system but rather to drive return on investment.
Quantel's GenerationQ product line includes the sQServer architecture.
"The sQServer is designed to be bilingual, exchanging video with video devices and files with IT devices," says Francis. "It fits perfectly into both environments and allows maximum utility of both traditional video and IT infrastructures."
The unique feature of the sQServer is that it stores content as single frames of video, not as single files comprising multiple frames.
"We recognize the benefits of IT for connectivity, archiving, asset management, etc., but also recognize that TV production is about manipulating video at a frame level," says Francis. "Therefore, we argue that a server that can move video as files and manage it as frames is the best possible solution."
Quantel calls it "Frame Magic" and manages the entire database at the frame level. That offers massive operational benefits over purely IT-based systems, Francis says.
Specifically designed for live broadcast production, the sQServer's use of proprietary technology gives the company an advantage, he believes. "Television is a real-time process and requires total reliability and deterministic processes. Other manufacturers struggle to provide those characteristics using off-the-shelf computer components."
But the use of proprietary technology does not mean the system isn't open. The server supports industry-standard protocols like Gigabit Ethernet, DV, MPEG, MXF, AAF and MOS.
Francis says Quantel servers were never conceived as a pure VTR replacement and can handle ingest, editing and playout, all inside one box. "The fact that the ingest/playout can be video and/or files over IT topology, that all editing and graphics applications are PC-based and also connected via Ethernet shows Quantel's complete commitment to networking technology."
SeaChange's most recent addition to its Broadcast Media Cluster system is the introduction of a Media-Publisher package for nonlinear editing systems. It allows NLE clients to import MPEG files directly from the Broadcast MediaCluster (BMC) and Broadcast MediaLibrary (BML) into editing timelines.
"The files can then be trimmed and edited per the capability of the specific NLE," says Vice President, Broadcast Engineering, John Pittas. "An MPEG file can then be rendered from the finished timeline and exported back to the BMC for playout or to the BML for archiving. The most exciting feature about this package is that it can work on both long-GOP and I-frame-only MPEG files."
Pittas says that being an early advocate of IP gave SeaChange a leg up on a market where other manufacturers made mistakes in trying to mimic the real-time behavior of video routers by advocating such exotic technologies as ATM or in believing that all digital video file content must be transferred via Fibre Channel.
"We held steady in our vision that the multiple delivery services established by IP for the data industry would eventually be demanded by broadcast operators," he says. "The behavioral robustness and economy of scale of IP networking have relegated all other network technologies to specialized niches, such as storage networks for Fibre Channel or telecom metro-area networks for ATM."
When it comes to differences from the competition, Pittas points to SeaChange's use of patented RAID2 architecture. "It provides single-point fault-resilient storage using only a single copy to do so. All other server manufacturers must use some form of data replication in order to provide a similar level of fault resilience."
The use of RAID2 translates into an immediate economic advantage to the customer, he adds, not only because of the reduced cost of the storage but also in the use of less rack and floor space and in reducing recurring expenses such as power and cooling. "Because each SeaChange BMC or BML can provide single-point fault resilience with a single file copy, then two machines, each with only one copy of the data copy, can provide three points-of-failure resilience."
SGI's philosophical approach to servers is to integrate a server as part of video and IT, according to Chris Golson, senior director, Media Industries. "That allows us to take advantage of the IT attributes of servers, which means the user can utilize IT switches, IT protocol, IT bandwidth, and IT strength and simplicity."
And, he believes, SGI can interface into the IT infrastructure more efficiently than its competition. "You don't have things like video routers and switches to worry about as much. And you don't have things like—and this is key—decoding and re-encoding to worry about as much."
Because SGI specializes in high-bandwidth networking and I/O with the media server, Golson says, the system can transfer files over FTP while ingesting up to 30 times faster than real time. And, he adds, SGI's XFS file system is UNIX-based, open, stable and now part of the open source community.
SGI's CXFS shared-file system is designed for storage area networks. Golson says it unites a facility's entire operations with a SAN. "SGI CXFS is a behavior on top of the SGI XFS file system that enables every client, regardless of operating system on the network, to have access to the entire facility's central content store, as if the content is residing on the clients' local hard drives. This allows true file sharing without the need to copy files."
CXFS also provides infinite structure because it supports and interfaces seamlessly with IRIX, Linux, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Solaris and soon Mac OS X operating systems.
Networking Media Server for Broadcast and the SAN Server 1000 storage area with CXFS shared-file system can turn a slow, video-centric workflow into an effective data-centric infrastructure, Golson says. "By enabling the secure sharing of video as data files across high-speed networks, broadcasters can get news to air faster, and post-production professionals can move multiple film or video resolution projects through their facilities simultaneously."
Just after NAB, SGI introduced the SGI Onyx 350 visualization system and the SGI Origin 350 server for production, broadcast and broadband. The new platforms are intended to improve CPU performance and memory capabilities and offer more I/O capacity and additional redundancy features while holding prices steady.
Thomson Grass Valley
Increased storage capacities and greater bandwidth, more cost-effective digital distribution/compression, future-proofed investments, including an easy, cost-effective upgrade path to HD, and of course, greater workflow efficiencies are all demands placed on video servers.
Thomson Grass Valley Group looks to meet those demands with its PVS 3000 Profile XP Media Platform, according to Vice President of Marketing Mike Cronk. SD and HD material can be played out from the same server and on the same timeline. SD format support includes MPEG 4:2:0 at 4 to 50 Mb/s. Long-GOP and HD format support includes MPEG-2 High Level at 20 to 80 Mb/s, long GOP 4:2:0; 1080i at frame rates of 50 and 59.94 f/s; and 720p at 59.94 f/s.
He adds that it also supports automatic upconversion and downconversion of materials to independent timelines. "And, very importantly, this automatic conversion preserves closed-caption information."
Servers have replaced VTRs in many applications, but Thomson's iVDR is designed to expand those functions. "Applications that require a VTR-like user interface, removable media and a VTR-like price point can use disk-based technology, like the iVDR," he says. "Advantages include strong networking support, format flexibility, greater record capacity and simultaneous multichannel operation."
The Thomson product line offers basic networking support. "For example, the M-Series iVDR interface streamlines the way that clips and media are 'sent to' and 'imported from' other networked devices and removable media devices," Cronk explains. "Great care has been taken so that operators do not need to have extensive IT training to either set up M-Series units on a network or go through myriad menus to simply send a clip to removable storage or memory device."
Two new low-priced video servers are available from 360 Systems. The Image Server 2000 three-channel MPEG-2–based server can record one video channel and play two channels at once, all with four digital audio channels. It's available with up to a terabyte of program storage, holding up to 128 hours of video. It also supports both I-frame and long-GOP formats and can operate in Main Level or 4:2:2 Profile with data rates up to 50 Mb/s. Cost is $10,000.
A higher-end system, the Image Server 7000, is available for $24,000. It can play up to six video programs at once and has two independent video input channels as well. Storage capacity is 2.5 TB, enough to hold 300 hours of video. It also has a 64-bit bus for high-speed network-transfer capability.
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