Serving Up Content
Broadcasters embrace IT to speed workflow
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/4/2004 8:00:00 PM
Back It Up
The IT explosion has put video servers and storage near the top of almost every NAB shopping list. For stations in an increasingly competitive marketplace, the use of servers becomes crucial, making transfer of content easier and faster.
"Once video and audio content is in IT form, the video is just files, like e-mail," says Chris Golson, senior director, media, for SGI, "and you can use them and manipulate them in a much more flexible way."
SGI typifies one of the big trends at this year's NAB: compatibility with the Material Exchange Format (MXF). Just how important is MXF? Attaching metadata to an audio or video file describing the file content means that users don't have to open the file to find out what it contains. More important, it improves interoperability between equipment from different manufacturers by allowing them to use a common format.
SGI will demonstrate a system that uses MXF from end to end, according to Golson. Content captured by Sony XDCAM will be put onto the SGI server, wrapped in MXF, and then placed in central storage.
The demonstration will also involve editing partners Pinnacle and Avid, automation partners Louth, and asset-management partner Masstech.
"The benefit is that we can interoperate much more flexibly with customers' needs," says Golson. "And we can also put that wrapper in formats like Panasonic's DVCPRO and P2."
Other improvements to SGI's servers are based on FTP and file transport. "By converting files from video to data, we can get them around a facility very fast," he explains. "A lot of work has been done with third-party companies around using data protocols instead of video protocols."
The result is higher transfer speeds and better communication; because servers are essentially computers, monitoring the process us easier. "You can actually service the server from afar and look at it over the Internet," says Golson. "You can also bring what we call a 'file follow,' which means editing it in high-resolution, converting it to browse resolution, and playing it to air all as one file before it is even fully received."
Omneon Video Systems, too, will demonstrate greater MXF compatibility. Storage of high-def content is a growth area, and users increasingly require the ability to transfer files, and their associated metadata, via MXF. "Any existing Omneon installation," says Vice President of Marketing Geoff Stedman, "can be quickly and easily upgraded to MXF."
Omneon's lineup is based on its Spectrum media server system and a modular approach to shared storage. That approach allows a facility to handle a variety of needs from one server system: recording of incoming satellite feeds, editing of news content, and play-to-air. And HD and SD material can also reside on the same server.
The big advance in HD, Stedman says, will be support of material recorded in Panasonic's DVCPRO 100-Mbps HD format. Omneon users will be able to work with Sony's HDCAM, DVCPRO, and also MPEG-based HD formats within a single system. The key is the company's open, standards-based architecture.
"Customers who are using our systems for SD programming can leverage their existing Omneon server and storage infrastructure to add HD services," Stedman says. "With what we call Smart Scalability, new services, storage, and users can be added at any time, even while the system is on the air."
Pinnacle Systems also is adding more HD capabilities. New Pinnacle encoders and decoders allow free HD on all decoder channels. "It's standard with both HD and SD playout capability," says Server Product Manager Jim Jensen. "And it dramatically lowers the price per hour of storage with new options like Pinnacle Palladium Store."
The company aims to give users more storage in a smaller footprint. Its MediaStream server lineup now includes support of 250-GB drives, which means that a small, three-rack unit can store 500 hours of video storage at 8 Mbps. Other features include MXF interoperability with the company's Liquid nonlinear editing platform and the use of a new high-performance processor.
MediaStream, Jensen says, can capture, edit, and play to air without transcoding, or changing the media format. Removing that step simplifies workflow and prevents losses in video and audio quality.
Another trend in storage is to give users the option of adding small disk recorder units to complement a larger server farm. Thomson Grass Valley has enhanced its M-Series digital video recorder, which debuted at last year's NAB, and will exhibit software enhancements and two completely new models.
The new models are the M222D and the M322D. The first has four audio tracks and support of AES/EBU digital audio, digital audio embedded into the video signal, and simultaneous analog and digital video outputs. The M322D offers similar functionality but also can record and play 50-Mbps DV and MPEG-2 compressed video. That feature is available as an option for the M222D.
Leitch is mixing its traditional server systems and its NEO modular disk recorder. Up to four NEO DVR3901s can fit in one rack unit, allowing the user to replace four conventional VTRs in one rack unit.
Leitch will also introduce a transmission server dubbed NXMTS. According to Director of Strategic Marketing Tim Slate, pricing starts around $20,000 for a shared-storage version that allows content to be used by other applications and products tied into the server. Built on the company's Nexio server platform, it provides integrated monitoring on VGA monitors, a single asynchronous serial interface (ASI) input/output, and an application that provides simple ingest and playback. Options include a trimming application for cutting out unwanted content and a four-channel playlist application. Future options include a second ASI input/output.
The company's Nexio line will also see some enhancements with integrated editing, browsing, and media-management applications. "MXF file interchange and ASI interfaces provide broadcasters with the flexibility they need to meet future requirements, such as HD," says Slate. The system's storage area network can also be integrated with networked added storage and DVD- and tape-based archives to provide a complete hierarchical storage environment.
As for next-generation servers, SeaChange will offer two new members of its MediaCluster lineup. The Broadcast MediaCluster 60000 has 24 SCSI drives in each node for high-bit-rate multichannel delivery of up to 100 Mbps, and the MediaCluster 15000 has six or 12 SCSI drives for more channel input and delivery of up to 80 Mbps.
The company is also introducing its Broadcast MediaLibrary, with up to 240 TB of RAID-squared storage using 300-GB drives. John Pittas, vice president of broadcast products engineering, says each server node provides up to 2 Gb of access to user applications. With nine nodes, that gives the facility 18 Gb of input/output bandwidth for getting content on and off the servers.
The cost of storage breaks down to about $10,000 per TB, to $5,000 per TB if S-ATA disks and the expansion chassis are used—a bargain, Pittas says. Most systems on the market, he adds, are priced with one level of protection while SeaChange prices include backup protection. So, although the cost is initially more expensive than other systems, adding a second-level of protection makes those cheaper systems actually more expensive.
Broadcasters with less ambitious server needs will want to take a look at the smaller server vendors. Doremi Labs, for example, is rolling out MCS Multi-Channel Broadcast video servers, designed for small- to medium-market stations and cable facilities looking for MPEG-2–based storage (user-selectable bit rates range from 5 to 50 Mbps). The servers are housed in a three-rack-unit chassis and can handle up to four channels (configurations are one record/three playout, one record/two playout, and two record/two playout). The servers can be networked at facilities requiring more channels.
As for storage capacity, Doremi says 17 hours of internal storage and 150 hours of external storage are possible with a setup at 15 Mbps.
Accom, too, is rolling out additional HD capability. Its Abekas 6000 production server will be able to mix and match SD and HD video channels on the same server. Other features include compression based on the I-Frame (or intraframe), which facilitates frame-accurate editing in both HD and SD. In MPEG video, the I-Frame contains all of the picture information, making it ideal for the beginning or end of an edit.
General improvements to Accom's 6000 platform include Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel transportation options, improving the speed at which files can be sent and received on the server. Other new features include new third-party machine controllers and a PC- or Mac-based content-management panel that has a virtual control panel with such functions as cue, play, stop, fast forward, rewind, and jog shuttle.
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