First, Pick the Servers

Broadcasters find a world of competitors offering new IT solutions
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Working with video has undergone a revolutionary transformation in recent years as broadcasters have replaced traditional equipment that often relied on manual control with computer-based systems that run on software.

One of the most popular uses of Information Technology (IT)-based video equipment is the video server, which has allowed broadcasters to move from tape-based playback systems that required heavy maintenance and were prone to mechanical failure to IT-based systems that store video as files on hard disk. In addition to reliable playout, video servers' file-based storage allows for nonlinear playback and software-based management of media.

The key advantages for broadcasters are a more efficient workflow and greater programming options.

Broadcast-focused video-server vendors have faced increasing competition in recent years from systems that use general-purpose computer servers and cheap “off-the-shelf” IT storage. In response, video-server vendors are going to this year's NAB show in Las Vegas with upgraded solutions that offer broadcasters more granular efficiencies, such as interoperability with video-editing systems, larger and more scaleable storage capacity, and ease of interoperability between standard-definition and high-definition tasks.

THOMSON GRASS VALLEY

Thomson's Grass Valley brand will be showing off its $28,000-and-up Grass Valley K2 media-server and media-client system, which was introduced in August.

“It does all the video encoding, decoding and playout,” explains Roger Crooks, Grass Valley's senior product manager for servers and digital news production.

For Grass Valley, three of K2's top-selling points are Quality of Service (QoS), redundancy and interoperability with a variety of video-editing systems.

“When you open a file system to other clients, you can't control how they are going to access the bandwidth. We have some proprietary technology with built-in QoS that always protects video channels to give them the bandwidth they need,” says Crooks. “This way, [the capacity for] video playout is always preserved.”

The K2 architecture allows the design of redundant systems with automatic failure if a component dies. K2 is QuickTime-compatible and, unlike most other systems, can preserve closed-captioning in upconversion and downconversion between standard-def and high-def.

SILICON GRAPHICS

Silicon Graphics Inc. will be showing its new SGI Altix 4700, a 64-bit Linux operating system with an Intel Itanium two-chip set. It works on a blade-based architecture with higher-performance slots. “It has a very resilient dual-power-supply capability with the type of hot-swappable characteristics broadcasters want,” explains Chris Golson, senior director for media industries at SGI.

SGI is touting the Altix 4700 as a scalable solution with the ability to add multiple blades as needed for file serving. “Adding more fiber channels is not a forklift upgrade but is a very flexible process,” Golson says.

LEITCH/HARRIS

Pick and choose. The Leitch Business Unit of Harris Broadcast Communications will be showing two versions of its Nexio XS Server. The 3600HDX is a scalable shared-storage version that hooks up to storage area networks. The NX3600HDI is an integrated server with storage built into the chassis and is intended for single-channel operations.

“In the shared-storage domain, the previous version ran in four-channel increments,” says Tim Slate, Leitch's VP of strategy for servers. “We have moved to 3RU packaging, which is smaller and denser. We now have six channels, with HD and SD in the same package. This is useful if you need to choose what type of format [your content] is going to be.”

Slate says the channel-capacity expansion has enabled the use of a software codec that can move the functionality into the software. “We have dual-mirrored system drives with full, dual-path redundancy,” he adds. “The business driver is that HD has taken off in the last 12-18 months but we still have a lot of SD content that needs transitional support.”

Omneon Video Networks

Omneon Video Networks is, in a sense, doubling its bet. The supplier is showing enhancements to its media-server line, highlighted by its Omneon Spectrum MediaDirector 4202. It's being touted as a solution that can double the overall system bandwidth to support both higher channel counts and higher IP (Internet Protocol) throughput on a single system.

It is able to do so by incorporating advanced IT-based components, such as multiple IEEE 1394b (800-mega-bit-per-second) busses for more real-time data throughput, as well as connectors for additional fiber-channel storage bandwidth, and two additional Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Omneon VP of Marketing Geoff Stedman says the bottom-line benefit for broadcasters for this added capability is “if you have very high channel counts and need a large amount of IP-based connectivity to your system for editing and archiving.

“We also are adding flexibility to additional PC components,” he adds, “and have built a system with the capability of interfacing and supporting any of the major HD codecs.”

SEACHANGE INTERNATIONAL

SeaChange International's product display at NAB 2006 will feature the supplier's Media­Client platform, which is separate from but runs in conjunction with its core Media­Cluster video-storage system. The MediaClient performs the real-time encoding or decoding operations previously done by the hardware cards integrated into the vendor's BroadcastMediaCluster node.

To facilitate this capability, SeaChange developed the RAID² (it stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, squared) to resolve issues relevant to the storage. Explains Tab Butler, Eastern U.S. manager for broadcast systems at SeaChange, “This has afforded us the availability of adding more bandwidth in each of those frames as you add the node.”

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