Grass Valley nabs first dotcom deal


After making a big pre-NAB pitch for new Internet business, Grass Valley Group is waltzing into Las Vegas with its first significant dotcom sale: a $1.2 million order from Internet streaming firm Microcast for Profile video servers.

Microcast is installing the Profiles at its Danbury, Conn., headquarters, where they will be used to record, edit and play out content for the Web. Microcast streams both prerecorded content and live feeds and recently netted 5 million hits for its live coverage of the PGA Tour's Players Championship (B & C, April 3).

The sale includes six Profile XP PVS1000 servers that will make up a 48-channel system (24 inputs and 24 outputs) controlled by Omnibus automation software. Microcast is also buying one PDR324 unit that will handle general interstitial playback functions. The Profiles will be installed by longtime broadcast integrator A.F. Associates and should be operational by early June.

Microcast's requirements in a server system were similar to those of a television news organization, according to their Director of Video Operations Mike Conroy.

"We needed to have the ability to record and edit vast quantities of content, whether from a satellite source or prerecorded videotape," he says. "Then we needed to condense it and subsequently digitize it for the Internet. Because of the amount of content, speed became essential, particularly in the editing process."

The system that Grass Valley came up with allows Microcast to ingest all incoming content into the Profile. For maximum storage efficiency, the material is recorded and stored using long-GOP (group of pictures) MPEG-2 compression at 8 Mb/s. Editing is then performed on the Profile under "media-prep control" software developed by Omnibus. The ability to frame-accurately edit long-GOP MPEG-2 was "a big hurdle" that Grass Valley and Omnibus managed to overcome, says Conroy. "The challenge was editing long GOP. I-frame-only MPEG would have been easier for editing [but not as efficient for storage]."

After editing is complete, the MPEG-2 content will be either routed to a robotic archive system and stored on data tape (Microcast is still undecided on a vendor) or sent to an Internet encoder and translated into a streaming format for online distribution. Some clients ask Microcast to provide content in both the Real Networks and Windows Media Player formats, requiring Microcast to support two simultaneous streams.

Conroy says another selling point for Grass Valley was its Internet publishing product, WebAble, which is currently in development and will be demonstrated at NAB. He hopes the product is available by late 2000. "I'll be able to do a transcode from MPEG-2 to any Internet format right within the Profile mainframe, without any external encoding."

According to Grass Valley Director of Product Strategy Mike Cronk, the Microcast deal is one of several Internet-related partnerships the company will announce in Las Vegas.