For almost two years now, SGI has been aggressively pushing a computer-centric concept: Distribute data, view video. SGI emphasizes that, among other things, video quality is not dependent on the amount of bandwidth available via a specific network.
In a nutshell, thanks to the wonders of faster-than-real-time transfers, it takes only a few seconds via Gigabit Ethernet for a one-minute news story to be transferred.
And this formula might be revised again by the end of the year as compression yields continue to evolve. What is being revised at an equally fast pace is the scope and performance level of intra-facility and inter-facility links, as well.
"Digital IP networks are enabling a revolution in broadcast work flows," says Jason Danielson, director of media commerce industries at SGI. "Centralcasting is important, but perhaps even more important is the ability to collaborate between broadcast facilities."
Danielson is not an academic suspended in a cloud of technology. His company is intensively focused on enabling a multi-facility fabric where server-to-server interactions are equipped to work as well in a pull environment as in a push environment. Danielson notes that even when it comes to defining asset management, which is a critical component in any centralcasting implementation, SGI does it a bit differently.
"When we say digital-asset management, we are talking about media residing in digital networks, not resource management of legacy analog gear," Danielson explains.
Sveriges Television (SVT) in Sweden serves as a prime example of the SGI model in motion. There, an SGI Origin 3400 serves as a central file server, and 28 SGI Media Servers allow nine facilities to share material over a 35-Mb/s WAN.
While this might be best described as a full-mesh configuration, Danielson says, just because some network executives have taken gigantic leaps into large-scale centralcasting-based operations doesn't mean others can't take a more modest and less expensive approach.
"You have to establish your priorities and realize that it is not necessary to either archive or digitize everything. Some operations want to digitize more of their operations than others," Danielson says.
"Look at CNN," he continues. "It started to digitize just the first 36 hours as part of its low-res browse project, and it did not try to archive at all at first. This was brilliant—and supports my argument that you must start with what is most important."
SGI Media Server supports both the MXF and Grass Valley Group's GXF media-exchange formats, which Danielson sees as important contributions to a growing toolkit for facilities searching for optimal ways to collaborate.
"I think we surprised people by supporting both standards," he says. "But we see it as part of a much larger trend, the shift away from video servers as proprietary boxes to open-standards-based solutions. People are more interested in buying an open-system computer than a piece of video equipment."
He adds that SGI was not offended when a team of engineers at France Télévision Publicité, which uses a data-over-ATM-based nationwide net- work, expressed an interest in converting an SGI Origin 2000 to an SGI Media Server. France Télévision is currently converting its SGI Media Servers from DVCPRO to MPEG-2.
"We view this team at France TV more as digital engineers than traditional video engineers," he says. "Team members are distributing all their spots in three-minute breaks to several sites from Media Server to Media Server. They have eliminated a series of prior production and logistical obstacles in the process. Now, they can make changes and move spots around in a couple of hours where it took several days to do it before."