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Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Sep 17

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9/17/2009 6:29 AM  RssIcon

New possibilities and efficiencies for broadcast content creators and distributors

IBC, Amsterdam, 11 September 2009: At IBC Quantel demonstrated three new extensions to the sQ server system architecture: Virtualisation, an Open Identity Model and Web Services. Building upon the already class-leading video and file-based workflows of the sQ architecture, the extensions deliver new workflow opportunities, greatly increase customer choice and dramatically simplify the integration and management challenge of file-based operations.

The new capabilities are open and inclusive enabling Quantel, its customers and 3rd parties to build new co-operative workflows using modern IT technologies and standards.

These new architecture components are not pie-in-the-sky futures, they are real developments that today enable Final Cut Pro to offer true broadcast workflow when partnered with sQ systems (see separate release) as well as remote working (see below). This is only the beginning; in the future these building blocks will underpin many more significant developments by Quantel and by third-parties as their unparalleled ability to simplify and extend file-based workflow is further exploited.

Virtualisation

File-based operation is all about creating, moving and managing files. Files are created and exist in memory or on disk and have an address - a file name or URL - that points to where the actual data can be found. The data and the address make up the file; one without the other is meaningless. In the real world the simplicity of this approach quickly becomes complex. As an example, imagine an HD asset that also needs to be made available in SD for broadcast and Flash for the web. Now instead of one file there are two new files to create which takes time, and three files to store and manage. Make a change to the HD asset and you have to do it all again. This simple example shows how in the real world file-based operations struggle with latency and management issues.

Virtualisation fixes the problem at source - it breaks the link between the data and the file address. File addresses can refer to files that don't (yet) have data - a virtual file. When the file is accessed the data is created as it is required. Because the data is created on-the-fly it can be manipulated as part of the creation process, so an HD asset can be accessed in SD or Flash without creating and storing physical SD and Flash files.

Virtualisation enables the sQ server to present all its media assets as if they were physical files on a network drive. The interface uses the cross-platform (Common Internet Filing System) CIFS interface and presents media assets as IT standard files and folders. However the files are actually virtual files - they are created on-the-fly when accessed. Latency and the need to store multiple copies for different formats are simply eliminated.

Virtualisation can also make files appear as different file types. For Final Cut Pro on Quantel, assets on the sQ server are virtualised to QuickTime files as that is the format that Final Cut Pro demands. The QuickTime files do not exist on the sQ server, nor does time or space need to be wasted making and storing them. With virtualisation Final Cut Pro has the instant access to QuickTime files that is needed for a fast turnaround workflow without the drawbacks of making and storing additional files.

Reinforcing the benefits of virtualisation, Quantel also demonstrated HD and SD assets held on an sQ server being virtualised to a low resolution web-friendly Flash video format.

Open Identity Model

One of the biggest challenges facing file-based workflows is how to keep track of the contents of a file as it travels through the various processes and systems involved in a typical pipeline. It is all too easy to 'flatten' a file and lose detailed information about where each shot in the file originated, making rights tracking difficult or even impossible and further changes time-consuming. The sQ architecture already includes a robust identity model capable of keeping track of where every frame in an edit originated. The system, known as FrameMagic, works by applying a Globally Unique Identifier (GUID) to every frame in the system which is never lost no matter what operations are performed on the clip.

The new open identity model allows 3rd party systems to access and use this identity information. So for example an asset management system can find out about the individual shots that make up an edit simply by querying the sQ system. Identity information is exposed in XML files. This development makes it much easier to track rights and other rush level metadata throughout an entire file-based operation.

The model also enables round tripping of identity via third party systems. This is exploited to the full in the Final Cut Pro/Quantel integration. At IBC Quantel demonstrated how Open Identity enables delta publishing - where only new frames created by Final Cut Pro are moved back to the server - making publishes of simple edits an instant process.

Also shown was automatic frame level media management of Final Cut Pro edits without any external asset management system. Publish a Final Cut Pro edit to the sQ Server and the original rush clips can be safely deleted without losing those frames used in the Final Cut project. Identity flow extends the benefits of FrameMagic beyond Quantel to include Final Cut Pro and potentially any third party system in future.

Web Services

Web Services are a set of IT technologies that enable web-based workflows. By adding web services connectivity into the sQ architecture it becomes possible to access and interact with sQ systems over the web using web-based applications such as Flash and Rich Internet Applications (RIAs).

Working over the web makes many remote workflows possible and adding Web Services support into the sQ architecture makes exploiting these easier and cheaper than before by removing the need for intermediate systems to provide web connectivity. Web applications are cross-platform giving customers more choice over system components. They are increasingly also available on mobile platforms further boosting remote working. At IBC Quantel announced that it is developing cross-platform RIAs and browser applications which have tremendous potential for enhancing broadcast workflows.

At IBC Quantel showed a RIA search tool that allows Final Cut Pro users to search for content on sQ servers. Also shown was a Flash application running in a web browser that enables users to search for material in sQ systems, to see the search results as thumbnails and metadata, to play clips as Flash video (virtualised of course) and to modify the associated clip metadata.

"We are combining the latest IT technologies with our broadcast know-how to simplify file based operations for everyone. By operating at the filing system level we can eliminate many workflow problems entirely and make it easy for everyone to take advantage of file-based operations," explained Dr James Cain, Principal Software Architect at Quantel.

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