The demands of running modern cable and network TV news programming are unique and challenging because of the multitude of content formats coming in on everything, including high-end HD, cell phone and Internet. Ready access to this live material and the ability for many geographically scattered users to have simultaneous access to that material in multiple formats have become mandatory.
With the expanding role of remote collaborative production and increased availability of HD video, Web-enabled proxy-based access to content at low bandwidth is essential in a production workflow. To meet these needs, Solid State Logic created the Gravity news production and media asset management platform, unifying all the elements of the modern news production workflow.
An important consideration in selecting a system is its architecture. Gravity is designed on an open standards-based Windows architecture with scalable and user configurable GUIs. User workstations, encoders, storage, transcoders, decoders and servers may grow from one to hundreds in single incremental units. These components can reside either locally or in remote locations around the world. (See Figure 1.)
The user may specify any number of levels of hierarchy and access security for the entire system. Content storage can grow to virtually unlimited capacity and can be designed to varying levels of redundancy. Because this system can be configured to eliminate any single point of failure, it can automatically and seamlessly switch to back-up mode without interruption. The system's Media Manager regularly checks all system components and hardware for errors and warnings.
The system easily handles format diversity like SD and HD, file-based and live, 16:9 and 4:3, plus a slew of codecs by simultaneously producing multiple file formats and resolutions within a single video ingest process. It can also simultaneously create multiple output video formats, seamlessly, without rendering. Users can store the high-res version while it creates the proxy version for network-based access.
All ingested content, regardless of resolution, is simultaneously accessible for browsing, logging, monitoring, searching and editing on the same timeline, with the user-specified output automatically determining the conversion requirements. Aspect ratio formats are automatically converted or not converted, depending on the user's needs. This lets users work in a format-transparent environment, with freedom to use content easily and quickly. The content, rather than the format in which it was shot or encoded, once again becomes the driver of workflow.
Due to the live nature of the news business, immediate access to incoming video content is hugely valuable to producers and editors. Incoming material is typically encoded within two seconds of the start of the recording. A user can be viewing and cutting footage that's virtually live, finishing the edit before the live event being encoded has ended.
Ease of use
Interface simplicity and functional flexibility are also essential to getting material into a system quickly and accurately. Users can schedule single or multiple events as a one-time or recurring encode at any time. Colored indicators provide at-a-glance status of all encodes while displaying user-entered metadata on the evolving timescale. This display enables the user to clearly view and track the status of all existing and future encodes from a single monitoring station.
Editors appreciate editing software with comfort in function. This characteristic of making edit operations easy, fast and familiar is central to the design of Gravity's Package Production Tool (PPT) editing function. The PPT offers flexibility in edit functions with immediate reach to the most essential functions. In addition to a customizable keyboard that lets editors assign their favorite editing functions to familiar keys, the PPT also offers an on-screen/monitor scrubbing function.
Because all functions within the system are render-free and performed in real time, work can continue uninterrupted without waiting for saved projects to render. This speed is matched by a full-featured editing tool set that includes hundreds of real-time video and audio transitions and filters; splice, slip and slide function; multiple video and audio tracks; and unlimited undos.
Another PPT function that newsrooms will deem essential is the tool's ability to seamlessly hand off material to external craft editors for additional post-production work or transfer to distribution or archive systems. The user needs only to think about editing the material, not the technology of file formats and publishing requirements.
The ability to manage and monitor the movement and status of vast quantities of media content is essential to efficient news operations. The asset manager excels in these areas by leveraging its powerful SQL database. In addition to standard file IDs and user input fields, the project administrator can use customizable readouts to track and report on the overall production status from ingest to editing through saved versions and content as published. Customizable fields are also supported for enhanced integration into third-party applications.
One of the system's most exciting capabilities is its real-time file proxy creation and distribution. This functionality allows access to, and editing of, server content, both file and live, from any authorized and enabled desktop either via Web interface or enterprise licensed workstation. Producers and editors make all their creative decisions with the proxy files. When the story is finished, the proxies act as a blueprint for the instantaneous conformation of the full-resolution server files for on-air play-out. The finished piece can also be instantly transcoded into multiple resolutions and file formats for distribution to multiple platforms on demand.
It's no secret that producers love having video on their desktops, and proxies have become a necessity for bringing in and working on more than one signal at a time. SSL offers proxy generation and editing capability that fits in perfectly with the multiformat newsroom workflow.
News organizations planning to invest in a new media production and file management solution should consider the following:
Know your workflow and requirements, and their potential for growth. This is paramount for evaluating any news production solution in detail.
Anticipate and expect changes in formats, codecs, workflows and file data management, and look for solutions that not only adapt to, but readily facilitate change.
Recognize the importance of seamless integration to third-party applications that enhance workflow efficiencies and hand off distribution of metadata and media.
Look for clear, well-designed and readily adaptable asset management and scheduling tools. These tools will greatly improve your production management.
Remember that proxy capabilities are important for supporting a geographically diverse reporting team. Your producers and editors in the field will thank you for fast desktop access to content files.
Those keys are the backbone of the Gravity system, creating a total solution for television news organizations to use to their advantage.
Pete Wood is business development manager, media production systems for Solid State Logic.