OTTAWA—With its ability to move mega-sized video files efficiently between remote production units and production centers—as well as enabling cloud-based file-sharing and collaborative editing—the accelerated transfer of media files is catching on with TV broadcasters worldwide.
Ian Hamilton, Signiant CTO
“Accelerated file transfer (AFT) is just the fastest way to move digital content these days,” said Ian Hamilton, CTO of Signiant. “Accelerated file transfer solutions leverage all available bandwidth to eliminate the effects of transmission latency and reduce packet loss, thereby maximizing speed and reliability. In comparison, FTP file transfers are more complicated and far slower to execute, while moving hard drives is only as fast as the courier truck they’re on.”
MANAGING TRANSFER PROCESS IS KEY
The key to moving mega-sized video files quickly across the internet is effective management; both of the file itself (including how it is uploaded for transport and downloaded at arrival), and the multi-gigabyte/second IP pipes selected to move it from Point A to Point B. In many cases, the high-speed delivery is made to the user’s cloud-based storage. This leaves the usually-slower “last mile” download to the user’s own facilities until later.
Not surprisingly, each AFT software company has their own approach to enabling fast, efficient media file transfers.
Aspera’s software lets broadcasters use ‘byte-streaming’ to process media file data as soon as the upload begins, rather than waiting for the entire file to be received first. “Our new FASPStream technology builds on our patented Fast Adaptive Secure Protocol—FASP—that fully utilizes available bandwidth instead of throttling down the transmission speed when errors are detected,” said Mike Flathers, Aspera’s chief technologist. “Unlike standard TCP communications that respond to data dropouts and latencies by severely reducing the transmission speed, Aspera eliminates this speed-reducing function, while keeping files and streamed data intact.”
FileCatalyst uses a patented, proprietary application layer built on top of “User Datagram Protocol” (UDP) to transmit media files at speeds up to 10 Gbps over IP. (A UDP is a stripped-down internet protocol that puts transmission speed rather than guaranteed delivery first.) When a UDP cannot be used, FileCatalyst combines transfers through multiple concurrent TCP streams with on-the-fly compression to speed files through.
Signiant Media Shuttle, which supports broadcaster-initiated file transfers, uses the company’s proprietary transfer protocol to move media files up to 200 times faster than conventional FTP
Signiant offers on-premises and SaaS (software-as-a-service) AFT solutions. Signiant Media Shuttle, which supports broadcaster-initiated file transfers, uses the company’s proprietary transfer protocol to move media files up to 200 times faster than conventional FTP. This transfer protocol is based on a special UDP, combined with advanced FTP and TCP functionality. Media Shuttle has no file size limits, and its “Checkpoint Restart” feature automatically restarts interrupted transfers from the point of failure within the file: There is no need to start again from the beginning or re-send the whole thing.
WHY THE DEMAND FOR AFT KEEPS GROWING
A growing number of TV broadcasters are using AFT software to move their media files around. Aspera’s customer list includes the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), DirecTV Latin America and Netflix. Among FileCatalyst’s clients are the BBC, NBC Olympics (Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016) and Travel Channel. Signiant’s list includes Discovery Channel, Fox and NBC, among others.
Chris Bailey, CEO and Co-Founder of FileCatalyst
“It is true that many of these broadcasters are using media file transfers to produce and distribute their programming,” said Chris Bailey, CEO and co-founder of FileCatalyst. “But they are also finding AFTs incredible useful for live sports events.”
For instance, a broadcaster may find themselves covering a game with more camera views than they can use on-air. “No problem: Those camera views can all be sent via AFT to a subscription website like NFL RedZone, where they can be viewed by paying subscribers,” Bailey said.
AFT also gives broadcasters a means for transporting “uber-large” 4K video files with minimal delays and signal latency. “As such, this makes AFT software a useful part of any media asset management system, such as Primestream’s FORK MAM,” said David Schleifer, COO of Primestream. “Whether for HD, 4K, or eventually 8K, an effective MAM needs robust, reliable file transfer, and AFT fits that bill.” Primestream’s client list includes VICE Media, Cisco TV and AT&T Sports Network.
“Overall, software like our FASPStream addresses broadcasters’ need to move data as quickly as possible over IP,” said Flathers. “We ensure that the internet delivers the fastest transmission speed possible; unlike conventional TCP and other legacy protocols.”
CHALLENGES AND LIMITS
With its ability to push massive media files through the internet at speeds up to 10 Gbps, AFT software is proving to be an essential part of the modern broadcaster’s tool kit. But the technology is not without its challenges and limits.
For example, “although IP bandwidth capacity is growing while per-gigabit cost is dropping, there are still parts of the world where high bandwidth connectivity is not available, or not at affordable prices,” said Signiant’s Hamilton. As well, “the read/write access speeds of the storage media being used by many broadcasters—specifically their HDDs—can limit how much throughput they can achieve,” Bailey added.
Nevertheless, the growing video file sizes being generated by TV broadcasters as they move to 4K, plus the increasing number of distribution platforms they are now serving with content, makes AFT software the right transfer solution for its time. These days, standard FTP sites and couriered HDDs just won’t cut it.
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James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.
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