Thomson Grass Valley M-Series iVDR

Broadcasters are making the move in ever-increasing numbers to shared-storage, networked infrastructures to streamline production workflows and thereby reduce operational costs and improve productivity. This often means reducing redundant staff and eliminating counterproductive processes and technologies that cannot deliver the efficiencies necessary in today’s fast-paced, competitive environment.

The M-series iVDR features a touch-screen user interface that mimics a VTRs front panel.

One such technology is the VTR. For video professionals, this device is immediately identifiable and easy to use. But its inherent limitations, such as linear-only access and the cost of equipment maintenance and tape stock, have prompted professionals to seek a better way to store and access content.

One solution would be a recording device that supports a variety of removable media-storage devices and provides instantaneous, random access to all material as it is downloaded. It should be fully networkable into any production environment – be it a single workstation or multiple machines on a storage-area network (SAN). An even better solution would also include a highly intuitive user interface that is familiar to everyone involved with the program-production process.

Incorporating all of these design ideals was foremost on the minds of Thomson Grass Valley engineers when they developed the M-Series intelligent video digital recorder (iVDR). It replicates traditional VTR capabilities, including playback, record, removable media and the ability to ingest directly from a camera. But it eclipses traditional VTR capabilities by supporting multiple channels, simultaneous playout and recording, robust network support, clip editing and trimming, playlist creation, and the ability to exchange materials with a variety of applications digitally using industry-standard protocols.

The iVDR is available in two configurations: one that handles DV 25 files and another that supports both DV and MPEG files. Both configurations have two record channels and two playback channels that share a common disk array. All these channels operate simultaneously. This multichannel capability provides the flexibility to address a wide variety of uses in the marketplace. For instance, it streamlines the handling and repurposing of digital commercials, satellite feeds, graphics and promotional material. Once this material is stored on the device’s hard drive, the files are available to both playback channels as well as to anyone on the network – even as the system is ingesting the files.

Among the device’s chief features is a touch-screen user interface that mimics a VTR’s front panel. This interface connects directly to the device for operation in an equipment rack. Users can operate the touch-screen interface directly, or remotely using an RS-422 or Ethernet connection. The interface includes advanced clip-management functions that allows users to create similar but separate programs from the same material. In addition to creating and trimming clips and subclips, users can build clip playlists. By contrast, a standard VTR requires additional hardware and software systems to make these capabilities possible.

The device can locate time code quickly. Users can call up a scene as it is being ingested – or retrieve it in a fraction of a second from the system’s internal hard drive. The system also takes advantage of scalable media networking, such as 10/100 BaseT Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel architectures, and SMPTE 360M, as well as AVI, and will support QuickTime file import/export capabilities, to rapidly transfer files anywhere on a secure network.

The basic configuration uses three 36GB drives (eight hours of DV 25 storage) but can be expanded up to six 146GB drives (for 64 hours of storage). The company is also offering a disk-expansion chamber that will hold 12 drives, providing 130 hours of video and audio storage capacity.

The product’s architecture can take advantage of most digital-media drive technologies. It uses a 5.25-inch computer bay with industry-standard I/O, so you can plug any media drive into it, be it a DVD drive or a future optical-disk Blu-Ray device. It supports an option for the ubiquitous DVD-R format optical drive, making it compatible with any nonlinear editor on the market. It also supports the IEEE 1394 standard. A camera with a Firewire interface can transfer video and audio materials to the iVDR without any compression degradation. For non-Firewire VTR-based camcorders, the M-Series will, in a future release, be able to support VTR-control software so that operators can bring material in just as they do in a two-machine edit.

The device supports common compression formats, including MPEG-2 4:2:2, I-Frame Long GOP, and DVCPRO25. It will also support the MXF protocols for network transfers of material between devices. It is also compatible with the entire Thomson Grass Valley Digital News Production Solution. For remote system monitoring, it supports the NetCentral Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)-based software application.

VTRs have been around for over 25 years. Certainly, broadcasters will continue to use them, but they now have a new device that will enable them to replace many VTRs with something that is more flexible and efficient, but that retains the familiar operational characteristics of a VTR and, importantly, fits within a typical VTR replacement budget. As broadcasters rethink their system designs and strive to achieve workflow efficiencies, making a decided move away from videotape processes, the M-Series iVDR may be the right tool at the right time in the transition to all-digital operation.

Michael Cronk is general manager of Digital News Production and director of Server Product Management at Thomson Broadcast and Media Solutions.

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