Field Report: Avica Technology's Vecta Stillstore

FotoKem is a full-service motion picture laboratory and video post-production facility. As our workload and the amount of color correction and color matching
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FotoKem is a full-service motion picture laboratory and video post-production facility. As our workload and the amount of color correction and color matching desired by clients increased, it became evident that we needed some high-quality still-storage equipment to keep up with demand. The increased capabilities of our new HD Spirit Datacine with 2K da Vinci color corrector, scanning at 2K resolution, also required a still-store solution that could handle high volume and deliver superb picture quality.

We looked at several standard classical still stores used in telecine in previous years, but we just did not feel their performance capabilities were up to the demands of the emerging technology we had invested in. We wanted a still store that would work for the future.

Although Avica Technology Corp. was a new name (it opened for business in 1997), we knew the people behind it very well from their previous work in the post industry.

We had been using the standard-definition version of the Vecta DTV Stillstore from Avica for some time. In fact, FotoKem was the first facility to invest in the Vecta and is currently the largest installation, with 11 systems installed and working. Avica was the first company to come out with an upgrade path to HD in 1999, and we purchased two of these immediately.

Vecta proved to be fast. Record and retrieve time is measured at less than 0.25 second for SD and less than 0.5 second for HD. The software was easy to learn and had a user-friendly interface, with a choice of VGA-based control or a small-footprint remote control panel. Avica has provided convenient upgradability with the use of cost-effective plug-in cards and new software. We recently took delivery of Avica's multistandard software upgrade for the Vecta, which supports both up- and downconversions between many SD and HD formats with proper colorspace, pixel and image aspect ratio conversions. This is the single most important feature for us, since it means that we can switch back and forth between SD and HD in the same application. If I save something in HD and view it in SD, the system does an internal downconversion. Likewise, if I save something in SD and view it in HD, it will do an internal upconversion. This conversion works across 525-line, 625-line, 1080i and 1080p/24sf image formats, in both eight- and 10-bit modes. Vecta also gives me a choice of doing conversions just like the high-definition tape machines do: letterbox, edge-crop and squeeze. In addition, there is a choice of image filters that gives preference to color integrity or reduced spatial artifacts. This is a useful feature.

HD and SD have two different colorspaces, which means that not every color you see in one standard necessarily translates to the other standard. With the Vecta, if I program in HD and then want to lay it down in standard definition, I can look at the stills and make any adjustments necessary to match the SD version to the HD version. It's a very good reference tool. We use that feature frequently when we do feature-film mastering, and the client wants every combination of standard, format and aspect ratio imaginable. As we switch from one version to another, we have a single reference.

Because Vecta is NT-based, it can easily accommodate third-party software. We put titling and slate programs in the box, which help to integrate other applications and use the same keyboard, mouse, monitor and storage. (This helps keep the telecine bay from getting too cluttered.) With its image import and export capability, Vecta integrates well with a couple of packages - Adobe Photoshop and Debabelizer, for example - to provide a path to CG applications. We didn't have to go out and buy one character generator for HD, one for PAL and one for NTSC. We can also convert Vecta's SMPTE standard DPX files to BMP or JPEG format and then email the images to our clients so they can view a transfer session remotely.

Avica Technology also created the Vecta with a remote hardware panel that we use a lot. It's very simple-to-use equipment with a nice thumbnail browser, wipe control and channel selection keys. They've duplicated the keyboard and screen functionality on a panel that you can keep close to you, which is very convenient.

The Vecta has a couple of features that are useful for a large post facility such as FotoKem, as well as for smaller facilities. For example, it can be networked because it's a standard NT box. With the addition of an off-the-shelf Ethernet switch, all of our Vectas can share images. Avica also has an asset management system intended for multiple system installations, which FotoKem has purchased and will be taking delivery on later this year. Meanwhile, we are looking forward to Avica's plan to add more format support (it currently supports 525 lines, 625 lines, 1080i, 1080p/24sf and will soon support 720p), remote control by color correctors, and the ability to import and export from a greater number of file formats.

The Vecta has been reliable and the company has been responsive. On the rare occasion when there was a problem, Avica fixed it quickly. They've stayed in touch through the development process, and we have had several opportunities to sit with Avica's engineering team to tell them what we wanted the system to do. We're glad that our initial faith in the company has paid off. The Vecta has become the still store we were looking for.

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