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Media Application Server

For years, broadcast professionals have been challenged with the idea that a “generic” IT platform could eliminate the integration woes and format wars that complicate plant design. Despite the promise of such platforms, the fact is that things have not gotten much simpler.

The ongoing complexity of plant design stems from two issues. The first of these is file format interoperability, which receives the most attention and is partly addressed by useful yet imperfect standards such as MXF. The second issue, that of cross-platform, file-based workflow integration, is in some respects a thornier problem. Though this issue has received substantially less consideration than the first, it raises a critical question: Within new file-based infrastructures that do not rely on the video router, how can media be moved effectively through the broadcast workflow?

Omneon has addressed the workflow issue with its Media Application Server, which is built on the generic application servers that the IT world uses to provide core software services and infrastructure. This platform, in turn, supports better and faster integration — and more efficient operation — of applications and services that exchange metadata and transaction data within complex systems. As a result, back-end applications can be written so that data persistence, application control and system status all can be centralized and distributed to applications across the network.

Applying media awareness to the application server, Omneon has addressed challenges specific to broadcast and production workflows. The resulting integration platform supports all applications that manage, process and use the media in the underlying systems. In media-centric environments, the application server brings greater efficiency to fundamental processes by supporting a growing range of automated and simultaneous operations. One example is the movement of files from device to device with concurrent transcoding or generation of low-resolution proxies performed as needed.

The ability to control and manage video servers, storage, transcoders and other devices is key to broadcasters' realization of straightforward, streamlined file-based operations. To this end, the server is designed around service-oriented architecture (SOA) principles. This approach provides a single enterprise platform for the control and management of these devices. It also simplifies the movement of content — delivering the right format at the right time to the right location.

A collection of Web services — APIs collectively dubbed the Media Services Framework (MSF) — within the application server provides tools for controlling how content is moved, wrapped, formatted and converted. (See Figure 1.) The Omneon ProXplore interface, or any other media management system compatible with the MSF Web service APIs, may be tailored to serve as a custom user interface and media asset management system.

Automation is essential to effective file-based workflows. Built-in rules and notifications engines can guide automated events and notify other systems or users about system activity and job status. A rules engine within the Omneon platform automates the transfer of incoming encoded video feeds directly from ingest servers to central storage as soon as the feeds begin, giving editors rapid access to centrally stored content. As each new encode session begins, a notification is sent to the third-party proxy subsystem. The subsystem can in turn use MSF calls to start reading and transferring the growing file, making low-resolution video available to everyone in the enterprise.

Rules also can automate conversion of files, whether from external sources or from archives, into the “house” file format. As a result, all available content can be used in the same way. To enable very fast conversions, the application server directs the ProXchange system to perform parallel transcoding across all available processors within the MediaGrid active storage system.

Working with a simple GUI, users select content using low-res proxy versions of media. The media asset management system uses MSF API calls to identify physical storage locations of high-resolution content. These calls also ensure that the media is automatically moved to the right place for editor access. When edited files are saved to a particular directory, additional rules ensure that those files are immediately transferred to on-air servers, making them available for transmission even as the transfer completes. If the central production and remote transmission centers are not co-located, the platform automatically calls on ProCast to enable bandwidth-optimized WAN transfer of content to the remote node, wherever in the world it may be.

The transfer mechanism used depends largely on file wrapper format, environment and use case. The Media Application Server supports standard FTP transfers and tail-mode FTP for left-to-right content, when moving growing files is critical. The server also supports the Active Transfer mechanism, which allows any growing ingest format to be moved and written coherently to the destination device as recording continues. Such transfer capabilities speed user and device access to content, regardless of where it is stored. Dynamic rewrapping of content — the conversion from one media type (e.g., QuickTime or MXF) to another as part of the transfer process — not only allows broadcasters to overcome compatibility issues, but also eases integration of best-of-breed broadcast systems.

This technology addresses the complexities of cross-platform, file-based media workflows in two ways. First, it serves as a single enterprise platform for the control and management of broadcast devices. Second, it guides and automates the movement of content. The server thus represents a significant step forward in simplifying broadcasters' deployment of advanced multiplatform systems.

Simon Eldridge is Omneon product manager, software and applications.