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NBA ENTERTAINMENT builds media management environment with SGI

With a historical videotape library, including film reels of the first National Basketball Association (NBA) game in 1946, NBA Entertainment (NBAE) has a lot to store and protect. Several years ago, NBAE began the first stage of switching to all-digital production and content management. It started by introducing NLE systems in a centralized environment at production and transmission headquarters in Secaucus, NJ. A year ago, low-resolution browse, search and retrieve capability was added. And online storage for the ingest process, which captures all of the NBA games directly into the storage environment, as they happen in real time, is currently in the final stages of operational testing. Online storage allows the organization to steadily transfer historical material from decades of videotape, digitize it and make it easily available to producers.

Throughout the digital transition process, NBAE has worked with SGI toward one goal: implementing a complete media management environment that would allow the NBA to utilize all of its assets efficiently, especially as they pertain to video. As the production arm for the league, the organization repurposes and creates content for NBA TV, the league's 24-hour cable channel; numerous NBA interview and magazine shows; and countless highlights packages, promos and spots for network and cable distribution and video on demand. It also runs the league's Web site, NBA.com, which features extensive video clips of games through NBA TV Broadband, in addition to providing content for other Web sites and wireless devices. Having everything in digital form and making it searchable by any of NBAE's internal and external clients sets the stage for any type of digital distribution available today and into the future.

Phase one: NLE systems

From the beginning, NBAE looked at the transition to an all-digital workflow as a process it would build towards until the facility could be completely linked together. The first required step was converting a linear editing and a sneakernet production environment to a file-based multi-station environment, where media is shared amongst users.

Implementation of an SGI Infinite-Storage NAS 3000 system allows the more than 100 producers involved in various productions to share materials and processes. Production staff can easily access their work at numerous stations, saving time.

Phase two: browse, search and retrieve capabilities

For the second stage, NBAE wanted the means to make material available in a version other than the high bandwidth and resolutions required for post production, but in a form that the staff could access without adversely affecting the business network infrastructure. The facility introduced the Virage low-resolution browse, search and retrieval capability, an application created specifically for NBAE. Preparing for the low-res addition meant updating databases, library references and a general data cleanup and consolidation from years of growth and changes.

It was also important to ensure that moving forward, everything was lined up properly so the facility could migrate to the third step. All the references and data structures were verified and aligned to meet the requirements of today's technology.

Phase three: online storage in real time

NBAE partnered with SGI to design and install the final piece that would include live ingest and introduce the process of archiving an extensive videotape library. Engineers from the two organizations began the collaborative effort when it became apparent that major elements and the talent for the implementation existed.

First, SGI provided the essential hardware and software that would integrate the existing islands into an online SAN. The SGI NAS 3000 was migrated to an SGI InfiniteStorage SAN based on SGI InfiniteStorage CXFS shared filesystem, which provides the real-time storage for the 17 Pinnacle Liquid Blue systems currently online. The Virage low-resolution library was also migrated to an SGI CXFS storage system with multiple clients. Four SGI Origin 350 series servers provide the server infrastructure for the filesystem. The addition of SGI Data Migration Facility (DMF) software to the SAN enables the capability to do all of the archiving and retrieval in an efficient and expedient manner.

From the beginning, the NBAE insisted on the capability to retrieve specified segments or clips from larger files, or partial file restoration. One basketball game can run between two to three hours and producers typically need only fractions or highlights of the game. The ability to bring only the required segment back from the data tape archive is a huge savings in time and online storage resources. To allow producers to retrieve partial video files from the archives, software developed by SGI engineers in Germany, called Mass Storage Engine, was integrated.

Real-time ingest, direct to data

The SGI online storage and CXFS infrastructure, which is backed by a 3000-slot StorageTek 8500 data tape library, captures all NBA games directly to the storage environment as they happen in real time. The ingest facility is designed around 16 Snell & Wilcox Asteroid encoders, capturing the high-resolution video as compressed digital files. As games are recorded in the digital format, the files are pushed to the data tape library, which acts as the primary repository for all the digital media for NBAE.

The organization tapped Sundance Digital to provide the automation software that manages the process of capturing live games from their source, including satellite, fiber feeds and microwave. Sundance Digital takes the NBA schedule and assigns resources to ingest those elements. The process of transferring historical video has also been automated, reducing errors while maintaining a high degree of productivity.

NBA applications development engineers designed specialized software and managed the integration of NBAE databases and business applications. Two applications, Queue Manager and Discontinuos Time Code Restoration, were among the work-specific products developed.

Queue Manager prioritizes the delivery of assets to the edit environment based on business rules and deadlines. It also manages the ingestion of historical material by marrying the logging data accumulated over the past years with the new digital asset.

Some of this logging data was generated with start and stop time codes. Breaks in time code presented a problem to the encoding hardware and to partial file restoration accuracy. To solve this issue, the engineers created a process, Discontinuous Time Code Restoration, that in effect re-stripes the material as it is encoded and replaces the database references with the corrected information.

Transferring the tape library

NBAE's transition to a digital workflow for ingests and archive solves another problem: the reclamation of an aging magnetic videotape library. Videotape has an average shelf life of 15 years. The organization needed a plan to move copies of its vast library to newer managed material that was less susceptible to aging and garner workflow improvements in the process.

With the digital archive, the organization's plan was simple: Each time a producer accesses a videotape, it will be the last time that tape is ever touched. As a request for material is made, the entire tape containing that material is immediately digitized. The SMPTE time code is used as a reference for the low-res search and browse proxy, and the asset is put into the digital library system. Along with digitizing the new games as they happen, throughout the entire year, NBAE converts all NBA games and programming from previous seasons stored on tape to the new digital archive.

Process improvement

Prior to the deployment of this system, the process for the creation of a half-hour magazine-style show entailed searching a database, finding a textual reference to the desired material and its warehouse shelf location, retrieving the tape (often from off-site storage), reviewing the actual material on a Beta tape machine and monitor, finding the segment of that material needed, and then ingesting that segment into an editing system. The process would be enacted for virtually every clip required and a typical half hour production might be in excess of 1000 clips.

With DMF, producers do all of their research with the low-res search engine, selections can be made and storyboards created for content review, and the resultant requests fulfilled to the craft editing environment with the high-resolution assets. All of this happens effectively under the covers and without further operator intervention.

The system is designed so that by the time the producer sits down at the edit system, all the clips are ready and available. Assuming all those clips are in the digital library, the producer can present a finished show within a few hours, saving significant time.

Moving forward, everything goes directly into the digital archive. As new media enters the building, it is directly ingested and then logged with the low-resolution proxy.

In an effort to maintain a clean archive, the system introduces a process referred to as chunking, whereby material ingested but deemed to be of no production value (e.g., having color bars, black, inadvertent swish pans) can be isolated and removed prior to storage in the archive.

Everything that NBAE and SGI worked together to deploy is designed to handle HD bandwidth, providing more capabilities as HD-produced content becomes the norm.

Bill Buhro is media solutions architect for SGI.

TECHNOLOGY AT WORK

NBAE

Queue Manager
Discontinuous Time Code Restoration

Pinnacle

Liquid Blue NLEs

SGI

Digital Mass Storage Engine
InfiniteStorage system
NAS 3000
SAN server
CXFS shared filesystem
Data Migration Facility

Origin 350 servers

Snell & Wilcox Asteroid SD/HD MPEG-2 MXF encoders
StorageTek StreamLine SL8500 tape library with LTO Gen 3 drives
Sundance Digital Intelli-Sat automation

DESIGN TEAM

NBAE

Steve Hellmuth, sr. vp, operations and technology
Mike Rokosa, sr. dir., engineering
Keith Horstman, sr. dir., broadcast information technology
Dana Stone, dir., digital media management

SGI

Bill Buhro, media solutions architect
Tony Karam, program mgr.
Dale Brantly, systems solutions architect