Server-based editing for sports

The way that sports are compiled, distributed and edited is about to undergo a huge transformation to deliver high-quality content quickly. It has become clear that tapeless post-production is the way forward. In pursuit of this new method, the BBC Television Centre assessed its current state of operations and considered the best approach to achieving tapeless operations.

The current state of play

The BBC Television Centre post-produces programs such as BBC Sports’ Grandstand in its “general-purpose editing” area. At present, a large infrastructure carrying analog and digital vision, sound and communications interconnects 20 operational suites. There is extensive connectivity out of the area, allowing other users within and beyond the Television Centre to exchange material.

Since 1992, each suite has been capable of operating independently. To service large event-based programs such as sports, concerts and national events, individual suites work together to contribute to one program. The suites are physically joined by moving partitions and technically joined by the complex inter-connectivity provided by a central matrix. Built originally with a PAL analog infrastructure and based on the D3 PAL tape format, the area has been extensively updated with digital systems. But much of the original analog infrastructure remains, as do six of the original linear edit suites.

The new approach

During the planning process, it became clear that any migration to a digital server-based solution had to be as low-risk and painless as possible. The disruption of a Grandstand is unacceptable, so the Centre adopted a conservative “phased” approach.

  • Phase one: Phase one involves building three dedicated nonlinear cutting rooms with local storage at online quality. Connecting to the server will allow edit suites to share material, with both local ingest and ingest into the server from a central digitizing area. The ability to retain material “week-to-week” will be particularly useful for strands such as the FA Cup soccer final, where reference to previous rounds is an essential part of the build-up to the live match.
  • Phase two: Phase two will deliver two nonlinear cubicles to replace existing linear facilities. These will be the start of “on-the-day” nonlinear editing trials and will include the roll-out of server-playout facilities, initially within the post-production area and then in the studio gallery. This will allow the playout of cut stories from nonlinear platforms or directly ingested media, either as single items or as pre-planned sequences.
  • Phase three: The final phase will allow local and remote staff to view server media on low-cost workstations through a browse function that is fully integrated with the broadcast server. Initially, the plan is to locate the workstations alongside the craft workstations, and then to place them within the main production office as soon as the infrastructure will allow.

This will deliver basic editing and logging tools directly to the producer’s desktop for preparation and story-boarding in advance of the relatively expensive craft editing time. Through this approach, more effective use of craft editing will deliver the cost savings expected of all program makers in these cash-strapped times.

BBC Post Production surveyed several tapeless systems and selected a Quantel system that includes ingest direct from incoming sources, nonlinear editing to replace linear editing and server playout. The system also allows viewing and logging without occupying a craft station or editor, and without having to copy to a secondary format such as VHS.

At the heart of the system is the sQServer. This is fully scalable in terms of number of ports, amount of storage and number of edit seats connected to it. It is also IT/broadcast bi-lingual, storing and managing every frame of video individually, and interfacing with IT-based systems and their file-based structures.

The QEdit Pro provides the tools for both the story cutting and ‘on-the-day’ editing, and contains features that will ease the move from linear to nonlinear working, including an external fader box. For playout to air, the server has an integrated sQFX control panel that allows playlists to be built quickly, and it allows running orders to be changed down to the very last second before playout.

Finally, Qview and the forthcoming Qcut will provide producers and their teams with the browse and desktop edit tools for reviewing and preparing material on the server.

Clive Hodge is head of operations at BBC Post Production.

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