Storage solutions push IT forward

No equipment category has benefited more from the IT world than storage. This includes solid-state memory, optical media, data drives, flash memory, hard drive storage and, yes, even digital videotape.

With the demand for digital SD and HD programming from cable, satellite and telco TV providers increasing, the importance of — and the need for even more — storage has never been greater. It's been said that any viable production facility or multichannel playout center is only as useful as its storage capacity.

At the NAB convention in April, everything from a small USB stick and Apple iPod to large, data tape-based archival systems and multiformat, multichannel video servers all showed signs of advancement, enabling production professionals to handle more content, easier, with the same amount of manpower and tools they had previously.

There were also a few surprises, such as holographic storage and intelligent DLT archive libraries that expand the storage capacity, system throughput and access to material stored on secure AV/IT drives. Indeed, when considering a storage purchase, it's important to think about sustaining access to the material (on and off the drives) as much as storage capacity.

Here's a look at some of the storage highlights shown this year.

Emerging storage

InPhase Technologies is offering a data density of 200Gb per square inch, significantly higher than any other optical format. Using its patented polytopic recording method, the company's Tapestry drive family, which will be available in 2006, offers 300GB capacity on a single disk. This will be followed a family of products with up to 1.6TB capacity in 2009.

Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. showed its own version of the Holographic Versatile Disc (HVD), which the company said promises more than 200 times greater capacity (or up to 3.9TB) and 40 times the transfer speed of today's DVD media.

In July 2004, Optware demonstrated recording and playback of digital movies on a holographic recording disc with a reflective layer using its patented Collinear Technologies.

Holographic storage delivers high capacity by recording data throughout the volume of the recording material, and not just on the surface. A data page of approximately one million bits is recorded in one exposure of the laser. Each data page is located at a unique address within the material. Several hundred pages of data, each with their own unique address, are recorded in the same location of the medium. A collection of data pages is referred to as a book. This new recording technique enables more holograms to be stored in the same volume of material by overlapping not only pages, but also books of data. This dramatically increases the storage density.

Quantum demonstrated its SDLT 600A tape drive with DLTxchange Technology based on an enhanced version of the company's DLT technology. The SDLT 600A system is a network-attached, file accessible data tape storage drive designed for storing large amounts of data and full-length programs. It offers the benefits of data tape and the flexibility of videotape, while supporting the Material eXchange Format (MXF), to quickly locate and retrieve files off specific data tapes.

Drive maker Ciprico demonstrated its DiMeda 1724 network attached storage (NAS) drive with iSCSI support, adding what it calls “block access capabilities” to its existing file-based architecture. A single DiMeda now supports both block and file access to a storage device, simplifying the overall management of different classes of storage.

The FireStore series of Direct-to-Edit (DTE) products from Focus Enhancements were virtually everywhere on the show floor at NAB this year. That's because the products convert any IEEE-1394 drive into a digital disk recorder/player. Using most tape-based DV and HDV camcorders, operators can record directly to disk and save time in editing. Like Panasonic's P2 card system and Sony's XDCAM family, the advantages include no ingest time and access to material as a digital file to log clips and for doing rough EDLs right inside the camera. There's no capturing, file transfer or file conversion necessary.

Server storage

The advent of the storage area network (SAN) has revolutionized content production and distribution. As a key component of these multi-user networks, video servers have become so sophisticated that they now can store and distribute SD and HD files within the same frame, from the same timeline. At NAB, both the Grass Valley Profile 6G and Omneon Video Network's Media Spectrum systems showed the ability to play back SD and HD content simultaneously from a single timeline of any combination of SD and HD source clips.

With built-in up- and downconversion, which eliminate external boxes and thus save space and money, the new servers deliver integrated playback for today's heterogeneous broadcast facilities and help smooth the transition to handling HD material. In addition, these servers can be controlled remotely via SNMP-based monitoring.

The Grass Valley Profile 6G family, including the PVS 300 and 3500, can be used for standalone, distributed or storage area network (SAN) applications. It is also available as an upgrade package for existing Profile XP Media Platform servers.

Profile 6G now offers 600Mb/s internal bandwidth for future expansion, up to seven video channels, 16 or 32 digital audio channels (16 AES pairs), and built-in decoders and encoders.

Omneon's Spectrum modules, part of its the MultiPort 4100 series of interface devices for MPEG-2 decoding, support simultaneous playback of both SD and HD MPEG-2 material. Incorporating built-in up- and downconversion capabilities, operators not only can mix SD and HD material to create a single output channel, but also they can use one program timeline consisting of intermixed SD and HD material to create two simultaneous outputs — one for SD and another for HD.

When an external conversion device is used, the MultiPort 4100 series' built-in, adjustable audio-delay compensation maintains audio/video synchronization.

The MultiPort 4100 series can be incorporated into any existing Omneon Spectrum media server to add integrated HD playout capabilities.

360 Systems announced a new, fully redundant server package, which employs new Image Server software to create an immediate protection copy of stored content. The system works with standard automation controllers and requires no third-party software or additional serial ports.

Unlike other mirrored servers, 360 Systems provides high reliability through simultaneous recording to two servers, rather than delayed transfers from a primary server to a secondary one. Similarly, automation commands are executed in parallel on both servers, using the company's new Dual Server Controller.

Sony introduced its new MediaVenue server at NAB, which supports SD and HD material, as well as MXF as a native file format. It also provides complete interoperability across many commonly used formats and compression standards. MXF serves as a common denominator, bringing together multiple HD (1080i, 720p) and SD standards as well as numerous codecs, including MPEG-2 Long GOP, Intra GOP, VBR, CBR and DV25.

Industry-standard control interfaces include VDCP for real-time control and FTP (RFC959) for file transfer. Gigabit Ethernet capability allows high-speed access and direct-mount compatibility for nonlinear editors and other third-party devices.

Sony's RAID storage provides high reliability with multiple error correction for broadcast applications. All system components can be fully redundant to avoid having a single point of failure.

SeaChange International introduced the MediaLibrary X12100e — its largest online content library ever — capable of storing up to 344TB of media in any format with IP connectivity throughout a broadcast facility. The company also introduced the MediaClient 4201 SD/HD simulcast decoder, which can simultaneously produce a multiformat SD and HD output from a single video file. The SeaChange VOD Content Production System, jointly developed with Anystream, also was demonstrated, which provides an integrated system for automatically ingesting, producing and distributing content for on-demand television.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.