The Netherlands' CIRIS goes tapeless with SGI

Find out how the facility recently made the strategic move to digital workflow in order to speed production and offer media asset management services to broadcasters and other media companies in The Netherlands
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The nonlinear editing suite at CIRIS employs an Avid Symphony and a Yamaha 01V digital audio console.

Dutch post-production facility CIRIS is a privately-owned company and a member of the DutchView Group, serving most of the Dutch public and commercial broadcasters and production houses with a broad range of video and audio facilities. With facilities in Amsterdam and Hilversum and with 165 employees, CIRIS provides nonlinear editing, linear editing, graphics, design services, duplication for all standard television formats, film scanning and color correction services. About 80 percent of its business is post-production for television, including HD post, which was added a year ago. It is currently working on multiple HD productions.

CIRIS also rents editing systems for location work throughout the Netherlands. The DutchView Group delivers a broad scope of video and audio facilities: studios, OBVs, ENG, graphics and post-production.

The facility recently made the strategic move to digital workflow in order to speed production and offer media asset management services to broadcasters and other media companies in the Netherlands. It required an integrated storage and server solution to let internal and external customers store, search, browse and access video data and other content. It has even created a digital marketplace to exchange and trade all forms of audio-visual material.

Dynamic platform requirements

The facility wanted to implement digital workflows that would easily integrate with several different editing and transmission interfaces. Scalability was equally important so that there would be no barriers in growing both the system and the business. Likewise, storage needs are expected to grow rapidly.

The services of the CIRIS Dynamic Platform are offered to a heterogeneous group of customers, each having specific requirements. These customers are public broadcasters (more than 30 in the Netherlands) and commercial broadcasters, plus non-broadcasters such as companies with large product video libraries. As a result, the solution to be offered needed to be flexible and generic on one hand and capable of addressing specific customer demands on the other.

When the facility started to look for a partner in the project, it primarily talked to two companies. It felt that SGI demonstrated a lot of knowledge and understanding about the production and broadcast industry as opposed to offering simply computer-oriented products without much experience in broadcasting. During the installation, Silicon Graphics Broadcast Europe showed it understood the business, and that is what CIRIS was looking for — to set up and integrate a complete digital storage and post-production environment.

The approach taken with the Dynamic Platform is to let broadcasters stay focused on their core business, which is to provide content. For the IT market, this is a trend that is well on its way, where more companies outsource their IT department.

The dynamic platform allows for both approaches. The facility can offer outsource services where, for example, complete editing suites are made available, but the platform can also be used as overflow for existing data-based video applications.

First phase

To provide a foundation for the Dynamic Platform project, the first phase focused on implementing the server and storage infrastructure and an asset management system. The facility purchased a 30TB SGI InfiniteStorage TP9300S storage array with a 6GB SGI Altix 350 server running the Linux environment with four Intel Itanium 2 processors, and a six-channel SGI Media Server for broadcast solution with an InfiniteStorage array. SGI partner Ardendo provides media asset management components and works with Silicon Graphics Broadcast Europe on custom integration and development. A Sony PetaSite system is connected to the storage array, allowing the facility to scale to 1.5PB of storage capacity.

Ardendo's ARDOME, a media asset management system, is designed to use standard IT equipment to enable television program and news producers to rough cut via the Internet using the company's EasyCut proxy editing system. CIRIS plans to archive material that is used by the Dutch broadcasters, but it is also exploring the possibilities of archiving for a variety of business markets.


Shown here is the master control room used for Talpa television. Playout is migrating from videotape to MXF files.

Workflow

The wide variety of customers using the dynamic platform leads to the requirement to implement many different workflows. In a typical example of how the system is used, transmission of the three Dutch public channels is done centrally. This transmission process is currently migrating to digital, where broadcasters supply programs in MXF format.

This means broadcasters start to produce more in a digital format, which leads to more storage and the increased challenge of managing this content. The dynamic platform is set up as an overflow or deep archive for the production environment already in place at the broadcaster.

Content arrives at the facility in a variety of ways. The first category is content produced outside the facility. This can be tape, coming from a studio where a program is recorded, or directly from the customer as an MXF file using a network connection. All the Dutch broadcasters are connected to a high-bandwidth network.

The second category is content produced inside the facility. A variety of production islands — editing and post-production environments such as Pinnacle, Avid or Autodesk Media & Entertainment — are connected to the dynamic platform. The way these islands are integrated to the platform are the same as the ways the customer production environments are connected; only the physical location differs.

The content is then stored on a variety of devices, varying from high-speed disks to low-cost data tape. The content is stored in hi-res format and transcoded to low-res browse format. This low-res format, in combination with the asset management system, is used for searching and browsing at the CIRIS facility or at the customer location. Added to this are several pieces of smart integration using software glue developed by SGI, which enables the facility to edit while ingest or to transfer while editing.

Finally, the finished program of the customer can be transferred in the MXF format from CIRIS to the transmission location.

An important aspect of the implementation of the dynamic platform is the use of MXF as a file format for exchanging content between applications and devices from different vendors. Many of the public and commercial broadcasters in the Netherlands are in the process of migrating to MXF-based production and transmission processes. When customers are connected to the dynamic platform, specific MXF-based workflows are designed and implemented to support their specific requirements.

The first two customers that are now using the platform for their day-to-day production work are Talpa television, the new commercial station, and the public broadcaster VPRO.


The old VTR area at CIRIS is used to ingest tapes from the archive.

Talpa television

The DutchView Group supported the launch of Talpa television at the Hilversum facility. Two Pinnacle Liquid Edition Broadcast and two Apple Final Cut Pro editing systems at Talpa's own location in Laren (about 10km from Hilversum) are connected via Fibre Channel to CIRIS' new SGI InfiniteStorage TP9300S system. Talpa editors work directly on content stored on the storage system at CIRIS to produce promos.

Talpa has been broadcasting since 13 August. While it eventually wants to run a completely tapeless operation based on MXF, the reality is, at this time, it still gets a lot of its program content delivered on traditional videotapes. These videotapes are ingested using IMX (D10) compression, and the encoded content is transferred as MXF files from the ingest servers to the central storage and archive system. During ingest, a low-res copy of the video content, which can be played on every standard desktop PC, is generated. Users have access to an application that allows them to do pre-editing, based on this browse material.

For promos that will be produced for programs that are scheduled for the next days/weeks, the relevant program content needs to be made available to the promo production department. There are two ways to do this:

  • The complete program in MXF file format is restored from archive storage and stored on the SGI Altix server-based disk storage. The promo editors can import the MXF content into their NLE, select the appropriate parts of the program, and add logos, text, effects, etc. Editing is server-based, which means the import process does not involve making a local copy of the content on the NLE; everything is done on the server.
  • As an alternative, it is also possible to use the browse/edit application to select the appropriate parts of the program based on the low-res video. This will result in an EDL that can be used to retrieve only the required parts of an MXF file from the archive storage (partial restore). This will result in a set of smaller MXF files, located on the SGI Altix file sever that can be accessed by the NLE systems to produce the promo. Also in this case, the actual editing is “server-based.”

When the promo is ready, it is stored as a single MXF file on the fileserver storage. From there, it is transferred into the appropriate playout server. Then it is ready for playout.

VPRO


A 30TB SGI InfiniteStorage TP93000S storage array with a 6GB SGI Altix 350 server form the heart of the CIRIS Dynamic Platform.

As one of the public broadcasters in the Netherlands, VPRO makes use of the centralized transmission facilities. Currently, these facilities are migrating to all digital, MXF-based processes, so there is a requirement for broadcasters like VPRO to start producing and delivering content in MXF.

All new video material that the broadcaster generates or acquires will be ingested at CIRIS and made available on the central storage in high-res (30Mb/s MXF/IMX) and low-res (1Mb/s MPEG-1) formats.

Based on the low-res material, users can perform pre-edit operations on a standard desktop PC, using the PreCut and EasyCut applications that are part of the Ardendo Media Management system. The sequence information that is generated using these tools is captured in an AAF file, which can be imported into an Avid NLE. The parts of the content that are referenced in this AAF file are automatically retrieved from the archive storage and transferred into the Avid NLEs or Unity.

Once that process is completed, an editor can finish the program on the Avid system. When editing is completed, the content can be transferred back as a single MXF file to the archive storage at CIRIS. From there, it can be directly delivered via file transfer to the central transmission facilities without having to record it back to videotape.

MXF makes it possible to use one standard file format throughout production, transmission and archiving on equipment and applications from many different vendors, including Avid, Pinnacle, Apple, Ardendo, SGT, Front Porch Digital and SGI.

Conclusion

This solution is unique in two ways. First, for CIRIS customers, it sets the trend for broadcasters to stay focused on producing content and not on technology, while at the same time complementing existing customer infrastructures.

Second, from a technology point of view, CIRIS is able to provide services for customers using a wide variety of existing systems, varying from proprietary to open, and being able to integrate specific workflows using this flexible platform.

The SGI and Ardendo solution was chosen because it combines a dependable, robust and scalable architecture with a media asset management system that is not only easy to learn and easy to use, but speeds production for a greater ROI.

Piet Sjoukes is the sales manager for the CIRIS Dynamic Platform, and Phillip Maher is the technical manager for CIRIS.

Technology at work

Nonlinear editing systems:

Apple Final Cut Pro

Avid Symphony

Pinnacle Liquid Edition

Storage:

Apple Xsan SAN file system

Avid Unity

SGI:
Altix 350 server
InfiniteStorage TP9300S storage system
SGI Media Server for broadcast server

Sony PetaSite tape archive

Asset management:

Ardendo:
ARDOME media asset management system
ARDCAP, DART and ArdUpload ingest systems
PreCut and EasyCut proxy editing systems

Front Porch DIVArchive archive management system

Design team

CIRIS:

Piet Sjoukes, CIRIS Dynamic Platform, sales manager

Phillip Maher, technical manager

Hans Blom, sales manager

SGI:

Kees Vos, solution architect & project manager
Winfred van Kuijk, broadcast consultant

Robert Pronk, account manager