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Broadcasters embrace tapeless IT

This year’s NAB2003 convention might be remembered for two things: the wealth of new computer-industry IT technology now being embraced by broadcasters and for what can best by described as the beginning of the end of videotape for acquisition and production. Although tape will certainly exist in facilities for a long time, the introduction at the show of Panasonic’s prototype solid-state flash memory recording system and Sony’s optical disc format equipment offered a glimpse into the tapeless future.

While Panasonic DVCPRO tapes will exist in broadcast facilities for a long time, the company introduced a new prototype solid-state flash memory recording system at NAB2003 that offers a glimpse into its vision for the future of acquisition.

This tapeless vision is already being supported by a number of manufacturers, such as Avid, BBC Technology, Harris Broadcast, Leitch, Pinnacle Systems, Quantel and Thomson Broadcast and Media Solutions, which all showed working storage area network (SAN) systems for digital news production. Other companies, such as Chyron, Inscriber and Omneon Video networks, also understand the need for IP-based, remotely operated systems that enable video and audio to be handled as digital files in an IT database, streamlining workflow and reducing necessary staff levels.

Indeed, NAB2003 was the year when a multitude of real-world examples of this IT vision are up and working. From the major networks to small independent stations, server-based infrastructures enable collaboration and the sharing of resources among multiple facilities to keep operational costs down.

“We envisioned a storage system in which we ingest video and audio content once, turn it into a file, make some file backups, and then make those files available to authorized persons anywhere in our system—across the hall or across the country,” said Jack Gary, director, projects and Integration Engineering for Turner Entertainment Networks (TEN). The cable company is using Pinnacle’s Palladium technology at its Network Operations Broadcast Center in Atlanta to support more than 15 domestic and overseas channels.

NBC is also utilizing Pinnacle technology across its newly developed O&O network, where a converted warehouse near its Texas station produces all of the graphics and CG templates that appear on-air daily throughout the country.

WLS-TV, the ABC affiliate in Chicago, Ill., is currently implementing a complete tapeless newsroom, based around Thomson Broadcast & Media Solutions’ Open SAN system and a multitude of NewsEdit networked nonlinear edit systems. The station is also using a Pesa Switching Systems’ routing switcher and Thomson Jupiter control system to manage the hundreds of machines and software that allows anyone on the network to have access to video and audio at the same time.

“The economies of scale and the increased productivity we’re seeing here with the Thomson system has exceeded our expectations,” said Kal Hassan, WLS-TV director of engineering. “To be number one, a station has to have good talent and an aggressive newsroom, but it also has to look good on-the-air and, through the use of digital newsroom technology, that’s what we've has done.”

And the list of real-world examples goes on and on. “Automation has expanded beyond the reach of Master Control, thanks to technology brought over from the computer industry,” said Jim Woods, vice president/GM of Harris Automation Systems. “Three years ago there was a buzz about centralization. Today, we’re seeing a more distributed approach, due to networking and shared storage.”

Independent station group Hearst-Argyle is working with the Harris Resource Suite (hrs) of technology to streamline its operations. Footage was ingested onto a server in Orlando, Fla., and made available to sister stations across the country. Woods said that although broadcasters have readily embraced digital production, asset management, and automation playout systems, the ability to connect these isolated digital islands of efficiency has been missing.

The Harris digital ingest module automates the time-consuming process of “re-entering” or inputting metadata embedded in digital files delivered by Media DVX, Pathfire, DG Systems and other digital delivery services directly to a server. This metadata is becoming more critical to the IT-based infrastructure and automation process because it enables hands-free file distribution and system operation.

“Previously, the 20 stations within the group each spent time distributing a one hour show,” Woods said. “Now one station ingests the material and all of the others benefit. Because the technology is mature and reliable, this model makes sense, both economically and financially.”

As for the end of videotape, Sony, with its storied history of professional videotape formats, might have introduced its last tape format with the HDCAM SR line of digital cinema equipment. This new 4:4:4 uncompressed tape format is designed to compete with Panasonic’s existing D-5 tape format, used primarily for mastering feature films to HD videotape.

With new disc-based products, such as Thomson’s new four-channel (two record and two play) M-Series intelligent video digital recorder (iVDR) and the BBC Technology’s Colledia technology being used at ESPN--paving the way, the days of storing an entire production on a card that fits into a pocket might not be that far off. The biggest problem might be misplacing the disc.

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