Data tape good fit with file-based workflow at HDNet, Garvin says

HDNet co-founder and general manager Phil Garvin discusses how the 24/7 network is using data tape to improve archiving and workflow.
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Archiving media managed files from Final Cut Pro HD with HDNet’s new Quantum system lets the HD network maintain all of the elements that go into a show, said HDNet co-founder and general manager Phil Garvin.

Recently, HDNet decided to replace HDCAM as the medium used to archive its programming and move to a Quantum data tape-based approach.

The move coincided with a larger transition to a completely file-based workflow. By using data tape, HDNet has been able to maintain the utmost image quality and eliminate workflow bottlenecks between its Denver and Dallas offices.

To learn more, HD Technology Update spoke with Phil Garvin, HDNet co-founder and general manager.

HD Technology Update: Could you estimate the number of hours of original HD programming HDNet has aired since launching? How is all of that archived?

Phil Garvin: Up until about three or four months ago, we archived on HD videotape, either HDCAM or DVCPRO HD. As of about a few months ago, we archive on Quantum's A-Series Professional Video Drive.

We are moving to a completely file-based workflow for a couple of reasons. The first reason is obviously quality. We edit in a file-based system. Final Cut Pro is file-based editing, obviously it’s not videotape. By staying in the native file without going to videotape, which requires encoding and decoding, you preserve quality, which is very important to HDNet.

The other thing that archiving on Quantum’s A-Series system permits is you can archive the entire project from Final Cut Pro. When you create a program in Final Cut Pro, you have lots of layers — both video and audio — all displayed there for you, and you manipulate all of those layers and effects.

When you make a videotape of that show the old-fashioned way, you’d be combining all of those video layers and mixing the audio from a certain number of tracks — either stereo or surround sound. Whatever you did, that’s all you have on the videotape and that’s it.

By archiving the project and all of its pieces onto a Quantum A-Series, you can keep everything. Then, if you need to re-edit or change an effect or layer or pull out a layer, you can bring all of that back into your Final Cut Pro very easily and have all of the pieces.

HD Technology Update: As HDNet has transitioned to this file-based workflow, does it have a mix of spinning disk and data tape used for storage?

Phil Garvin: We make two data tape versions of every show. One is a media managed copy with all the pieces and parts that I’ve just described. One is a flattened file — that is to say, in effect, you are doing a mix like I was talking about, only it’s on data tape.

The flattened file is the best way to go to air on that show. That’s really why we have both. We store one here (at HDNet’s Denver production center) and one in our Dallas office. In addition, for any show that is likely to be re-aired or is kind of an active content show where we might use pieces of it, we store on spinning disk. We use the Apple Xsan for that. Right now, we have 75TB. We either store the media managed and the flattened, or just the flattened. There are a variety of variables that go into our decision on how long we keep that program.

The other advantage of keeping it on the Apple Xsan is that when Final Cut Pro Server comes out, you can use a proxy to look at what’s on the Xsan any place you can connect to the Internet.

HD Technology Update: A couple of years ago, HDNet’s owner Mark Cuban said that 1080p would be in the future as a distribution/transmission format. I know it isn’t a transmission format today. Still, are you planning on 1080p for distribution/transmission in the future, and if so, how has that affected archiving requirements (3Gb/s vs. 1.5Gb/s)?

Phil Garvin: First of all, all of our systems are compatible with 1080p. Anything we buy now has to be upgradeable to or some other way compatible with 1080p. That said, it is not currently possible to produce and otherwise function in 1080p, or we would be. It’s also not possible to distribute in 1080p to traditional cable and satellite, and we don’t see that changing soon.

We expect to be in 1080p origination and our master control fairly soon — long before any of our large distributors go to that. But we think at some point, somebody is going to say, “You know, there are some customers out there who want the highest quality, such as 1080p or even 4K.” We have to be prepared to serve that customer.

That may be a little bit in the future, so, yes, it’s very much on our minds, but obviously we can only do what the technology allows us to do, though we keep pushing it. You’ve got to remember, when we launched HDNet in 2001, none of the technology existed to do what we were doing. When we started, the only thing going on then was a few movies and “Monday Night Football.” We said we were going to go 24/7. We’re not afraid of that technology curve, but we can’t create something that doesn’t exist, such as 1080p distribution to the home.

That said, in Europe, it looks like they are going to go with the 1080p standard, but that hasn’t been confirmed. That is going to have an impact.

What are we storing at right now? 1080i.

HD Technology Update: As a pioneer in HD, particularly with special event coverage (like the resumption of the space shuttle liftoffs), I was wondering if there were special precautions taken when archiving footage? If so, what are they?

Phil Garvin: Up until the Quantum A-Series, it was all HDCAM.

HD Technology Update: Is all of the HDCAM archive being moved over to the A-Series now?

Phil Garvin: Ultimately, yes, but I can’t say there is anything wrong with the HDCAM archive in our view. If it’s already out of the editing system and onto videotape and it isn’t preserved in the editing system, keeping it on the A-Series doesn’t buy you a lot. Making a copy of that HDCAM doesn’t buy you a lot.

HD Technology Update: If you could look into your crystal ball, do you envision a time when tape will be replaced by solid state or spinning disk for long-term archiving? If so, when? If not, why?

Phil Garvin: Actually, yes. The problem with data tape is you can’t stick it in a machine and play it and see pictures. That’s the biggest problem. It’s a frustration. You’ve got to take that data tape and move files into a device that will play it.

So, take the Iomega REV drive that Thomson is using for the Infinity. They’ve got the price down right around a dollar a minute. It is a kind of a hard drive. It’s recording data, but you can put it into a device that will play it today. Maybe there will be a device that can play it in real time, but I don’t know. Now, the Iomega is only at 100Mb/s. You can’t go up to the 1.5Gb/s, but I don’t know too many people who are archiving uncompressed anyway. Even HDCAM is compressed. It’s 150Mb/s. Only HDCAM SR is close to uncompressed. Not too many people are archiving that.

The Iomega REV is down around $1 a minute. You get down around 50 cents per minute, then you may have an acceptable archive device, and that’s not a huge price reduction. If I went to Iomega or a SATA drive manufacturer and said, “I’ll buy 10,000 of these,” maybe they would sell them to me for 50 cents per minute at 100Mb/s.

So, the answer is yes. But do you call the Iomega drive a spinning disk? It does have its own little motor inside of there. It’s pretty cool.

HD Technology Update: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the direction HDNet is taking with archiving on the Quantum A-Series drives?

Phil Garvin: The cool thing about the A-Series is that it’s not just archiving. It is a way of transporting content in its native elements. For example, we do things in our Dallas office that we don’t do here in Denver — marketing, sales and ancillary distribution.

We used to send them an HDCAM tape, and they would say, “Can you take the breaks out?” That meant we’d have to go back to an editing session. Now, we send them one of these A-Series media managed files, and they have all the parts and pieces to stick into their Final Cut Pro down there. They can make whatever version they want almost instantaneously. They can take out breaks, and they can add breaks. They can take out tracks and add tracks with different languages. They have everything they need. They come straight out of their Final Cut Pro into a DVD of 20 different flavors if they want.

So, suddenly the A-Series isn’t just an archive, it is a way of sending the complete program with all of its parts and pieces in one cartridge.