Several companies, most notably Media.net Communications, Sample Digital, and Telestream, are at the forefront of a new movement, spurred by advancements in digital technology, which allows production teams to send project dailies over the Internet via a broadband connection. Thanks to these pioneers, as well as others working in this space, production teams can save time and countless thousands of dollars in costs.
Media.net Communications began operations in Los Angeles in 1998. "We started out focused on [the delivery of] digital dailies and created a pretty simple application for our first, almost alpha, customer," said Kevin Gavin, chief operating officer of Media.net. "Then, as each season went by, we became more familiar with our customers' requirements and we developed the solutions to meet those needs." This was the genesis of Media.net's Digital Dailies application, which was the first of the company's products created specifically to move media digitally. Digital Dailies allows the delivery of high quality nonlinear dailies to any location on Media.net's network. The network delivers media at 3-8 Mbps through North America's major production centers, including Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver. A data center in Los Angeles hosts and manages the content.
Media.net has since developed other delivery products, including several that are particularly useful to production houses. These are the Edit System Dailies, Edit Review, and Live Video Collaboration applications. Edit System Dailies digitizes the daily before it is sent over the network, so that once the editor receives it, he just needs to ingest it into his editing system and get right to work.
Edit Review allows a daily to be published online for review by any member of the production team. The person watching the video÷the producer, for example÷is able to pause it on his screen and create what Media.net calls a "media mark," a message linked to the timecode.
The Live Video Collaboration application enables a geographically dispersed production team to participate in edit sessions as though working together in the same room. It is designed mainly for producers who are in a different location from their editors.
Co-Producer Billy Redner used the Digital Dailies application for the post-production on Family Law, a courtroom drama no longer on the air. "Originally, the decision to use Media.net was based on the desire of Paul Haggis, the executive producer at the time, to view dailies and editor's cuts at home without having to come into the editing room. We used the Media.net application on a regular basis because it saved us time in both picture and sound editorial," he said.
Sample Digital, a two-and-a-half year-old company based in Los Angeles, offers an application similar to Media.net's Digital Dailies, but with a twist. The service comes either as a licensed software solution or as a managed service. With the managed service, Sample Digital hosts the content as well as assists in the set-up, deployment, and operation of the application, which is also called Digital Dailies.
Mike McCoy, chairman of Sample Digital, says that Digital Dailies, which was introduced at NAB this year, is applicable both to film and television. As with Media.net's Digital Dailies, Sample Digital's solution allows users to send compressed production dailies over the Internet to other members of a production team. The dailies are encoded in realtime to Windows Media Video and distributed across IP networks. Users access the application from within a Web browser. One interesting feature of Digital Dailies is what the company calls "clip collaboration," a sort of bulletin board on the bottom of the interface where producers and other users can post notes linked to the timecode.
While Digital Dailies is an application still in its youth, McCoy says its user interface has already won rave reviews. "The response to the user interface has been tremendous," he said. "We feel we've hit the right balance of functionality and ease-of-use."
Media.net and Sample Digital have a predecessor in the digital delivery space. That's Telestream, the mother of this kind of solution. (In fact, Media.net uses some of Telestream's technology in its applications.) In 1999, it introduced ClipMail Pro, which acquires media (such as production dailies) from tape and encodes them to MPEG, then transmits them over any network connection to a Telestream appliance or FTP server. It can be placed directly on a facility's network and can encode at up to 50 Mbps master quality. The application is targeted mainly at producers who want to exchange and view dailies and other high quality media clips during production.
Telestream introduced ClipExpress in 2000, which provides most of the same functionalities as ClipMail Pro, but without as many of the high-end serial digital inputs. It only encodes up to 8 Mbps broadcast quality. The application is meant to be a lower-cost alternative to the ClipMail Pro and is mainly targeted at news delivery, receive/playback applications for ad agencies, small productions, and independent videographers. Another digital delivery solution from Telestream is the FlipFactory software application, which automates the transcoding of media into virtually any compressed digital format. For example, it allows the user to send a file from ClipMail Pro or ClipExpress, which it will transcode into Real, Windows, or QuickTime and automatically deliver to an e-mail address or streaming server.
Christian Wilson of HBO Studio Productions, is a longtime user of ClipMail Pro. "If we have a project that's posting in another part of the world, we'll frequently rely on Telestream to move the cuts, sequences, and dailies to L.A. for our production and programming executives to review." Although HBO still uses a fiber line when it needs to view very high quality clips, it has gotten a lot mileage out of ClipMail Pro. "If we are evaluating an effects shot or composite, we may have to go with video transmission over fiber, but if we can get away with a slightly compressed image quality÷if we are just reviewing line readings, staging, framing, and so on, then we can use MPEG-2 and FTP over IP. In this scenario, MPEG-2 encoded and sent via Telestream is by far the best looking and most efficient solution," said Wilson.
The solutions from Media.net, Sample Digital, and Telestream all have something in common÷they help production teams save time. That usually means less money is spent on the overall production. Does this spell the end of FedEx and fiber and the beginning of the era of digital delivery? David Heppe, vice president of Marketing and Business Development for Telestream, says it won't happen tomorrow, but this method of delivery will eventually take over: "It will just be an ongoing, gradual shift, like dial-up versus DSL," he said.
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