It’s time to rethink newsroom editing

Reporter and producer workstations don’t need to be so powerful and expensive, says Mahmoud Al-Daccak, CTO of Maximum Throughput.
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Where should the bulk of processing power and expense reside in a nonlinear editing environment like a newsroom?

To Mahmoud Al-Daccak, CTO of Maximum Throughput, the answer is clear: on the server. Rather than equipping newsrooms with multiple high-powered editing workstations, each loaded with NLE software, allow journalists and producers to edit SD and HD source material on the server from less powerful, less expensive computers.

At NAB2008, Maximum Throughput, best known for its Sledgehammer servers, will unveil two new products that put this approach into practice. HD Technology Update spoke with Al-Daccak about the company’s new MAXedit workgroup editing and MAXedit Web Edition software.

HD Technology Update: Could you describe the thinking behind your new MAXedit editing system?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: Basically, what we have identified with the technology that we have been developing in-house is that several people are using our technology to have centralized storage and access from multiple seats of nonlinear editors. These multiple seats of nonlinear editors will vary in cost and also require certain network bandwidth.

We have developed an in-house technology that will enable us to do everything on the server while you access it from a workstation. You can do frame-accurate editing, trimming and basic editing operations on the server without having to move the material to the workstation.

So, our solution is centralized, where multiple users can have access to that server; the server can have associated storage with it or can talk to networked shared storage; and journalists can edit their stories from any workstation without stringent requirements as to the hardware they are using.

HD Technology Update: Is MAXedit software?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: It’s basically a software solution that sits on top of a certified server from us. The certified server is specified to have the network cards or HBA cards to connect to the storage.

HD Technology Update: Can the server’s CPU perform multiple real-time transitions as various users on workstations add wipes, dissolves and other transitions?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: It has enough to do the transitions in real time. It’s an open system, so it depends on the users. It can handle many simultaneous users, but if you need to do your transitions in real time, depending on your material, four to five people can be editing material over the server. This number refers to HD. For SD, the number is 10 to 12. In both cases, the number of real-time editing streams depends on the type of material — compressed or uncompressed — like in any other system.

So, the short answer is yes, it will handle transitions in real time on the server using the server processing power. The ability to do so will be restricted by the number of users who need to do that.

HD Technology Update: There are a variety of products and integrated systems from multiple vendors serving the news editing market. What is Maximum Throughput bringing to the table with MAXedit? In other words, what sets MAXedit apart?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: Definitely there are many other products, and what we are bringing to the table is being able to have this centralized, network-enabled application server people can access to do editing from their workstations. They can do this from their workstation straight on the server without having to do it natively on their workstation. Basically, what we are bringing to the table is a different way of working without having to invest in all of the processing power of a traditional nonlinear editor workstation. Think of it as providing editing as a service accessed from any workstation browser in the facility. We don’t claim that it is a full-featured nonlinear editor, but for rough-cut editing it will enable journalists and producers to do some of their previews and some of their editing. We are not a high-end finishing nonlinear editor. We are an editor for news editing and cutting, so people can do all their editing in that context.

HD Technology Update: Is MAXedit scaleable?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: Our system integrates with our centralized storage. If we just talk about editing for a second, you can grow by adding servers. If you see that you are maxing your server, people have dedicated workstations and they would have limitations. Any system would have limitations, and if you see that you are saturating your server, you are able to cluster or add more servers.

You will see the same storage, but you will have the aggregate bandwidth of the new servers responding to your editors.

HD Technology Update: You also are introducing a Web-based version of MAXedit. Is this a solution for sharing source material or finished stories among newsrooms at multiple stations in a station group?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: At the moment, what we are launching over the Web is a service. It will allow people to upload their material, edit their material and have access to it from where they are. It will have similar functionality from a professional editing point of view.

This is a Web service that is provided so that you don’t need to buy the equipment. We do the whole thing. We handle the uploading at faster than normal ftp, then you can share your source material. That might not fit the bill for sharing material among multiple stations in a station group from centralized storage, but in the future, we will have those provisions.

HD Technology Update: Could you provide a little more detail about Sledgehammer and integration with MAXedit?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: The Sledgehammer solution can service a group of editors as their shared storage. It has been sold to broadcasters and post houses as a fast network file server. There is also a version that supports ingesting with video I/O. MAXedit is software and a server that can connect to Sledgehammer or a network storage device or integrate with other network shared devices. Of course, the bandwidth will be limited by the third-party network access.

To be clear, Sledgehammer acts as a fast NAS. MAXedit software and the server it installs on form what we call an application server. This application server provides editing services to several editors.

HD Technology Update: Will MAXedit provide a pathway for newsrooms as they transition from SD to HD news production workflows?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: We are trying to bring in an affordable editing solution that operates in the newsroom without having to really invest in multiple seats of SD/HD if you don’t need them. So, we are trying to transform the model or present an alternative to the market at the same time with the same technology but more distributed with publishing to different formats. We also are providing similar services but over the Web without purchasing equipment.

HD Technology Update: Do you see this dual SD and HD support as becoming more important as next February’s over-the-air DTV transition occurs and stations look for HD news solutions?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: The deadline for transmitting digitally is looming in February 2009, and with our Sledgehammer and MAXedit products, we can help. One thing I forgot to mention is HD and the migration to HD. Migration to HD means investing in technology, which depends on the requirements for editing news. Migration to HD by itself is a cost that will be incurred by broadcasters, and here, because our server is capable of handling SD and HD, that migration will be a lot smoother.

All of the images are local to the centralized access storage via our server. All the editing and transitions are happening on the server. So if you happen to not have HD stations already and you don’t want to take the full leap of HD and don’t have all the HD equipment, you can immediately start editing in HD on our server from the Web browser.

So, we facilitate that move, or at least we support that mix between SD and HD, because the images are centralized and don’t need to move between the stations. There’s no aggregating on the stations themselves; everything is on the server.

HD Technology Update: Compare your approach with current server-based newsroom editing architectures.

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: The approach so far has been to have centralized storage, like Sledgehammer, but then stations have to have multiple, dedicated workstations fully loaded to do their editing. Then they have to move their images back and forth to do their editing.

So, basically, they have a workstation that does their nonlinear editing. If they happen to have five workstations, for example, if somebody wants to do editing, they will be occupying one of these stations. What we are saying is: You don’t need to invest in these stations.

Instead of having islands, or software silos if you want to look at it like that, each with editing software on those individual stations, you can edit on a centralized server.

HD Technology Update: Will MAXedit integrate via MOS with other newsroom computer systems?

Mahmoud Al-Daccak: We are based on open standards with open centralized storage, so our system can be integrated with asset management systems, news systems. We don’t specifically have solutions for those, but our system is open so it can be integrated with similar systems.

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