NBC Tightens clip management at Winter Olympics

With every successive Olympics production, NBC and the vendors that support it continue to streamline how content in handled to make its staff more productive. For several months, product engineers from Avid, EVS and Omneon have all worked diligently to make this year’s XXI Olympic Winter Games a success.

What they have done is to integrate their respective technologies using open APIs that allow the hardware and software systems to communicate with each other, allowing not just video content, but also the metadata about that content to be leveraged in ways not possible before. Partnerships between the vendors have played a key role in developing the systems to be used at the games.

Several large-capacity Avid Unity ISIS and Omneon MediaGrid storage systems will be used in tandem with hundreds of EVS XT[2] HD production servers (NBC has about 25 at the IBC, and probably another 25 to 30 out at the venues) to allow unlimited access to high volumes of HD media for both live and near-live broadcast production environments.

Avid’s DNxHD codec and industry-standard MXF file wrappers will be used extensively to move the content and make it immediately available to editors working on Avid workstations on-site in Vancouver and also at NBC headquarters in New York City. The two locations, although thousands of miles apart, appear as one to the production staff.

The six-channel EVS XT[2] HD servers working closely with Avid and Omneon technologies is part of a workflow that was initially used for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

Production personnel preselect the best clips, tag them with metadata and send only the selects along for editing. It would be impractical to burden editors with every piece of footage captured at the various venues.

“We have the ability in our server to record a large number of feeds and to tag those recordings with a rich metadata,” said Mike Shore, senior manager of products/third-party integration at EVS, “so in practical terms, we act as a front-end filter for the network’s entire system architecture in Vancouver. This is a battle-tested workflow that NBC feels very confident putting on the air.”

In Vancouver, there will be a number of workflow improvements over previous Olympics production. Content will be captured with a variety of HD cameras — mostly those from Sony — and recorded on EVS XT[2] servers using the Avid DNxHD codec. The EVS XT[2] production servers, along with the EVS IPDirector suite (including the IPEdit on-the-fly editing solution) will be used for HD live and near-live ingest, production and playout.

Content recorded on the XT[2] servers in the DNxHD codec will also be made available to the Avid Unity ISIS and Omneon MediaGrid systems as self-contained MXF OP1a files through XTAccess, the EVS intelligent GigE network gateway. Conversely, EVS operators will be able to move video to and from the Omneon MediaGrid system, thereby giving the production team instant access to anything that has been captured.

Material can be recorded at different bit rates on the EVS servers (with internal loop-record buffers), depending upon the amount of action within the scene (more activity requires less compression, so a higher bit rate is preferred); although, most content will be recorded at 100Mb/s. The EVS and Omneon servers are able to store content at all rates. These servers will also be used for live replays.

Avid’s Interplay and Unity systems will be used to search and sort clips, many stored on a large (160TB) Avid ISIS storage array in Vancouver at the International Broadcast Center. The IBC will also feature an Avid Interplay production asset management system, 16 Avid Media Composer editing systems and six Avid Symphony editing systems.

A number of smaller ISIS arrays are located at the various venues participating in the Winter Games, in addition to 11 Avid Media Composer editing systems with Avid Unity shared storage. Workstations running the EVS IPDirector software suite will serve as the user interface to push the captured material into the ISIS approximately 3.5 times faster than real time. Once stored on the ISIS, editors using Avid Media Composer systems pull clips as needed using Avid Interplay software.

“The goal since we have been involved with the Olympic Games is always to make production tasks as seamless to the editor or production staff as possible,” said Patrick McLean, director of segment marketing and enterprise solutions at Avid. “It’s important to allow the editor to continue editing without having to worry about the rest of the production process. It just speeds up the workflow, makes content more useful in terms of how it will be employed and it gets content to air faster.”

Omneon’s MediaGrid systems will also be used to provide storage, processing and a high-speed content distribution platform to support NBC's delivery of all Internet and VOD content during the network's coverage of the Winter Games.

In addition, a MediaGrid active storage system, located at the NBC “highlights factory” in Vancouver, will be integrated with the EVS XT[2] production servers to enable fast, seamless access to high volumes of HD media in live and near-live broadcast production. The Omneon MediaGrid also will leverage Omneon ProXchange to transcode edited content for rapid delivery via the Omneon ProCast CDN content distribution system to NBC’s NYC facilities, where a second Omneon MediaGrid system will be the media access point serving all of the network’s new media delivery outlets.