SMPTE Conference features advances in file-based operations

The recent SMPTE Annual Tech Conference and Expo featured many hot topics for broadcasters including loudness control, file-based production and service-oriented architecture (SOA), alongside sessions for the cinematographers on stereo 3-D and archiving.

The media and entertainment sector has been slow to adopt SOA, a technology that is the mainstay of IT operations in many other industries. The SOA loosely couples services that interoperate through messaging middleware. In broadcast applications, the services could be transcoding, moving files through a storage hierarchy, QC or can be craft functions like editing. The SOA couples these media processes with the business applications like resource management, accounting and digital asset management.

Being a computer system architecture, the SOA presupposes IT-based operations. As broadcasters go tapeless, the advantages of using an SOA become apparent. Several speakers stressed how the media and entertainment sector has special requirements that have led to the apparent lag behind other sectors in the introduction of current IT architectures. One is the size of media files, many gigabytes being commonplace. The next is the huge bandwidths needed for real-time HD, 2K and 4K. Even today, supporting the necessary data rates is at the edge of current networking products. A speaker from Sony even mentioned the need for the proposed 40Gb/s Ethernet development. The third stems from the nature of the production processes, in that many are craft-based.

While some of us may be dreaming of such future technologies (for the media industry), a speaker from Beijing TV described their SOA-based network production system, which was started in 2005. The system runs 1200 attached workstations, with 500TB of online storage and 100PB of nearline storage. Beijing TV creates 135 programs per day, about 38 hours running time, on the system.

One of the advantages of an SOA, said John Footen of National TeleConsultants, is that “it moves the API (to control equipment) up to the business level, the work-order level.” It is this abstraction that brings many benefits. A component piece of equipment like a video server can be replaced with a later model from a different vendor without the need to rewrite the middleware to cater to a new API. The server become a service, storing and playing content files, and can be controlled by the business process manager without having to understand the technical minutia of running the server.

The issues notwithstanding, many areas of TV production and distribution do lend themselves to the application of an SOA. This, in turn, allows the application of business process management to optimize the workflows that have historically been dictated by the constraints of videotape and film.

This year has not been the best for investment, but 2010 may see the rollout of SOA in the media and entertainment sector becoming more commonplace.