The cloud and connectivity

Any broadcaster embarking on file-based operations encounters the issue of networks and connectivity. Content that was once transported via videotape will use fiber or satellite unless the file is not to be copied to physical media for transportation.

The top issue with the cloud is also connectivity. Typical commercial applications are the storing of structured data like transaction records, or office documents — all very small files. The vast majority of cloud vendors are just not set up for the upload of media files. However, the cloud presents an opportunity for many broadcast applications, disaster recovery being one example.

One problem that has complicated the move to tapeless production is the plethora of file standards. Sending a tape was easy. HDCAM tapes play in HDCAM decks. The only real incompatibility relates to frame rates, where video may need standards conversion. With files, subtle differences in wrappers and essence codecs can make a file unreadable by the receiving party.

Connectivity service provider Sohonet is offering a QC service that circumvents the issue of a long file transfer that cannot be read at the receiving end. The company developed the application for the Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards back in 2007. Ben Roeder, Sohonet’s CTO, has since fine-tuned the Sohonet QC solution following the success of the VES Awards submission process in response to customer’s growing complaints about the time-consuming process of checking digital content submissions for errors.

“Content producers are always looking for new ways to ensue their production cycles are leaner and more effective,” Roeder said, “and Sohonet’s QC Solution is proving the ideal solution to quickly and securely optimize file workflow management and cut costs.”

The QC System meant that the party submitting files could instantly know whether there was any problem with their submission — upload problem, file name error, incorrect QuickTime codec, etc. By enabling the vendor to address and correct any errors at the time of uploading meant that files do not have to be checked manually for satisfactory reception.

Sohonet has been providing broadband services to the production community for since 1993. Originally set up by a group of post houses in London’s Soho district, it was spun out as a private company in 2003. The company has expanded its reach over time to encompass major production centers including New York City, Los Angeles, Sydney and New Zealand.

Sohonet provides media-savvy connectivity for International productions, where VFX may be in one continent, shooting in another, and editing in a third. Such operations create a requirement, not only for review and approval, but also for high-resolution files to traverse the world. Directors expect to access rushes and edit session from across the world. The demise of physical media has raised expectations of what can be achieved over fiber or satellite, so that physical location should not matter.

Sohonet has developed technical expertise in the use of FTP over very long distances, as well as advice for clients on the best platform for an optimized TCP stack. For encrypted transport, there is Secure FTP (SFTP).

There will be issues of practicality. Remote viewing at 4K may not be possible or cost effective in a given situation. The last mile is often the bottleneck. Is there as sufficient bandwidth into the premises?
Sohonet are addressing issues of connectivity and QC for file transport. Bodies like Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers and the Advanced Media Workflow Association have developed MXF, along with Application Specifications for its use. Further up the production chain, the Interoperable Master Format (IMF) has been developed by the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California.

Bit by bit, the many pieces that make up a file-based workflow are coming together. Connectivity and standards are just two pieces that are essential to provide an efficient system. As the cloud adds another option for file-based platforms, these two become of prime importance.