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AmberFin's iCR

Being the engine room of a channel is our business. First established in 1994, TVT offers versioning, localization and media supply services spanning every part of the broadcast workflow. Between program planning and playout, we provide all the components to build channels: sourcing tapes and scripts, ingesting and transcoding, complying, editing, subtitling, translating, and then sending off by fibre optic. TVT is an automated engine room that SD and HD channels flow out of, day after day, to schedule.

Built in 2008, our Chiswick Park facility in London was created from the bottom up as a tapeless environment, for flexibility and for cost-effective control, to act as a single integrated system. So from the moment a program is scheduled, a trackable process takes place to a predetermined timetable, until that program joins hundreds on the conveyor belt, awaiting transmission.

At first glance, the facility resembles a high-tech factory. The original tapes go in one end; out the other end come re-versioned broadcaster files, each frame tailored to its chosen market — one small part of yet another channel. We're one of the only companies doing mass delivery of complete channels in long-form media file delivery to a variety of broadcasters. And, we're the only third-party company that deals with the bulk of material we do.

File-based workflow efficiency

About four years ago, we started working with AmberFin. We needed an integrated ingest, QC and transcoding system in which all the parts “talked to each other.” When the company's CTO, Bruce Devlin, demonstrated an early version of the company's iCR file-based ingest system at IBC in 2007, it was the first product we had seen that came close to what we were trying to achieve.

Selecting the solution was a no-brainer. The company was prepared to work closely with us because no one had really used the product in the way we were planning to use it. Often, because we're doing things on a global delivery scale, there were things we'd come up with that you can't test against. For example, formats of tapes come from the BBC that no one really uses anymore. For AmberFin, it was an interesting test bed.

As our two companies have grown up together, so have the ways that we integrate the file-based ingest system within our operations. Today, we employ nearly every aspect of the system, from ingesting incoming broadcast material, which is on tape; auto-QC'ing that material; performing a manual review of the auto-QC; and transcoding into different formats at various stages of the production line.

With the way we've set up the system, we can load up the Flexicart, and AmberFin will ingest material. The Flexi control enables us to capture everything. The company has taken our interface and integrated it with the system, which gives us an additional buy-in to the services. Due to the way the QC process works, we've ingested everything. The entire process is expedited through automated ingest and QC. I can have one-hour HD programs QC'd in five to 10 minutes. Without it, I'd need to employ more staff and technically have longer days. It has enabled us to have a slick workflow.

A useful element of the system is the timeline, which shows the user a thumbnail picture of the actual problem. Other systems I've used show a piece of black in the middle of the picture. Then I'd have to go to the original to see what the problem was. By doing the reverse of that, the iCR has sped up the process. As a media factory, efficiency is a key requirement for us. We wouldn't have invested in the system if it didn't significantly increase our efficiency.

Our aim is to streamline the entire operation, so we have gone even further and automated ingest using iCR (a development that Amberfin has bought from us to add as an option to its product line). This and the auto-QC particularly expedite our workflow.

Today, the system is the only way in which we ingest tapes and QC them. We also use the system to transcode our master formats to whatever format the eventual client requires.

File QC

Unified quality control is an increasingly important issue within file-based workflows, especially when content owners are looking to exploit new distribution platforms such as PCs, smartphones and games consoles. Last year, we acted as a beta test partner in a key development at AmberFin.

As a result, at IBC2011, the company introduced the Unified Quality Control solution for content ingest and transcoding operations. It's called iCR Unified QC (UQC), and it's a neat approach to quality control that combines multiple tools for baseband checks during tape ingest, file-based QC after ingest and overall operator-controlled QC, including annotation and mark-up.

The addition of UQC to iCR means that users like us have the potential to create a high-quality file-based HD/SD master, provide unique file conversion to multiple formats, and implement appropriate levels of automated and manual quality control. And, we do all that within a single timeline.

We believe that UQC could be an important development in file-based workflows. Like all companies, we are beginning to receive more and more master material as files rather than tapes. Therefore, having a reliable, easy to use file QC solution is increasingly important.

Having a unified interface for tape and file QC is also important from a training point of view. Likewise, we are increasingly wanting to auto-QC outgoing files before they are sent to the client, so having a unified interface for tape and file QC is important as well.

We are happy with our close working relationship with AmberFin's team. It means that as our business grows and develops, the company is able to respond to our changing needs by developing new features and functions within iCR.

As the user end, the product never stops; it's always growing, changing and evolving. You can make something work every time in the lab, but the lab does not always reflect real-life operations. It's not beta testing of the initial product; it's the continued testing of the evolving product.

Jake Robbins is the chief operating officer at TVT.