Transition from tape meets resistance
JOHNSTON, IOWA: Early in the planning process for converting the Iowa Public Television facilities to digital television, IPTV embraced the concept of producing content in HD. Our earliest designs included islands of HD in a primarily SD facility. Due mostly to a slow economy and research into a capital campaign that revealed we would probably not get the funds necessary to build our DTV studios from private sector sources, our overall studio conversion plans stalled.
We did however take advantage of opportunities to acquire some HD acquisition equipment as well as an Avid DS/HD editor, a Final Cut Pro HD editor and ancillary hardware that has allowed us to construct a couple of full nonlinear HD editing facilities to augment our existing group of SD editors.
For the most part, each editing room is treated as a stand-alone facility with minimal networking between rooms. Networking the editors together makes a tremendous amount of sense in conjunction with a shared storage system. One of the concepts that I have shared with our team was moving the NLE from the dedicated room to the editor's desktop.
Most of the objections that I hear from the potential end users relate to their working space and not the technology. Since the majority of our workforce is in cubicles, sound isolation is the number one area of concern. I do get some glares when I suggest headphones, but in truth, put two monitors on the desktop and a quality pair of wireless headphones and I think we'd have a very high quality edit solution.
At our facility we also have a separation between producers and editors, which is similar to the commercial news operations I have worked at where we had reporters and editors. This is actually a throwback to the old days when editing was tape-based and the hardware was complex to understand and operate. Looking at the modern PC-based systems with drag and drop operations, large layers of undo capabilities, on-line help and the other tools that have taken highly complex tasks and made them simple, it would seem that NLEs are on their way to becoming the word-processing software of media creation.
Couple this with the fact that budgets and staff are shrinking while content production is increasing, and it seems inevitable that we need more editors and more places to edit. This may not the most popular statement but the business has changed and we must change too.
I have developed the habit of looking at problems as opportunities and we have recently been presented with an opportunity. IPTV currently has an Avid AirPlay system for interstitial material (commercials and promos to my commercial readers) playback and a Sony STAS-10 for long form playback and program delay. Both of these systems have served us well but are getting a bit long in the tooth. The STAS is literally on its last legs. So we have begun researching a new server to replace both of these systems.
At the same time, we have begun working with PBS on the rollout of the Enhanced Interconnection Optimization Project (EIOP), a comprehensive system for automating program playback, ingest, traffic, logging, remote control, and exception monitoring. I will be writing more on this project over the next few months. We hope to be on the air with this system towards the end of the year. Incorporated into the EIOP system is an Omneon edge server that functions as the playback server for all outgoing content. So if this is a done deal, why are we looking at a new server to replace the existing ones?
Probably the single largest reason is that I have never been comfortable with the idea of placing all material on a single server or SAN and every user accessing it.
My experience has shown that video is a very demanding database and when you add multiple users, things bog down and the idea of a viewer sitting at home looking at a frozen picture while four or five editors are accessing material is unacceptable.
Now I know the server people will jump up and down and say that these problems can be handled by planning the installation and figuring out what the bandwidth requirements will be and on and on, but we really don't know what our bandwidth requirements will be. In our operation we're going to be producing content that will be broadcast in HD, SD, served on the Web and distributed to schools in datacast streams or on DVDs. There are too many variables that will never be stable. I'd rather look at a multi-server system where each server is optimized to serve its client base and managed the exchange between the systems. The Swiss army knife and the Leatherman are cool tools that will help in a pinch but I don't know of any engineers that have thrown away their tool kits. Proper tools will just do the job better.
So in search of the proper tool, we have begun looking for a server to replace our existing air servers that will actually be replaced by the EIOP server.
This new server will ultimately be used for editing and therein lies the rub. I recently sent an e-mail to Avid asking a simple question: How do I interface the Avid DS/HD with an Omneon server? What I got back was a note directing me to take a look at some papers on their Web site that I downloaded and reviewed. Unfortunately the documents only discussed interfacing Avid DS systems to Avid shared storage solutions. One of the things I like best about writing this column is it is based on what is happening at this time. My research is therefore just beginning but I was fascinated by the response I got from Avid's support team.
Based on an e-mail exchange I had with their support team, Avid considers storing content from their editors on any system other than another Avid device as an unsupported installation that, if the customer is lucky, it might work. It would seem to me that in an industry focused on growth through open standards and non-proprietary solutions, their view tends to isolate their products. Truly, figuring out how to get the Avid HD/DS into our new server is actually also a short-term goal. I am really considering the future environment that I described earlier. If the editor actually does end up on the desktop, I don't think that significant amounts of storage will follow, so whatever solution we choose, has to be open.
At one point I described the NLE as the "word processor" for media. If you've ever exchanged documents with a user of a different word processor, you've probably had a conversion nightmare where formatting is lost. Out of this confusion came Adobe Acrobat that allows users to print information to a file as they intend it and then lets end users open that file and see the information in the format in which it was created. What we need is Acrobat for media.
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