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Shifting to Server & Nonlinear Production

As I walked through last year's NAB show floor, I was overwhelmed by the number of server and nonlinear edit systems. It seemed that everyone had these products. I say products, although there were many vendors like Avid, Grass Valley, Apple, Quantel and Pinnacle demonstrating systems that ingest, edit and play-out.

As I mentioned in my previous article, I am not going to make an exhaustive analysis about the features of each system. Rather, I would like to point out the benefits of switching to server-based production and some of the hidden traps if you do not look at the workflow and implement servers properly. Lastly, I will discuss the benefits of switching sooner than later.

I'm sure that many of you have made the switch to server-based production and are wondering why you need to read this. It has to do more with the workflow and operating procedures than technology. The technology is important, but how you use the tools is equally, if not more important.

I recently attended a news technology conference and listened to what people were saying. Many of them still had not switched to server-based production and nonlinear editing. They told me that it was too expensive and they were waiting for things to shake out in the market.

There are many cost-effective solutions that are proven and reliable--Avid, Grass Valley, Leitch, Pinnacle and Quantel to name a few. These vendors offer server ingest, play-out and nonlinear editing from the same storage unit. The benefit here is that you get one-stop shopping and an integrated system. You may pay a little more but, as they say, you get what you pay for.

There are also other solutions from server vendors who have teamed up with edit system manufacturers like Apple and Omneon or Apple and Grass Valley. Final Cut Pro has become a very popular program in the news world, and many of the stories edited in Iraq are produced with Final Cut Pro.

I'm sure that there will be announcements at NAB2005 about other cost-effective solutions, demonstrating that the presence of commodity technology is increasing in broadcasting.

The benefit of switching now is that you get improved workflow, possible head-count reductions, increased story production and better-looking content. When Time Warner Cable installed desktop nonlinear editors at the journalists' and producers' workstations, they saw a 10-percent increase in the number of story versions that were produced.

There are a number of other areas that you need to look at before buying a server and nonlinear edit system. Most of this column applies to servers. I will cover editing in later articles.


Metadata is probably one of the most misunderstood terms in our industry. To me, metadata is anything that describes the content that you are capturing. SMPTE and other organizations have created whole dictionaries of different types of metadata--title, location, photographer and episode, to name a few--that include standard and consistent categories for storing data.

The keyword is consistent. Whatever categories you use, make sure that they are used consistently. You should also review them to ensure that they match your current needs and include enough information so that when you search for something, you can find it.

In the news production world, much of this information will come from your newsroom system. The MOS protocol has many object messages--object slug: slug name; object type: still, video, audio (to see more go to: ).

You will need to work with your assignment desk and news managers to develop standards for metadata. You can get a lot of metadata from your assignment grid.


Before purchasing a server of whatever format, you must know your storage requirements. You need to calculate how much you shoot, edit and archive, as well as factor in the "I'll just save everything" element. Whenever I've installed a server, within two months of putting it on air, we were having the out-of-space discussion. When you have a server, people tend to save everything. This can be good, especially if you are planning to produce content for multiple programs or outlets.

Another thing to consider before you install a server system is how you will archive your work. Content storage options ranging from datatape to DVDs can create valuable archives for future stories and a potential source of revenue in selling your content.

One of the first things you need to do is look at how your media is cataloged and stored to determine what information you are capturing.

Having the right naming conventions and metadata is very important when setting up an archive. In addition, you should decide whether you will need to restore the whole clip or only part of it. You also should consider how you will view the contents of the archive. There are many ways to do this.


This is probably the most confusing and misunderstood concept in our industry. Whole days could be spent exploring the intricacies of true asset management, but I'll be brief.

Assets include video, graphics, audio tracks, scripts, images, etc.; management is how you organize these assets and work with them. Asset management also includes workflow. You can create automated processes to manipulate the content you are ingesting. For example, if you are recording a show in the studio and you want a low-resolution copy for the Web, you can create a process (provided you have the right hardware) to make the copy based on the asset type.

You can also create automated processes for removing items from the server or moving them to the archive. For example, each Sunday night, you could remove all the ingested field material that wasn't used in an edit. There are many rules that you can create.

Some asset management systems have these workflow engines; others require external automation systems.

Many vendors can help you design a proper system. There are also many consultants who can do the same. The more planning and investigating you do, the more likely your project is to be successful.

The current format war between Sony and Panasonic for field acquisition has left many people wondering what to do. In addition, other technologies such as "DTE" from JVC allow you to record to a hard drive in the native file format of your nonlinear editor.

Many nonlinear edit vendors will support multiple file formats for editing, including the new consumer HD standard called HDV. What this means is that if you are unsure of what file format you are going to use for field acquisition, you can choose an editor that gives you the option to use multiple formats.

I'll explore more of the technical issues of servers and editors in my next article.