Building Out Storage for UHD

Andy Warman

Author: Andy Warman

Published: 14 June 2016

As the next big thing in video, from capture and production through to display in the home, 4K and ultra-high-definition (UHD) video offers many benefits. Most notable of these is an eightfold increase in resolution as compared with 1080i, the established standard for HD broadcast. A number of other significant enhancements to image quality are also helping to drive interest in the adoption of this format.

Supporting higher frame rates, this format allows for smoother motion portrayal. By supporting higher dynamic range, it offers more striking contrast and greater brightness. And finally, UHD supports greater color depth, often referred to as wider color gamut, which effectively extends the range of colors possible. The impact that these characteristics have on the viewing experience is stunning - to the degree that the shift from HD to UHD is being compared by some with the move from black-and-white to color television. Support for immersive audio means that UHD offers more for the ears, too.

All of these gains - and most particularly the increase in resolution - result in a format that places much greater capacity and bandwidth requirements on media facility infrastructure and workflow. With significantly larger file sizes, for example six times the size of when comparing AVC Class 100, 1080i60 @ 100Mbps with AVC Class 300, 2160p60 @ 600 Mbps, UHD media files demand a major increase in the capacity of the underlying storage system. As the shift into UHD editing and production demands an increase in bandwidth, it is essential to have faster connections that enable high performance and responsiveness critical for timeline editing, fast file movement and media processing on and off the storage system.

Though editing and production workflows aren't being radically overhauled with the move toward UHD, the way in which media is handled is changing. For instance, as facilities begin working with UHD, they must make decisions about which codecs to use. Whether the media facility decides to work with well-known, well-established codecs or with newer options, the choice of codec has a direct impact on the capacity and bandwidth required of the storage platform. The enormous size of UHD media files magnifies codecs' different capacity and bandwidth requirements, and stores of UHD content will present significantly different requirements depending on the codec used.

Where UHD media files are stored is another consideration that facilities must address. Although this content often can be incorporated into existing storage systems in the near term, a new system dedicated to UHD storage or one significantly expanded to support it can provide the degree of scalability essential to smooth and cost-effective growth. The ideal approach would be where the storage system supports on line expansion - without disruption of ongoing operations - as storage demands rise. Typically, this storage system will be built on hard-drive technology that has been optimized to provide the connectivity critical for working with UHD content.

In most deployment scenarios, UHD storage solutions depend on 10GbE or other high-speed connections, and the facility's editing clients and workstations are upgraded to ensure that they are linked to the storage system by the right connectivity technology. Ideally, the storage system used for UHD media files will provide consistent direct access to files and balanced read and write performance no matter the percentage of storage capacity in use, so that multiple editors can work simultaneously with UHD files without experiencing a bottleneck or slowdown.

Harmonic is working to help media companies to address all of these factors and make a smart transition into UHD content production. To this end, the company has introduced the Harmonic MediaGrid 4000 shared storage system, a robust storage platform that is capable of supporting every stage in the workflow. The MediaGrid 4000 provides the performance of a Fibre Channel Storage Area Network and the simplicity and scalability of Ethernet-based Network Attached Storage, thereby guaranteeing continuity of performance regardless of how large the storage system grows, or how much of the storage capacity is consumed.

The Harmonic MediaGrid 4000 also takes advantage of the latest IT building blocks to offer scalable storage at a lower cost per terabyte while increasing efficiency in the production of live sports, news and entertainment (HD and UHD). It can be implemented as an extension to a facility's existing Harmonic MediaGrid system, or as an entirely new high-performance shared storage platform that consolidates "islands\" of storage and simplifies the creation of digital libraries.

The arrival of UHD is forcing media facilities to reconsider their storage infrastructure and strategy. Fortunately, systems including the Harmonic MediaGrid 4000 facilitate a thoughtful path forward by serving as a flexible, high-performance foundation for working with evolving formats and storage requirements.

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