Eye to Eye File-based content distribution 2009

Author: Dennis Lennie

Published 1st June 2009

The rapidly divergent pattern of broadcast market development resembles the branches of a fast-growing tree. But there is one crucial aspect in which the industry is quite obviously converging: the transition from video and audio to file-based content distribution and delivery. This would have happened anyway given the increasing popularity of the internet as an auxiliary broadcasting medium. It is being accelerated by the rapidly improving quality and capability of solid-state audio and video capture devices. That is my excuse for not banging on here about new klystrons and terrestrial transmission antennas. The future of distribution is files-by-wire until such time as internet distribution itself migrates large-scale to satellite-based networks: files-by-no-wire.
Until just a few years ago, television crews returned to base with analogue tapes which had to be copied to other media before the editors could start selecting the content they wanted. Later came digital tape which again had to be copied, fortunately with little or no loss in quality, and is now more commonly ingested into a data file and stored in a disk-based archive. With a decent asset management infrastructure, the file can then be searched, browsed, copied, edited without need to pull anything from a library shelf. That also does away with the risk of tapes or similar media being lost or damaged and allows more than one person to access the same item simultaneously. It is up to senior management to decide on a file-deletion strategy. With the ever declining cost of data storage, it can be argued that no content need ever be deleted.
Most TV crews are in a hurry, news-crews in particular. By switching from tape-based camcorders to purely solid-state devices, they reduce the time and effort needed to ingest their content to the channel's server. The most advanced formats such as Panasonic's P2 make this an even greater advantage by allowing much faster than real-time ingest from multiple memories played out in parallel.
So who is offering file-based video recorders? Practically all the big-name VTR makers plus a number of newcomers:
Convergent Design's Flash XDR is a compact unit capturing HD and SD direct to Compact Flash solid-state memory. Four 32 gigabyte cards can be accommodated, storing 2 hours 22 minutes at 100 Mbit/s or 4 hours 44 minutes at 50 Mbit/s. Tapeless file-based operation delivers many production benefits including complete freedom from tape defects, practically zero mechanical maintenance costs, faster-than-real-time file-based ingest and highly affordable easily-available multi-source storage media.
Fast Forward Video's Mini DVR Pro measures 5.2 inches by 3.7 inches by .8 inches and includes such features as scalable motion-JPEG compression and 720 x 486-pixel image resolution. The Mini DVR Pro uses Compact Flash memory and is equipped with an onboard USB 2.0 port for file upload. The unit can be powered by four AA cells.
Ikegami's flash-memory-based GF series tapeless HD/SD production system includes the HDS-V10 camcorder, the GFS-V10 recorder, and 64 gigabyte storage media which can capture two hours of 50 Mbit/s HD video. The HDS-V10 has a three-CCD imager providing 1080i or 720p HDTV format support, multiple digital recording modes, and a retro-loop standby recording mode. A USB port allows access to file-based video even when a GF memory is not installed in the camcorder or the deck.
JVC has expanded its ProHD camcorder line-up by introducing two solid-state camcorders. The hand-held GY-HM100 3-CCD camcorder and shoulder-perched GY-HM700 record 35 Mbit/s HD video and uncompressed audio directly to SDHC in the native Quicktime format used by Apple Final Cut Pro. The cameras have two memory card slots accommodating up to 64 gigabytes of storage, enough for up to six hours of continuous HD recording. The cameras automatically begin recording on the second card when the first card is full. JVC claims that the per-minute cost of SDHC memory is comparable to professional video tape and that SDHC is the first practical solid-state medium affordable enough to be used for archiving.
Panasonic's AG-HPX300 is an HD/SD camcorder using 1920 x 1080 10-bit 4:2:2 AVC-Intra file-based recording to P2 memory cards. Features including variable frame rates, adjustable gamma, chromatic aberration compensation, scan reverse, dynamic range stretch, waveform and vector scope display and focus assist tools.
Sony's PMW-EX3 camcorder offers multiple frame rate recording capability such as 59.94i, 50i, and native 23.98P, as well being 1080i/720P switchable. There is also a choice of a 35 Mbit/s or a 25 Mbit/s HDV-1080i-compatible mode. The PMW-EX3 has two memory card slots and can record up to 140 minutes of HD on a pair of 16 Gbyte SxS PRO memory cards,
Stack's DVR2 records MPEG-2 SD at up to 15 Mbit/s to Compact Flash. Up to 18 hours of POV-camera-quality video can be captured to 32 Gbytes. The recorder itself is ruggedised for use in harsh environments. Power requirement is 9 to 20 V DC or optionally 16 to 48 V DC.
File based audio recorders are also rapidly replacing tape machines, not least because solid-state memory chips are far smaller than any other currently available storage medium and far more robust. Suppliers include Canford, HHB, M-Audio, Olympus, Roland, Marantz, Solid State Sound, Sony and Tascam.
The same precautions necessary in selecting any other kind of recording kit apply to file-based devices. The first supposedly professional-quality solid-state sound recorder I bought, some years ago, was rendered useless by a generous level of RF emission, radiated to the usually impeccable DAT recorder used as a back-up, and by low-level but ever-present digital buzz faithfully captured to WAV in lieu of silence. Second machine, an elegant little solid-state handheld of the same make, was much better but also generated low level buzz. My intended workaround was simply to record straight to Adobe Audition on a laptop PC but Windows Vista blew that option away. Fortunately a third machine (same make as the first two but latest generation, I am a trusting soul) has absolutely perfect sound quality and came complete with four simultaneous recording channels plus phantom-powered XLR mike inputs.
Data file standardisation is a can of worms in itself but increasingly easy as decent media asset management systems can be programmed to recognise incoming file types and, where present, their metadata wrappers.

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