NAB Wrap-Up, Part 2: Workflow, Workflow, Workflow

More than ever, the NAB exhibit space this year seemed to be serving two masters. On the one hand, there was the excitement (dread?) surrounding 3D production and transmission systems. But the more practical side of the show dealt not with the promise of tomorrow but with the realities of today.

How can sports-production professionals and networks more easily deal with an influx of new content-distribution platforms, a steady increase in new formats and standards, and the need for quick content turnaround and publishing without increased staff and training? The 2010 NAB Show had more solutions for those needs than any previous NAB exhibition, with years of work behind the scenes with metadata and codecs finally paying off for vendor and user alike.

Vizrt embodied that need to publish content anywhere. Its systems tie into technology from Adactus, a company Vizrt acquired earlier this year. Adactus has developed a multimedia delivery platform based on MPEG-21 and can pump content easily to smartphones, the Apple iPad, “smart TVs,” and more. The Adactus system is currently being used by Turner Networks for streaming.

“We can provide a complete workflow and integrate our broadcast tools into the online-publishing workflow,” says Vizrt COO Martin Buckhalter.

And Vizrt’s Viz Engine system now supports Apple’s ProRes codec, adding full compatibility with Apple Final Cut Pro. “We can now easily support workflows that rely on Final Cut Pro,” says Christian Huber, EVP, IT & Logistics, for Vizrt. “We are now able to give our broadcast customers a more open and versatile solution, making their workflow more efficient and the Vizrt proposition even more compelling.”

Avid’s booth also embodied the continued evolution of workflows. The company’s recent acquisition of Blue Order and its impact on Avid’s production-asset-management systems were front and center.

“Our three big themes were openness, collaboration, and creativity,” says Patrick McLean, director of Segment Marketing for Avid. “The foundation is our Interplay media-asset manager, which helps manage different types of assets on any storage system with the help of a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) that allows for customized workflows.”

Also new this year is end-to-end support of the AVC Intra-based formats (last year’s big news was support of Sony XDCAM). Material can be captured on a multistream server and, via Interplay, deliver content to Media Composer editing systems via a simple transfer at AVC Intra 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps.

And then there were improvements to Media Composer. Angus McKay, segment marketing manager for Avid Professional, says they include native support of Apple Quicktime and the RED camera system, which means users can now begin a project using Apple Final Cut Pro and move it seamlessly over to Media Composer.

“We’re delivering on the promise of file-based workflows, and adding support of those formats is an incredible productivity booster,” says McKay. “The original metadata is preserved, and, now with 4:4:4 support, all of the color information is available in the signal. That means that any color-processing effects or keying will be much more precise.”

Other enhancements include aspect-ratio management (the timeline does not need to take time to render different aspect ratios), and multichannel audio support is available so that users can more easily sync stereo tracks and video.

Managing Assets Made Easy
As Avid continues to make internal changes to its file-management systems, outside companies are tapping into its technologies. Media-asset-management-technology provider Front Porch Digital has taken advantage of its new DIVAsymphony framework based on SOA to provide full integration with Avid Interplay, Apple Final Cut Pro, and Apple Final Cut Server to version 6.3 of the DIVArchive content-storage-management (CSM) system.

Front Porch Digital CEO Mike Knaisch says it is an important addition because it enables the easy implementation of third-party applications and functionality to the DIVArchive system. “You don’t need to touch the core code and need a skill set that can touch that code without breaking something. With SOA, users can add functionality, and more-reliable applications can be brought to market quickly.”

Joseph French, president and CEO of Masstech Group, has been intimately involved with workflows, and the company’s products continue to serve as a glue uniting disparate systems, allowing the transfer and transcoding of content and metadata among nearly 170 industry devices. The company’s revamped product line also includes the Indigo media-asset- and content-storage-management systems as well as the Topaz system designed for smaller facilities.

At NAB, the CatchBLUE file-based delivery-management system made its debut, featuring 64 transcoding blades and the ability to rewrap, transcode, direct-connect, and embedded-splice content to play-to-air servers. Content and operations can also be controlled via Web browser, and an optional module for quality control is also available.

“Our technology builds a layer on top of and interfaces with video-server and automation systems, something no one else can do,” says French. “It’s great to be able to connect to an Avid editing or server system, but transcoding, which we provide, is critical. Our layer on top of systems is more task-oriented than other systems in the market.”

Replay Needs Fulfilled
Another company in the center of revamping workflows is EVS. The dominant player in the remote-sports-production instant-replay-server market is advancing workflows by adding greater interoperability with servers, recording formats, and editing systems from the likes of Omneon, Avid, Apple, Sony, Isilon, Panasonic, and more. And such features as XT[2] Web allow end users to browse clips on an XT[2] server using a Web browser. The company is also working on tying low-resolution proxies back to the high-resolution clips.

One of the hot products for EVS, especially with customers outside the U.S., was the XTNano, the low-cost replay solution. Referring to a client in Brazil that covers soccer, Fred Garroy, GM, the Americas, for EVS, says, “Their workflow didn’t need all big machines, and Nano had the power they needed. It’s been very well received in the market.”

Also of interest at the show was the XS video-production server, designed as a server replacement for four channels of tape decks.

EVS integration with Panasonic’s P2 format also indicates the kind of workflow enhancements seen throughout the show floor. “Users can browse material on the P2 card, manage the clip bin, and even send clips to Avid, not just the EVS server,” says Garroy. “It’s one example of the workflow of tomorrow.”

Looking to compete with the XTNano is Grass Valley, whose Dyno Replay Controller now has a feature called ChannelFlex, bringing expanded functionality to K2 Summit ad K2 Solo servers. ChannelFlex allows three modes of operation: one with increased inputs and outputs, one with super-slow-motion sources, and a third for 3D.

“With ChannelFlex, up to three SDI streams can be recorded on a single channel,” says Ed Casaccia, Grass Valley director of product marketing, servers, and storage, “and the price point is less than half of competitive products’.”

The Dyno Production Assistant adds improved file-management and transfer tools, allowing content to be moved from one K2 Summit or Solo server to the next complete with metadata.

“It allows for rules-based automatic creation of highlights, and the user can build a melt reel [of an event] as it occurs,” adds Casaccia. “Any of the metadata tags, like a home run or star ranking, can automatically put content onto the playlist.”

More-Nimble Backbone
Lastly, it appears that the biggest change at NAB is a broader move towards building backbone technologies that are more nimble and can address new distribution platforms.

“There are emerging business opportunities arising, and it wraps back to the issue of providing an agile platform,” says Avid’s McLean. “Systems need to be flexible and open enough so that users can jump on opportunities as they arise. We need to enable our customers to experiment with new business models and find where those opportunities lie.”

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