Technology Showcase: Media Servers for the Corporate Market
Jul 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney
A move from tape-based systems provides flexible programming.
As with almost all components of today's audio/video production universe, corporate communications are moving away from tape-based systems to adopt file-based protocols. At the heart of this migration is the increasing use of digital media servers to get the corporate message out to boardrooms, training facilities, meeting centers, lobbies, and the Internet.
Media servers, which can be either single- or multichannel designs, bring with them the benefit of flexible programming, increased storage capabilities and, best of all, significant cost savings. Many corporate IT departments are therefore making the same discovery that broadcast newsrooms have known for a while — the savings gained by eliminating the maintenance cost of tape systems and communicating from servers can pay for the whole installation in a relatively short period of time.
By definition, a media server is a computing device that stores, manages, and shares media of all types. That can range from network-attached storage (NAS) to a media center's desktop PC or a commercial web server. Actually, any networkable computer with a large hard drive or sufficient solid-state storage can be considered a server, which means any desktop PC with the proper software and a network connection could qualify. (Although systems with multicore CPUs and even RAID storage will get the message out with greater efficiency.)
According to Douglas I. Sheer, CEO of DIS Consulting in New York, a leading supplier of syndicated market research reports, the role of servers in corporate and institutional installations is continuing to expand as file-based video predominates, and users continue to retire videotape recorders in exchange for disk and hard drive solutions.
“In the latest global survey, Broadcast Servers World 2007, we see that of the overall server channels reported, 29,013 installed channels were attributed to institutional users, of which corporate comprised about 20 percent (or 5,802 channels),” Sheer says. “Of those channels purchased in 2006, 7,007 were institutional channels, with 20 percent of them, or 1,401, derived from corporate purchasers. Planned institutional purchases in 2007 were expected to be 7,836 channels, with 20 percent or 1,567 expected to be corporate channels. Although the corporate market was a bit late in adopting servers, it appears to be making up for lost time in the VTR replacement trend, and their channel purchases are expected to ramp up rapidly in the next few years as they build out server capacity.”
Unlike their broadcasting cousins, corporate servers are not locked into using over-the-air TV's ubiquitous MPEG-2 compression, and they are free to more easily incorporate newer technologies such as H.264 (MPEG-4, level 10) compression for greater efficiency. Able to squeeze more than twice as much information into the space needed by MPEG-2, H.264 is often called “AVC” (for Advanced Video Coding) in the multimedia world.
Flash video from Adobe, containing video bitstreams that are a variant of the H.263 video standard under the name of Sorenson Spark, is also a common file format for delivering information over the Internet because it can be read on almost any desktop PC running free Adobe Acrobat Reader software.
Now, Microsoft is coming out with Silverlight, a competitive format that the company describes as “a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET-based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web.” Silverlight has been code-named “Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere” or “WPF/E.” A beta version of Silverlight is currently available from silverlight.net, while the final edition is scheduled to be out by the end of summer.
With the proliferation of servers, many manufacturers are designing systems with unique capabilities. Therefore, this article will specifically focus on purpose-built media servers intended for corporate installations — as opposed to PCs loaded with third-party software. It should be noted that several companies that make mainframe servers for broadcast and data applications, such as IBM and Harris, politely suggested their systems not be included in this article because they are not specifically designed for corporate communications. Still, keep in mind that elements of technology from those companies are being used in various ways by the corporate market.
A recent trend in corporate servers is the need to interface with popular broadcasting nonlinear editing systems (NLEs), such as Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer, and Adobe Premiere Pro. With the cost of video production equipment becoming affordable, including gear for shooting and editing high-definition video, inhouse media departments are increasingly being asked to create their own programming. Naturally, the servers intended to distribute these productions need to be HD capable as well, and a growing number of servers can now ingest files directly from those sophisticated NLEs.
Therefore, the technology inherited from broadcast-quality servers is raising the bar for all the players in this game. With all that in mind, here is a look at many of the most interesting media servers designed for corporate use.
The latest media server from 360 Systems is its Maxx 6T, which can deliver more than 700 hours of programming from its 6TB of RAID-6 storage. Maxx 6T functions as a video recorder, 3-channel playout server, and a graphics store with key-and-fill.
Its standard features include composite and SDI video ports, a frame synchronizer for recording satellite feeds or other sources, and a complete set of audio formats including AES/EBU digital, +4 balanced analog, and SDI-embedded audio. 360 Systems' Maxx 6T can simply drag and drop MPEG-2 files (including IMX) and DV-25 files over Gigabit Ethernet directly from NLEs, letting it interface seamlessly with a corporation's graphics, training, or public affairs departments.
Having already delivered 60,000 embedded media devices globally, Adtec Digital now offers the edje4000, a realtime streaming AVC/H.264 (AVC) encoder with broadcast-quality video. It features composite and SDI inputs through a time-base correcting video pre-processing block that removes spatial noise and temporal artifacts, and generally improves encoding efficiency with pre-processing balanced analog and embedded audio via SDI. Industry-standard RS-422 (9-pin) device control is optional, as is the ability to capture live video and audio.
For HD plasma and LCD displays, Adtec Digital also offers the displayMate featuring AVC/H.264 and MPEG-2 high-definition and standard-definition file playback from 4GB or 8GB solid-state storage and IP stream decoding. A corporate IT department can stream content to the displayMate over IP for point-to-point or multicast playout, and the media server automatically scales the content with advanced scalar algorithms to match a monitor's needs up to 1080i for improved HD playback. Adtec Digital servers support closed captioning, which is required for most government contracts.
Unlike many other dedicated high-definition video players, the Digital Video Machine HD from Alcorn McBride plays MPEG-2 at extremely high bit rates — up to 50Mbps — delivering very high picture quality. The Digital Video Machine HD can also synchronize perfectly to external sources, so multiple units can be frame-locked together for multiscreen or 3D stereoscopic applications.
All ATSC video formats are supported, including 1080i/30 and 720p/60. Video output is either component RGBHV or YPbPr. The Digital Video Machine HD Pro model also includes HD-SDI (SMPTE-292M) digital video output, and it provides either bi-level or tri-level sync on its analog YPbPr output. Control of the Digital Video Machine HD uses serial RS-232 or Ethernet, through which the operator can create complex sequences with playlists, or use the realtime scheduler for completely automated operation.
The Concurrent MediaMatrix video on demand (VOD) system is a scalable video server complex designed to support demanding corporate VOD deployments. MediaMatrix systems are made up of three components: the MediaHawk 4000 video server, the MediaStore 1000 content storage system, and the MediaMatrix Interconnect. These components support a wide range of network architectures to allow for streams, storage, and ingest to scale independently.
The Concurrent MediaHawk Model 4000 video server is a standards-based system capable of supporting thousands of viewers with on-demand services over a wide array of transport networks, including hybrid fiber coax (HFC), Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), and IP-streaming networks, supporting multiple formats including MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 H.264. The MediaStore 1000 provides on-demand media storage for access to all the streams of the MediaMatrix complex, and is capable of storing up to 1,960 hours of content (based on content encoding rate of 3.75Mbps). Two Fibre Channel ports in the MediaStore 1000 connect directly to the MediaHawk 4000 video servers or the MediaMatrix Interconnect.
The Denon Professional DN-V755 network audiovisual player is a self-contained server system with no software installation or scheduling required. For ease of use, all setup is built-in. The DN-V755 can be accessed from any web browser, and adding media is as simple as dragging and dropping files into the system. It includes a 40GB internal hard drive; plays MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video, along with WAV, MP3, or MP2 audio; and has serial control (RS-232C on 9-pin D-Sub) or Ethernet control (LAN/RJ-45). The DN-V755 includes a realtime clock for scripted/automated playback of AV files.
Doremi Labs' new V1-HD/LE is a full-featured, standalone HD video disk recorder/player that can record up to 80 minutes of 1080i video on its two internal removable SCSI drives, letting it serve as a cost-efficient drop-in replacement for HD tape decks. Featuring record and playback of HD-SDI and SD-SDI video, its video data is compressed using DCT compression and recorded along with the audio and the timecode address onto the hard disk drive. The V1-HD/LE is field accurate and can be controlled from either an industry-standard RS-422 serial interface using the Sony 9-pin protocol, or from its front-panel LCD display.
With the introduction of the new HD FrEND plus, Electrosonic delivers the capability to integrate text and graphics in combination with dynamic HD video content. The name FrEND actually stands for “Far End Network Device.” The latest model, the HD FrEND plus GL, adds genlock capability to lock it with other production and display equipment. HD FrEND plus is a cost-effective, compact server system that supports ATSC-compliant formats, HDV, and MPEG-2 in resolutions of 1920×1080i, 1280×720p, and 720×576/480p, and it can be deployed as economically as standard-definition video. Using a 10/100Base-T Ethernet network infrastructure, the HD FrEND plus is an intelligent device capable of living anywhere on the network, while its content can originate from a remote location.
The PX-100 Workgroup Media Server and PX-500 Enterprise Media Server from Focus Enhancements are designed to make media asset management simple and cost-effective. The PX-100 Workgroup Media Server is designed for workgroups with up to 24 users and the PX-500 for 25 or more. The latest version, the PX-1 Production Media Server, includes 1TB of internal storage and provides quick access to digital media files over a network.
All feature a browser-based interface that provides immediate access to audio, video, images, and text-based data from any location, and low-resolution MPEG-4 proxy video clips of HD, HDV, DV, and MPEG footage allow for quick preview, protect high-resolution media assets, and save network bandwidth. Focus Enhancements' ProxSys Media Server 5.0 software includes ProxSys Media Import to import individual media files or entire folders containing media files — complete with video clips, audio clips, thumbnails, timecode, and metadata — and maintain their original hierarchy.
The new Turbo-R iDDR from Grass Valley integrates the Iomega Rev removable-disk media and drives to provide high access speeds and large storage capacities at an affordable price. As a key component of the Grass Valley ProLine, the Turbo-R iDDR shares many capabilities of its Emmy award-winning Grass Valley Profile line of video servers.
The Turbo-R iDDR is a complete AV center within itself, offering two HD or SD playout channels for independent editing and previewing, or for delivering content to two different display systems simultaneously. It features extensive control via external systems (AMX and Creston compatible) and data connectivity to other devices via 100BaseT, Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE 1394 FireWire, or USB 2.0. The Turbo-R iDDR also boasts a front control panel for direct operation.
The Leightronix Nexus is an innovation in playback automation combining digital video server technology, DVD and VCR control, video/audio switching/routing, and digital video messaging in one compact and affordable package offering digital video recording and dual-channel playback with support for legacy equipment. Nexus has two MPEG playback channels for decoding and one MPEG recorder channel for encoding. It includes an online/onscreen program guide and a web interface with remote slide creation and management, and it features automated total backup of digital media and system files. Nexus offers simultaneous playback and recording on all channels.
The MediaDeck from Omneon is an integrated version of the Omneon Spectrum broadcast media server, combining storage, system management, Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, and video I/O modules in one convenient 2RU package.
Omneon's MediaDeck packs up to six video channels, Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, and dual-parity RAID storage into a compact 2RU chassis. Omneon MediaDeck includes eight hot-swappable enterprise-class SATA disk drives for content storage. The use of dual-parity RAID ensures that the system continues to operate even in the event of simultaneous failure of any two disk drives. Video I/O modules and redundant power supplies can be hot-swapped for uninterrupted operation. The system supports any combination of I/O modules for maximum flexibility, including mixing HD and SD modules in the same MediaDeck.
Building on QuVis' experience with the best of theatrical digital cinema systems, the new QuVis Encore is a state-of-the-art, resolution-independent digital mastering and playback server that records and plays HD and SD (more than 50 video and graphics formats, including 720p, 1080i, 1080p, PsF, PAL, and NTSC) in realtime. It includes RS-422 control, up to 12 channels of digital audio, virtual tape editing, and hot-swappable removable drives.
In addition, QuVis' first player-only server, the QuVis Ovation, provides high-quality content for 3D and multiscreen displays. The slim, rackountable design of the QuVis Ovation incorporates 1x to 1000x search speed, an RS-232/RS-422 interface for remote PC control, a front-panel menu system, industry-standard video connections, and a host of easy-to-use functions.
Sony introduced its HDXchange system this year for corporate installations. It's a networked, IT-based hardware/software suite for managing standard- and high-definition content. The HDXchange system's software allows users throughout an organization to easily ingest, log, manage, and use content on the system's shared storage.
Providing about 250 hours of video capacity (at 25Mbps HDV, XDCAM HD, or DVCAM rates), the HDXchange suite automatically generates proxy files for network browsing, offline storyboarding, and web applications. The system will support an optical disc workflow, as well as the throughput of typical DVCAM and HDV users. HDXchange can handle standard formats and protocols such as QuickTime, MXF, AVI, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4, and it is compatible with nonlinear editing solutions including Sony Vegas and Apple Final Cut Pro.
For more than a decade, VBrick video appliances have provided educational institutions, corporations, and government agencies with high-quality video distributed over an IP network. VBrick's multipurpose network video appliance encodes, streams, and records standard MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video.
VBrick's Windows Media Appliance is based on its award-winning VB6000 platform and supports the streaming of Windows Media by functioning as a Windows Media Encoder (WME) as well as a Windows Media Server (WMS). Featuring WM9 encoding, it supports DHCP for quick installation and comes preconfigured to enable live streaming within minutes, and integrates seamlessly into an existing Microsoft Ecosystem. VBrick also offers its EtherneTV Portal Server, a web-based portal for accessing live streams and on-demand audio and video assets. The EtherneTV Portal Server provides an easy-to-use interface to locate available media assets from Windows PCs, Macs, Linux PCs, and IP receivers.
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Jay Ankeney is an industry consultant and former TV network engineer living in the Los Angeles area.
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