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Checks and Balances

on Jul 19, 2009



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Harry Aine of SAN Solutions discusses the challenges of managing media in a variety of digital production environments.

The management of media at a broadcast facility and within a post house leverages the same storage building blocks, designed for very different workflows.

While both workflows benefit from tiered storage, speed, and performance, each workflow balances these key elements in a distinctive combination specific to the way media flows through the facility.

Timely, regimented broadcast workflow

Typically, broadcasters work with short-form material, such as news and other content-driven media, that is created locally and with long-form material, including syndicated and prepackaged media coming from the network. Working with short-form material, the broadcaster generally handles compressed video, injecting media from the field into production and applying templates to media as it comes into the facility – all in a fast, well-defined editing process designed to give on-air content a consistent look that reflects the identity of the channel or network. Metadata enters the facility from the field in real time, passed in through the camera data. As media is processed, closed-captioning data is added, as well as information about media type, date, and duration. All of this metadata must be indexed and easily searchable to enable journalists and editors to find content quickly when creating or enriching a news segment. Editing may begin even while media is ingested, and at any point in the workflow, three or four processes may be modifying a piece of media in parallel. As a result, many of the discrete systems supporting playback and editorial communicate through the storage infrastructure.

A production automation system tracks media from ingest through to playout, with servers distributing media for cable or terrestrial broadcast. The schedule for playout is time-sensitive and thus very tightly managed, with a strictly regimented process for taking media to air with commercial insertion. Also built into today’s broadcast workflows are media transcoding and transformation stages that process media for Web delivery and for archiving.



Creative, secure post-production workflow

Workflows within post-production facilities can be long-form or short-form based, typically using media from film or video in a broader range of formats than a broadcast facility does.

The process is more creatively focused in the sense that artists performing work – including graphics design, special effects, animation, editorial mixing, and sound design – are using their craft and a range of discreet, specialised tools to create the best product they can. Whereas broadcasters seek efficient media access and processing to meet the demands of a firm playout schedule, the post-production facility strives for efficiency in order to gain more time for the creative process and the enrichment of media quality, both adding to the value of stored content.

Audio and video often are adjusted and enhanced through separate processes.

To maximise quality and minimise generation loss, team members work with higher-quality media than the compressed material used within the broadcast workflow. The storage infrastructure supporting this work must be designed to accommodate the media formats used and must be very manageable in terms of re-provisioning storage as projects come in and out. As much of the job at a post-production facility is finish work, media gains value as its proceeds through the workflow toward the end product, such as a feature film.

With multiple customers using the facility at once, the need for security at the media management level is much greater than in broadcast. To maintain the security of each project, the facility will ingest media, perform post work, layoff the final product, and then scrub storage before going on to the next ingest. For projects put on hold, the facility also must have the capacity to take a project off of the production system and fill the spot with another project.

Storage infrastructure requirements

The balance between capacity and performance is the key differentiator of storage infrastructures designed for broadcast and post production workflows. Storage solutions that are highly scalable with respect to performance and capacity can be balanced to meet the workflow demands of each facility. Across both environments, however, the effective use of metadata is a shared priority.

Tools integrated with or into the storage infrastructure can help to ensure the quality and presence of metadata, and to enable the QC processes critical to delivery of a quality end product, whether to air or to a client.

Broadcasters require ready archive access and searchability, so they look for very rich metadata associated with media. To ensure that material going to air is complete and correct – including audio, video, and data – the metadata for the media that sits in the archives must be accurate, and the facility must have QC processes in place as content goes through archives and gets prepped for air. In addition to managing many streams of compressed media, the storage infrastructure must have the ability to verify media immediately following ingest, not five minutes before it is needed for air.

Post-production facilities exchange media, often without providing associated metadata. With increasing Internet-based movement of data between facilities, the post world requires powerful metadata verification and QC tools. In addition to needing longer-term metadata histories and verification across multiple facilities, the post facility must be able to verify that it is delivering media in right format – a uniform product going out the door, despite the creativity inside.

Both workflows need a media verification stage, and storage systems equipped to scan file systems and seamlessly index and verify media across a SAN- or NAS-based architecture serve to confirm the ongoing utility and value of stored media. The SAN Solutions Crawler media verification engine makes this possible and, in turn, enables the facility to federate storage archives and use a central database to search all of its media assets.


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