Video servers evolve

Digital Studio looks at how the video server has evolved into an advanced media platform with the launch of the Nexio AMP.
Analysis, Broadcast Business
Nexio Amp.
Nexio Amp.


Recording technology trends continue to redefine the broadcast environment. When the VTR evolved into the video disc recorder, and then into the broadcast video server, broadcasters had to completely rethink the designs of their facilities. The resulting change in infrastructure opened the door to dramatic improvements in workflow. With the integration of IT into broadcast equipment fuelling the latest round of innovation, we're on the cusp of the next evolutionary step - the emergence of the advanced media platform.

How did we get here? The current trend actually started in the early 1990s as broadcasters began to transition from tape-based analogue environments built around large routers to disc-based digital infrastructures built on video servers.

The introduction of transmission servers forever altered the traditional "router-centric" broadcast facility, allowing the creation of storage area networks (SANs) that gave all users simultaneous access to the same material. Suddenly, the entire notion of having to manage the flow of content to individual operators throughout a video facility disappeared, replaced by the availability of true shared storage.

The broadcast SAN also introduced the concept of media networking, which further reduced baseband routing requirements while enabling new "server-centric" workflow models.

Network access to media as files enabled the efficient addition of new services with minimal increases in staff. In addition, specialised broadcast applications that were once discrete systems could now be merged onto server and master control platforms. Simpler systems, such as play-to-air sequencers and proc amps, were the first candidates for integration, which was typically accomplished by adding special-purpose hardware and software to the platforms. As storage infrastructures quickly improved in bandwidth and capacity, new capabilities, such as SAN-based editing, further improved workflows.

Today, enhanced signal-processing capabilities are allowing ever more complex components to become integrated as software features. Dual-core processors (and very soon, quad-core processors) are boosting the performance of server engines to previously unachievable levels - as are task-specific, multicore CPU/GPU/FPGA processors. As a result, high-performance server architectures now have the muscle to host many additional applications from throughout the broadcast chain, leading to the next generation of broadcast video server: the advanced media platform.

The advanced media platform combines video server capabilities and diverse media applications in a single, integrated solution. Along with reducing the hardware costs and complexity of building a modern, digital broadcast facility, the advanced media platform allows new media applications, processes and services to be added with the ease of loading new software. These software-enabled applications further reduce the costs of system installation, operation and maintenance.

At IBC2007, we witnessed this technology for the first time when Harris demonstrated its NEXIO AMP advanced media platform - a next-generation technology that dramatically expands the functionality of video transmission servers.

Although the name is the same as the formerly Leitch product, the NEXIO has changed considerably to include features that have boosted server technology. The NEXIO AMP family currently includes the NX3601HDI media platform with integrated storage and the NX3601HDX media platform for the NEXIO SAN.

Both NX3601 models excel at ingest, compression and playout, while allowing format-transparent operations. They feature two- and three-channel HD/SD mixed resolution modes, four- or six-channel SD modes, and support for a wide range of SD and HD codecs, including XDCAM HD and DVCPRO HD. Both are also capable of adding software-driven media services to tackle distinct broadcast operations, including signal quality control, playout automation, multiviewer I/O monitoring and channel branding.

The advantages of an advanced media platform are many. For one, it establishes a solid foundation for a scalable, end-to-end HD/SD television solution. Unlike a traditional video server, such systems leverage the power of software in numerous and innovative ways. Adding software-enabled media applications improves workflow efficiency throughout the entire content acquisition-transmission chain.

It also reduces the cost of future hardware expenditures - including installation, operation and future maintenance - and takes the guesswork out of point-product compatibility. Broadcasters benefit from a file- and baseband-derived system that is able to deliver SD and HD media, branding and control in a single product range, running on a single platform.

A software-based broadcast server system is a sum of its parts - everything fits together, can be expanded, and is unhindered by the limitations of hardware. High-bandwidth capabilities and flexible platforms allow broadcasters to build the system they need today and add, remove and modify elements to meet their needs over time. Infrastructure is reduced, and operational costs are kept at a minimum.

And, most importantly, new and emerging distribution methods - whether HD, IPTV or mobile TV - can be easily and quickly accommodated. Broadcast facility design may never be the same with such a solution.


Standout features of the NEXIO AMP media platform

• AMP MediaCore real-time, multi-stream, 64-bit software engine

• Low-cost, high-performance integrated software codec technology

• Support for a wide range of software-enabled media services, including quality control, automation, channel branding and multi-viewer I/O monitoring

• Harris RAIDsoft software RAID controller

• Support for the new Harris Intrinsic Mirroring technology, which works with RAIDsoft to jointly enable a fully redundant SAN that guarantees data survivability and on-air availability

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