A Leap in Time
The destruction of audiovisual collections of Brazilian broadcasting networks by fire is one of the worst chapters in the history of television and deserves a study into its causes and effects. The causes were almost always unclear, but the effects are well known. Memorable shows, unique performances and unforgettable appearances were lost, depriving viewers of the possibility of revisiting great moments in television and in the country’s history.
Some time ago, audiovisual archives began to be treated as assets that can increase the profitability of media companies. Consequently, they started receiving the care necessary for being in good condition when they are to be reused.
With the mission of digitizing over 80 thousand hours of images from the collection of 1- and 2-inch tapes (BCNs and Quadruplex), U-Matic, Analog Beta, in addition to other formats, José Chaves, director of technology at TV Cultura in São Paulo, and his engineering team designed a new digital asset management system in 2005. The technological evolution extended to the physical structure of the broadcaster and to the production, editing and exhibition areas, consuming about US$ 6 million.
A one-hour file with a quality of 50 Mbps/s typically takes up about 20GB of storage and places high demands on data networks. Furthermore, when we extrapolate these requirements for hundreds or thousands of hours of files, it becomes clear how important it is to devise a solution that addresses content storage, search and retrieval.
The first step the network took to begin to meet these requirements was to deploy Media Portal, a Brazilian solution for managing large volumes of digital content, such as videos, sound, graphics, photos, books, albums, whatever the origin.
Thanks to this solution, the task of inspecting or selecting scenes can be done from a low-resolution replica of the original files and uses a file compatible with Quicktime at 300 kbps. Thus, despite having the same content, the file is much smaller and therefore easier to distribute for pre-editing and audio transcribing by journalists, for example. When editing, finalizing or exhibiting is necessary, the software makes the file available in high resolution. The result is that TV Cultura significantly reduced the number of tapes and time needed for searching for materials.
Digitizing the collection also called for a review of the workflow (ingest and conversions) and a reorganization of the collection by indexing its contents and metadata.
A major distinguishing factor in digital asset management solutions is the ability to move files within the corporate network in a simple and transparent way. Transactions can be translated into an LTO (Linear Tape-Open) tape archiving stream, a retrieval for display stream (available on the video display server) and retrieval flow for editing material (available at editing stations), for example.
Through these functionalities, the different storage areas are managed so that the requested file is quickly available, that is, the system is equipped with intelligence enabling it to the closest file and activate its movement to the desired area.
The fact that files are readily available is possible because the system is modular, scalable and capable of managing multiple file formats thus enabling their distribution. The Media Portal solution also has a format conversion module, which makes it possible to integrate editing stations from different suppliers.
All of TV Cultura’s digitized files are recorded on LTO (Linear Tape-Open) tapes, a format that was not designed to be used in television, but whose robustness and affordable cost allowed its entry in that area.
The base system for controlling and managing the collection is made up of four servers, a fiber channel network and a gigabit network. Additionally, there are storage areas such as the storage buffer and robotics where the LTO tapes are handled. All four servers are required as there are four different services to be provided: database service, file-handling service, format transcoding service and service for distributing low-resolution representation.
Database service: this is an important component of the system, since it implements the catalog, the basis for indexing, and also records the entire background description for each item in the collection, informing when and by whom it was digitized, when and by whom it was retrieved, and other information necessary for managing and administering the collection;
File-handling service: the file-handling service is controlled by the Queue Handler component, which manages storage areas and file-moving paths for maximum performance. This performance, moreover, results from parameters that control the bandwidth available in the network and throughput capacity of the disk array;
Format transcoding service: this service makes it possible to create low resolution representations as well as conversions between different video formats, including HDTV.
Service for distributing low-resolution representation: through this system it is possible to consult and watch a video without having to access it in high resolution. This service replaces the use of VTRs for query, approval, and review activities, which do not require maximum video quality.
The concepts involved in digitizing TV Cultura also incorporate the components of storage buffer and robotics. The storage buffer consists of a temporary storage area for moving high-resolution files between the system robotics and the video servers. It can vary in size from a few to hundreds of TB. Its sizing depends on the amount of material moved daily and the life cycle of this material. The use of a storage buffer for journalism has different characteristics from those used in the production of shows.
Robotics help to automate archiving and material retrieval procedures. The parallelism capability depends on the number of drives installed. Some robotics only allow one drive, but there are others with two drives and up to 32 drives for large systems.
Acquisitions for change
In 2005, under the management of President Marcos Mendonça, TV Cultura signed a supply contract to purchase equipment from Thomson, now Grass Valley, and other manufacturers. Thus, the TV network modernized and renovated its editing stations, journalism, editing, control rooms, master control and renovated its physical structure.
The engineering team drew up a Master Plan to reorganize the workflow, and among the changes, digital editing was integrated into the centralized storage.
The TV network began to use wideband technology, both SD and HD, in studio productions and playback, as well as tapeless storage and playback. The master control began operating digitally and providing digital signal to the transmitters, where it started being coded in PAL-M analog system.
Although the original project was aimed at an independent HD installation, electronic journalism and a production for digital cinema, it was modified for TV production instead of cinema.
The following was acquired: 27 Grass Valley cameras and two other cameras for Viper (GV) digital cinema ; four switchers with eight panels for Mobile Unit 1 and Controls; four router switchers; seven video servers, six of which are SD and one HD; modular equipment for distribution; frame-synchronizer; Embedders and de-embedders; Up and down converters; encoders and decoders; four Yamaha DM-1000 and DM-2000 mixers; 22 Canon lenses; two recorders for Stwo digital cinema; 22 Miranda Keleido-high multiviewers and two Avid Adrenaline editing stations.
The Single Format Utopia
As has occurred in various networks around the country, the introduction of high-definition cameras is not always accompanied by the other items that make up the workflow for production in this format. Normally, a few pilot programs and studios are chosen for adapting the teams involved in producing and carrying out lightning and framing tests, for example.
This situation is no different at TV Cultura. Not everything produced by the network is in high-definition and even the materials captured with HD cameras still are not stored in this format. The Brazilian version of Sesame Street, for example, is filmed using four Grass Valley LDK 6000 cameras, produced on a Grass Valley Kayak switcher and stored on a Grass Valley K2 SD server. In the post-production, on the other hand, material in MPEG2@50 Mbits/s format continues on to Avid Adrenaline stations.
This implementation has contributed significantly to savings in terms of tape and time because everything is done on the network. Despite these savings, however, not everything runs smoothly and the communicating files between solutions by different manufacturers took some time to be fine-tuned. Per Alexandre Tajuana, the network’s project director, the problem with the manufacturers is in defining a clear standard for the terminology used for the tagging and moving of files.
“You have an MPEG file that does not communicate with another MPEG, an IMX that does not communicate with IMX, a format that does not communicate with another. This is the biggest problem of setting up a post-production workflow.” He goes on to say that “the migration of file formats has been problematic because the market does not have the necessary solutions and we have to develop it. The process of moving files from one area to another is difficult,” he says.
The network’s engineering department has already tried to work with a single format. The intention, according to Tahuata, was to have an area that converted other formats to MXF, even if the video had been captured on a Panasonic P2 camera, an Ikegami or DV camera. They realized, however, that the time it took to convert the formats was very long. Therefore, it was necessary to create separate streams and later convert everything to MXF for exhibition.
Although it is not possible to work in a single format, the network found non-linear editing software Apple Final Cut Pro to be the best alternative for receiving, editing and exporting files. Its main advantage is the conversion plugin that accepted various formats, besides being one of the most commonly-used and cheapest solutions on the market.
At Cultura, while the six production teams and journalists go out in search of news, the engineering team works to ease the editing work. In the journalism nucleus, the recording is done with cameras that no longer use tapes, such as Panasonic’s P2. According to Tahuata, they have proven to be cheaper and more efficient. As the contents of the P2 cards are being stored in the central server, low-resolution versions of the footage are generated for editing.
Some editing bays have a hard time opening files shot in certain formats, such as those used by the Ikegami GF CAM cameras, which are also used by the TV network. Because of this, TV Cultura works to couple the process of recording with those of editing and post-production. “If we shoot in the same editing format, we gain more agility and do not waste time converting. We want to have a variety of codecs, formats and equipment for shooting, editing, and playback. This way we can optimize quality,” says the project manager.
The network is going to install the GV Aurora editing system so that reporters can edit their reports. This system which allows viewing and editing in low resolution, integrating and streamlining the workflow.
The Aurora system works with the concept of floating leadership, that is, the software can be installed in as many machines as necessary. However, only a certain number of users can work simultaneously. The network currently has two Ingest stations (Aurora RMI), one editing station with video input (Aurora Edit), a finalizing station (Aurora Craft), four editing stations (Aurora Edit LD), and ten viewing stations with basic editing capabilities (Aurora Browse).
It was not only the equipment that needed to be reviewed in updating the TV network. The Master Plan also foresaw the renovation of the control rooms, production stations and servers, which acquired glass walls. José Chaves says that the glass walls are meant to show what is going on in each room. “Since there is no commercial competition, public television’s approach is that it needs to show what it is doing, its constructions and engineering solutions. This place is a factory,” he says.
The carpeted areas where chairs moved around were replaced by tiles to avoid deterioration. In the control room, the raised floor through which hundreds of cables passed was replaced by wiring ducts.
Today, the servers are located over those wiring ducts that are a meter deep. All the cabling is cataloged in a kind of map, which points out the inputs and outputs of the wires, each of which has a code. A solution that significantly reduces the number of wires and makes it easier to identify.
In order to solve the problem with the cooling system, which was inefficient and could harm the equipment, TV Cultura partnered with AES Eletropaulo in a project to modernize the lighting and air conditioning systems, which aimed at combatting wasted electricity through technological upgrading. The consumption of the facilities at Radio and TV Cultura decreased by 39% a year, says Chaves.
The technology upgrade project, implemented three years ago, included the replacement and adaptation of existing systems with new ones, such as compact fluorescent 15W and 48W lamps. The electromagnetic reactors were replaced by high-efficiency electronic ballasts and lamps were fitted with mirrored reflectors and high performance mirror light fixtures.
In order to meet the air conditioning needs, cooling towers, thermal energy storage, cold water and condensation pumps, fan coils and pipeline networks were installed.
In addition to its main programming in analog, digital and One-Seg, today TV Cultura, transmits TV Univesp (Virtual University of the State of São Paulo) on channel 2.2 and Multicultura on 2.3. Thus, the station is the first in Brazil to use multiprogramming features.
Customer: Padre Anchieta Foundation