The era of tapeless production has arrived and _delegates working the floor at next week's Broadcast Live will get the chance to witness this first-hand. An uncompressed HD acquisition-to-air workflow, live at the event, is taking place each day of the show (Tuesday 20 to Thursday 22 June) - the first time an exhibition has shown such an event.
The workflow's project manager, Emmanuel Gotsis, of enterprise solutions firm TechIT, knows the risk he's taking. 'Even in a safe environment like a post or production house a lot could go wrong - on a show floor it's very risky,' he adds.
Nonetheless, Gotsis has confidence in the robustness of the technology he's installing for the show. The system is based around a storage area network (SAN) and fibre channel backbone which provides video speeds beyond 127Mbps.
'It could throughput 10Gbps depending on what you're pushing and how many client workstations are attached,' Gotsis claims.
Because fibre is made of glass, all 1,000m of cable will be coated in hardcore Kevlar rubber and laid under the Earl's Court arena. Using fibre to connect a collection of _servers and storage devices has been the domain of massive biotech or mathematical computation. Broadcasters and facilities are taking more of an IT approach to workflow and taking advantage of the massive speeds available to produce and deliver digital content.
'A lot of broadcast resellers are trying to do this but if you don't approach it from an IT perspective you won't understand how to design, install or support such systems,' Gotsis maintains.
The 30-minute demonstration tracks content across three stages: Create, Manage and Deliver.
From an HD sound stage, the BBC training executive Tim Wallbank will be presenting advice for set design, lighting and make-up for high-definition.
This content will be captured by three of the new generation of cameras; the tapeless Panasonic P2 (which uses memory cards); Sony XDCam HD (professional disc) camcorders and Sony's HDCam.
Additional HDV and HDCam units will also be displayed. 'They won't be part of this live workflow but they are part of somebody's workflow,' says Mitcorp managing director Symon Meikle. 'The intention is to show that the workflow can be accessed by acquiring in any tape, tapeless or HD format.'
Content is recorded into separate readers and ingested straight into two workflows, one based on Apple Final Cut hooked to an XSan, the other using Avid Adrenaline linked to Unity.
'The content shows up in the SANs on the asset management systems of the two workflows,' says Gotsis. 'This is not a vendor-versus-vendor shoot-out. You could substitute any camera format, nonlinear editing software or delivery medium. This workflow is manufacturer-agnostic - the point is how the glue works effectively.'
The buffer between ingest and edit is less than one second. Once in the Manage zone the content is binary and can be manipulated according to delivery requirements. If output is destined for mobile phones then the editors will cut 30-second slugs mainly comprising headshots to reduce the amount of movement (and compression) and maximise the image received on a mobile screen.
'The audience in the Manage zone will be able to see where the editors locate and work with the content,' he explains. 'So will those working in Deliver because the SAN system is transparent. They'll be making straight cuts and also adding some audio, graphics, titles, rolling credits and colour correction for a two-minute promo. Once finished that gets published to a folder on the system, it's legalised for broadcast and gets passed to the distribution point.'
Ofcom has approved a restricted licence for the transmission of _
DVB-H content within the exhibition space to four mobile phone stations. Commercial DVB-H depends on release of the UHF spectrum, which won't happen until after digital switchover, but it's widely considered the best scheme for mobile broadcasting of multiple channels.
'It's not just about mobiles but about delivery of TV content to any device capable of displaying video,' says Stephen Arnold, head of _communications at National Grid and Wireless. 'That will include various handsets and PDAs with a receiver module.'
The Broadcast Live website will stream versions of the content on demand, video iPods will deliver 'vodcasts' and in a home theatre area the promo will be sent via Apple's Mac Mini IPTV set-top box for viewing on an LCD screen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.
A comparative tape workflow will also be shown with tapes of the Create session ingested from VTRs into the SAN for compilation edits and laid back out to tape for delivery.
'Tapeless environments can benefit companies financially and creatively,' adds Meikle. 'The key difference from tape lies in the speed of getting material from location to the edit and from the administration of shared assets. This is the direction the industry is going, it's a question of where you want to get on.'
Wallbank emphasises that such streamlined workflows require a cultural shift. 'Post-production has been separate from production because of technological barriers,' he declares. 'New technology liberates us to work how we've always wanted to work. It challenges existing conceptions of what an editor is and what a producer does and it's up to producers to adapt.'
He warns of a fourth vital stage in the chain. 'It doesn't matter what the workflow is if you've not identified the deliverables. Preparation comes before workflow decisions or you'll go over budget.'
Blue Peter blazes the trail for acquisition at children's BBC
Length: 5 x 24 minutes per week
Deputy editor: Jack Lundie
Production manager: Karen Dorling
Following trials by BBC sport during the Turin Winter Games and the football World Cup, the BBC's tapeless production initiative Starwinder moves onto children's flagship Blue Peter.
The live studio production contains several pre-recorded segments per episode which are to be produced on Panasonic P2 cameras. The high cost of the P2 storage media means only a few of the 4Gb cards will be used, each capable of storing 16 minutes of DVCPro25 or eight minutes of DVCPro50. 'We will download footage onto portable hard-disk devices, slot the cards back into the camera and carry on recording,' says Nick Keene, BBC post-production's lead editor for children's.
Digital acquisition is the biggest alteration to the production which was previously shot on DigiBeta. Once in the disk drive and brought to the Avid edit stations no digitisation is required and the post route is conventional.
'There is the possibility of uploading the media on Unity direct from the hard disk for several editors to work on at the same time, but long term storage remains tape-based,' says Keene.
Edited pieces are laid off to tape for insertion and playout in the studio. 'There are plans in children's BBC to move the tapeless application forward to transmission,' Keene says, noting Avid Airspeed as a possible solution for this. 'Blue Peter is a good place to start because everything we do here is applicable to other programmes. The workflow is hypothetical at this stage but if we don't attack it with a big show we can't explore its fallibilities.'
Workflow cuts out the bottlenecks on Springwatch
Natural History Unit
TX: 29 May-16 June, 8pm-9pm
Length: 12 x 60 minutes
Director: David Weir
Producer: Colin Jackson
Series producer: Tim Spoons
Post supervisor: John Burkill
The Bill Oddie-fronted round-Britain nature show includes daily updates on the progress of a variety of wildlife captured with an array of mini-cameras concealed around nests, badger setts and barn roofs.
These sites are staffed from 5am to 1am, with significant events logged for editing into broadcast packages.
'All 20 hours of daily footage used to be recorded on tape, digitised, edited and played back to tape,' says post supervisor John Burkill. 'The tapeless workflow for this season increases the basic throughput of work.'
The programme is transmitted as an OB from the Devon farm where Burkill has established a Portakabin post facility. SD footage from the hidden cameras is ingested as IMX30 MXFonto Avid Airspeed, a network-attached VTR-style server.
'What attracted us to that solution was that invariably if we saw birds leave the nest and pressed the record button on the DigiBeta we'd miss the action. The Airspeed has a retro-loop facility which is continually recording and saves a pre-set period (10 seconds in this case) when you hit record.'
Content is stored on a Unity for editing on three Adrenalines with the process managed by Avid's MediaManager software. 'Significant footage is tagged with metadata so the editors can pick it up from the appropriate folders rather than referring to paper,' he says. 'Digitisation is almost instantaneous and we can edit without delay, freeing up bottlenecks in the system.' The cut pieces are posted back to Airspeed, which features dual outputs for transmission.
Additional sequences from three other UK sites are pre-edited on field laptops and sent as a store-and-forward feed to Devon for insertion into the programme.
Flextech editing facility pioneered by Downsize Me
TX: 6 June, 13 June
Broadcaster: Living TV2
Length: 10 x 60 minutes
Production Company: ABH Productions
Producer: Alex Bolton-Hogg
Director: Tim Wells
Lead Editor: Neil Francis
The first series to use Flextech's new tapeless facility is light entertainment show Downsize Me. After ingest into an SGI storage array at Broadcast Centre, the programme can be immediately accessed via asset management system Moms (Media Object Management System). 'Moms prioritises work for the compliance editor, telling him where to find the material and where to publish it back to,' explains Dan Marbrook, Flextech post-production manager. 'Once digitised, the whole process is a much quicker way to move media through the edit. Rather than involving two to three people to get an edit to air we now require one.'
In a tape environment, he says, compliance editors would receive VHS tapes, log the content, view and make a cut sheet for the online editor. 'The online editor watches the same material to compile the edit before compiling a record report for sign-off to air.'
Content is now pumped to Flextech's Creative Village in Portland Street where compliance editors access it on Quantel sqEdit desktop workstations. 'They can view and edit material on the first viewing at their desktop. At the same time they log secondary events, note opportunities for DVEs, add key words in Moms and publish the finished edit to the Moms placeholder for transmission material on the server,' Marbrook says.
At the same time craft editors can create promos from the same material.
'Once Moms recognises that there's a transmission master in the system and that the media is ready for TX it's made available for Omnibus servers to drag into the playout schedule.'
ABH Productions will deliver on DigiBeta. Flextech doesn't prescribe the acquisition format ('We want indies to feel free to produce in their own way') so digitisation is still necessary.
However, Flextech still wants to work towards file-based delivery
for future programming. All tapes are returned to producers after two weeks with licensing information stored online.