ESPN Set To Play With Quantel

ESPN recently had a March Madness of its own. More than 60 broadcast-equipment manufacturers competed for the storage and editing contract for ESPN's new digital facility. The decision-making process took about six months, and, in the end, Quantel walked away with the prize.

"There are only 20 tape machines in the entire facility," says Chuck Pagano, ESPN senior vice president, technology, engineering and operations. The deal with Quantel calls for installation of 68 generationQ servers, 23 generationQ editing suites and 200 generationQ desktop editing/browse seats.

A major consideration, he says, was not to shift ESPN's operations to an IT-based model, something many of the server manufacturers are pushing. "We just wanted to replace our VTR with a system that has a hard disk in it and a network to remove the sneakernet. That's what we liked about the server architecture from Quantel."

Three of the strengths of the system that attracted Pagano were its robustness, backup system and approach to disaster recovery. "If certain things go down, there is a manual function that can be used. It isn't just an IT-type server that sits there if something goes wrong."

Quantel Executive Chairman Richard Taylor says the company learned of the deal the week before NAB, giving the company a nice sense of momentum heading into the show. He echoes Pagano's sentiments on the server's ability to speak the language of the broadcast world, although, he notes, it can work in an IT environment as well.

"One of the things that is unique to the broadcast world is that it has video frames," he adds. "And our servers track frames individually, so, when you do an edit, all it does is reorder the way you read the frames. You don't have to do any copying. Systems for the IT world looks at content in terms of files; if you go looking for individual elements, you have to look through the complete file."

The system also creates a browsable image tied to the broadcast-quality images, he explains. That could prove important at a facility that will bring in 200 hours of content a day as source material for creating sports highlight packages.

"We think the interface on the editor is very good," Taylor adds, "because it's intuitive and scalable, which means that, no matter what level of editing is being done, the interface still looks the same."

A pilot system will be installed this summer, Pagano says, with an on-air date set for next March with the debut of Sportscenter HD, the hi-def version of ESPN's long-running sports news and highlights program. Other equipment, such as cameras and lenses, are still to be chosen. ESPN isn't buying graphics equipment, he adds, because the current output "looks really good when upconverted."

The Quantel system won't be operating in a bubble. ESPN also tapped another U.K.-based manufacturer, BBC Technology, to provide its Colledia digital-media infrastructure system to handle content sharing and flow throughout the Quantel generationQ system.

"The Colledia systems puts an asset-management umbrella over the server database so you can search for pieces and parts of clips and have rights issues sent through it," says Taylor. "It allows for exotic searches and gives the user a video-viewing window with all the text data on one screen."