Olympian Efforts

At the Olympics, every second counts—and not just for the athletes. NBC will be encouraged to shave production time to ensure the best coverage reaches U.S. viewers. To do so, the network is taking an innovative approach to managing incoming video feeds, using technology from Sony, Cyradis and Blue Order.

The system video loggers to quickly scan incoming feeds and attach a wealth of descriptive data. Editors can then create story packages.

"We needed a system that let us find tape-based assets and get them to air quickly," says NBC Olympics Director of Technology Matt Adams. "At the same time, we did not want to intrude or disrupt the traditional workflow that's been developed for the Olympics. This system addresses all our needs."

NBC began working with the three companies two years ago. One of the key developments concerned Sony's e-VTR technology. It became clear that the MPEG-4 format was the right one for the creation of the proxy video, but the e-VTR did not have MPEG-4 output capability. The answer: a new optional e-VTR board. Sony's BKMW-E3000 board gives the e-VTR the ability to convert high-resolution video into low-resolution proxy video in the MPEG-4 format.

Once content is in MPEG-4 format, it's easily moved throughout NBC's network infrastructure.

"It's about using MPEG-4 as a triage to build edit decision lists quickly and pick out the materials they want," says Sony National Accounts Manager John Garmendi.

The use of proxies continues to be one of the major trends in both editing and storage devices, spurred by customer demand and the stronger capabilities of low-bandwidth formats, like MPEG-4 and Microsoft's Windows Media 9. Both offer video quality at a bandwidth (DVD quality at 256 kbps) unthinkable only three years ago.

"Everyone in the industry is excited about moving content between different locations and sharing content over networks using Internet Protocol," says Sony Broadcast Product Manager Chris Tsai. "But doing that with high-res content is cost- and time-prohibitive."

As a result, proxies are the way to go.

"It's the best of both worlds," Tsai adds, "because editors can use it to build an initial decision list, then download only the content they need in high-resolution." It also allows editors to begin working with proxy video before the high-res content is ingested into the system, a process that can take minutes or even hours. Proxies can be ingested up to 50 times faster than the high-resolution content.

When it comes to creation of the proxies for NBC's Olympics coverage, it's up to the Cyradis CTG-1000 VMS real-time video-management-control system. It takes the low-resolution proxy video file transfers from each venue feed to a central server. A PC-based Cyradis workstation allows a single operator to control up to 60 e-VTRs.

Once the content is on the server, the Media Archive system from digital-asset-management supplier Blue Order integrates the Cyradis system with NBC's Opus internal logging and catalog system. Blue Order Project Manager Paul Gudelis says Media Archive marries the metadata with the incoming material and then makes it available for desktop viewing.

Even if clips aren't used in a story, it's still important that information is attached to content for archival purposes. "From an asset-management perspective," he says, "dumping off to tape loses the value of going digital, especially as edit suites become nonlinear-based."

But NBC's editors will have access to more than just the video coming from the venues.

Currently, loggers at NBC are placing content from past Summer Games into the system. According to Adams, it's possible to generate up to 50 simultaneous proxy streams without the need for 50 external encoders and subsystems, which make the operation more expensive and complex. "Cyradis allows us to deploy the system without disrupting our workflows, while Blue Order supplies the integrating platform and wrapper [for the content]," he says. "Without them, we wouldn't be able to offer end users the sophisticated search and retrieval functions."