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VDR Unites Server, VTR

Thomson Grass Valley is unveiling a new type of digital video recorder at NAB that has all the external trappings of a VTR but the internal guts of a video server or disk-based recorder.

The company sees the unit as a complement to its higher-end Profile server line and as a new way for broadcasters to replace tape machines for uses like recording incoming satellite feeds.

"It looks, feels and operates like a VTR but has power inside that leverages server technology," says Mike Cronk, vice president of marketing for the Grass Valley Group.

The M-Series iVDR is 4RUs, includes traditional VTR connectors on the back (plus support of 100Base-T), a touchscreen controller on the front, and a jog shuttle control. Content is stored on an internal server that can accommodate up to 64 hours of DV material recorded at 25 Mb/s. It also supports MPEG-2 video.

"We wanted to make it so that the user could hook up the audio and video and do VTR functions without having to look at a manual," adds Cronk.

Of course, a key feature of the VTR is the ability to move content around a facility on recordable media like a videotape. Cronk says the iVDR includes a 51/4-in. bay that, with the use of industry-standard inputs and outputs, can record content onto writable DVDs, magneto optical drives, flash cards and other storage media.

"Users will be able to walk away with media like in a VTR but a feature like the iVDR's two-in and two-out, which give it the ability to record while playing back content, is something a VTR can't do," he says. "The iVDR can also bring in format in graphic formats like TIF or even streaming media like Quicktime files."

A base-level, four-channel unit will have a street price of less than $20,000. Cronk says the unit's multichannel aspect gives it capabilities that previously required two to four VTRs. As a result, he expects it to be attractive for smaller-market broadcasters who have traditionally been unable to afford the cost of server-based storage systems. Other advantages over a VTR include the ability to find specific timecodes and also build clip playlists and even trimming of clips.

"They can buy a VTR and replace one of their decks, or they could buy the M-Series iVDR and really begin transforming their station," he adds. "For something like recording syndication, a server like this has tremendous benefits."

Cronk says Grass Valley thought it was important that the system be as open as possible when it comes to recording format. Support of AVI and MXF (Material eXchange Format) goes a long way towards that goal.

"With a universal format for media exchange, the user will be able to find recording media at stores in their local town," he says. "And if you can burn material onto a DVD, it will be usable with more nonlinear editors, making it more ubiquitous and cheaper. It's important that we don't tie people in to one format."

The unit has room for six internal storage drives. They can be RAID-0 without redundant drives or RAID-1, on which three of the drives are backups. The size of the drives can be 37, 73 or 146 GB.

A number of manufacturers have already signed on to support the iVDR, including Sundance Digital, Florical Systems, Encoda Systems, DNF Controls and Dixon Sports Computing.

And at least one broadcast organization has also already signed on for the product. Broadcast station group Media General plans to deploy 40 iVDR units to at least 10 of its 26 TV stations over the next year. Ardell Hill, Media General senior vice president of broadcast operations, says the server-operation characteristics coupled with the usability and control features of a VTR and the plug-and-play networking capabilities of a PC make the unit attractive.

"It has wonderful cross-facility applicability," he adds.

Hill says the units will be used to help centralize master control operations for the 10 stations.