Videography - June 1997

Digital Video Really Moves at NAB
by Sheldon Liebman

As NAB continues to grow and add venues, it is becoming more and more difficult for attendees to move around quickly enough to see the whole show. The time it takes to go from the LVCC to the Sands is always longer than you'd like and next year will be even worse with the addition of a third venue. Digital Video, on the other hand, keeps moving faster and faster. At this year's show, both old and new solutions were presented to address this issue.

I Want to Be Alone
The need to access digital video quickly is something we've addressed quite extensively in Videography, both in standalone and networked environments. For a single workstation, having access to fast disks smoothes the production process. To deal with uncompressed video streams, you need to move data at approximately 30 MegaBytes per Second (MBps). Even with compression, the bandwidth requirements can exceed 5 MBps.

The standard disks that come with computer systems rarely have the ability to move data this quickly, so other solutions are required. Typically, this involves using Fast SCSI disks and RAIDs that are specifically designed to meet the requirements of a video production environment. The manufacturers of these products, many of whom were included in our recent story on Digital Storage (see "Digital Storage Saves Digital Video," Videography, April 1997), were out in full force at NAB to showcase these products.

Hot Stuff
This year's show also marked the return of FireWire (originally developed by Apple) as a way to quickly move around digital video. We first introduced Videography readers to FireWire over 18 months ago ("FireWire Heats Up Connectivity," November, 1995) and had high hopes for this technology. Unfortunately, FireWire was only present in a few NAB booths in 1996 and, amazingly enough, was not being demonstrated at the Apple booth. This year, at least three manufacturers (Fast, Miro, and Radius) were demonstrating digital editing solutions that utilize this promising format to transfer information from camcorders to standalone workstations.

Eventually, native FireWire disks should be available. Until then, FireWire must be combined with another type of fast storage for the video information to be used in production. As a fast, easy method of capturing and writing digital video, however, it appears that FireWire is finally heating up.

Making the Right Connections
The real action at NAB was in the area of Networked Digital Video. Everywhere you turned, it seemed that another company was demonstrating a solution for sharing video between multiple users and workstations.

The two biggest formats in fast video networks are still Fibre Channel and SSA. Both topologies continue to gain converts and sign up partners. One reason is that these are hybrid networks that support not only multiple workstations but direct network storage devices that are available to all stations without being physically connected to a single host machine.

At the Fibre Channel Association booth in the Sands, there was an impressive list of Fibre Channel supporters including HP, Storage Concepts, Tektronix and many others. On the show floor, many companies were demonstrating solutions based on the various forms of Fibre Channel with claims of speeds up to 100 MBps and beyond.

Since there are multiple "versions" of Fibre Channel, it can be confusing to understand just how to configure a Fibre Channel network and what speeds can actually be achieved. For example, at the Transoft booth, they announced a new version of their StudioBOSS software that supports speeds up to 200 MBps per workstation. Achieving this speed, however, requires the use of a switched network that is not yet available. We'll attempt to clear up some of this confusion in the coming months with a story describing the different forms of Fibre Channel, the speeds they can actually achieve and the most practical applications for each form of this technology.

On the SSA side, there were also a number of big names supporting the technology. Much of the SSA activity at NAB continues to center around Pathlight Technologies as a provider of hardware and software for SSA networking. In their booth this year, they showcased both disk subsystems and non-linear editing solutions designed around SSA-80 technology. They also previewed the next generation SSA-160 format that is designed to achieve speeds of up to 160 MBps.

At a press conference held during NAB, representatives of virtually every major non-linear editing supplier (including Discreet Logic, Fast, Media 100 and Scitex Digital Video) announced that their systems were compatible with SSA networks and disk subsystems. Disk suppliers like La Cie, Siemens and Xyratex also announced support for the topology.

Gigabit Ethernet Joins the Party
Another networking topology made its debut this year at NAB. Most Ethernet networks utilize 10BaseT technology to communicate between workstations for standard functions like file sharing and Email. A few years ago, 100BaseT was introduced with support for approximately 10 MBps between machines. Although it has not been a huge success in the video industry, it has been installed in a number of facilities. Gigabit Ethernet, with speeds of approximately 100 MBps, is the latest version of Ethernet to be introduced and is the most appropriate for video networking because of the high speeds that it supports.

Earlier this year, GigaLabs, Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA) introduced a number of networking products for Gigabit Ethernet including the first Gigabit Ethernet Switch to begin shipping. At NAB, they showed a very convincing demonstration comparing 100BaseT and Gigabit Ethernet for real-time MPEG-2 video playback over a network. While the 100BaseT system played only a few frames per second, the Gigabit Ethernet playback was smooth and appeared to include every frame. More information about Gigabit Ethernet and GigaLabs will appear in a future issue.

Getting Jazzed About Teleproduction
Another aspect of video networking was introduced at NAB by Jazz Media Network (Montreal, Canada).This new company, founded by industry veterans from the production industry and leading hardware and software companies, promises to take remote collaboration to a new level.

Most of the remote connection services that have been introduced up to this point simply allow you to move information between facilities and/or workstations. If both locations are using the same type of equipment, a few let you share information and control for a collaborative session.

Jazz supports these types of collaborative tools like conferencing and shared whiteboards, but also moves beyond that. This company offers the ability to control remote video tape recorders and/or digital disk recorders to copy uncompressed (or compressed) digital video and audio between facilities in a single city or in different cities on the network.

With Jazz, you can transfer files between machines with no size limitations. Depending on the speed of the network and the level of compression of the files, it is even possible to transfer information at "faster than real-time" rates. This means, for example, that you can move a file containing a minute of video in less than a minute.

As with some other services, Jazz provides Email capability between subscribers as well as a complete address book that lists all subscribing facilities. This can also serve as a mini-advertisement for subscribers, as it is in their best interest to work with each other so as to take advantage of all the features of the network.

Rather than using existing networks, Jazz intends to wire cities with a private network that offers both high speed and a high level of reliability. Because they are in control of the network, Jazz can also handle all of the billing between subscribers. Of course, this also means that not every facility will be able the network - they must be located in a city that is on the network.

At NAB, Jazz demonstrated how multiple facilities could work together through a partnership with Miranda Technologies, Pluto Technologies and Tektronix. Visitors to any of these booths could collaborate with people in any of the others or with the Jazz headquarters in Montreal.

From Concept to Reality
This year, fast networking at NAB seems to have made the transition from concept to reality. The number of companies showing deliverable solutions increased tremendously. System suppliers are also embracing these solutions for their users rather than simply responding to requests. The next year should be very exciting as more and more production and post-production facilities get connected.

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