Videography - September 1997

Getting JAZZed About Collaborative Teleproduction
by Sheldon Liebman

Over the past few years, Videography has run a series of articles dealing with tools that can be used for collaborative teleproduction. This dynamic new method of creating, editing and distributing content continues to attract a lot of interest. After all, who could argue with the benefits of bringing together the best resources possible, no matter where they happen to be located, without anyone (or anything) needing to travel to a remote location?

With true collaborative production, the location of resources becomes irrelevant. Project meetings can be done using video and audio conferencing. Rough cut video can be transferred to a local workstation for editing and sent back for approval with enhanced email capability. Finally, using remote control, an editor can finish the project using the original footage on machines at another post facility.

Jazz Media Network is the latest company to join this bandwagon. Based in Montreal, Jazz has brought together some impressive people from both the manufacturing and production sides of the fence in an attempt to create a product and strategy that fits everyone's needs. The goal can be stated simply but is incredibly complex - to include every aspect necessary to allow multiple resources in multiple locations to work as smoothly as possible toward the completion of a production project.

Moving Beyond Human Resources
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect to the Jazz Media Network is the fact that the concept goes beyond simply allowing people to collaborate with each other. With Jazz, the definition of resources includes software, hardware and content in addition to editors, artists and animators.

Once you add these things into the equation, Jazz becomes more than just a tool for production companies to work together. It can include the companies that make the hardware used in production, the software suppliers to the industry and the stock footage houses that provide content used in the video and film production process.

If It's Out There, It's In Here
All of the features that we've written about in the past seem to be included in the Jazz Media Network. The first, of course, is access to a fast network. Jazz is a private, broadband network. According to the company, the results in a stable, secure, controlled environment.

As a private network, Jazz is not subject to the changes in speed and accessibility that plague users of public networks. Every company and location connected to the network has access to reliable, high-speed connections. Should a problem occur with the network, there is one company that is responsible for dealing with it quickly and effectively.

The design of Jazz supports speeds up to 270 Megabits per second (Mbps) or approximately 30 MegaBytes per second (30 MBps). This is fast enough to allow real-time transfers of D1 quality video material for those companies that need it. Two lower levels of service are available to attract users who don't need full bandwidth video. For example, a multimedia content developer creating video for the Internet is not going to be working at full resolution. For these less intensive applications, Jazz can be configured for either 45 Mbps or 128 Kilobit per second (Kbps) service. Jazz is also designed to link with existing networks within a company.

While it’s easy to understand the need for a private network, that doesn't mean a new company is needed to create and manage this network. Jazz points to two reasons this makes sense. First, existing hardware and software companies have a vested interest in creating solutions that favor their own products. Second, companies don't like to support standards that have been developed by their competitors.

As a neutral supplier with a production orientation, Jazz Media Network wants to create a win-win-win situation. Users win by gaining the ability to do more production more easily. Hardware, software and content providers win by gaining access to a high-quality user base. Jazz Media Network wins by creating a successful network infrastructure with revenue opportunities based on the growth and usage of that network.

Once the network is in place, the next step is to have the right tools. All of the features that are present in existing collaboration products have been designed into Jazz.

A comprehensive Address Book contains information about all of the members of the network. This includes not only who they are and where they are, but also what they do. So, you could search the address book for an editor who specializes in multimedia production.

Once you've identified the people you want to work with, Audio and Video Conferencing features make it easy to hook up with them and discuss a project. As with all good conferencing packages today, a shared whiteboard is available to all participants. Jazz calls this feature a Mediaboard.

When people are collaborating, it's important that they have the ability to move information between them. Jazz supports Live Video and File Transfers that copy or move information from one location on the network to another.

Finally, you need to address the issue of how to get information from one place to another when the person you want is NOT available. This is done using enhanced Email. Some companies call this Vmail (for video mail), but Jazz refers to it as Media Mail. Using Media Mail, clips, stills and data can be transferred easily. The recipient has access to it locally as soon as he or she opens the mail message.

And If That Weren't Enough...
Jazz Media Network also goes beyond these areas to offer some unique services that move the idea of collaborative production to the next level.

In addition to working with compressed video, Jazz is designed to work with Uncompressed Video streams. Given the limitations of standard networks, this capability is one that has been hard to implement. Because they control the network, Jazz claims to have this feature.

Even though every collaboration product offers the ability to move files between locations, that doesn't mean that the recipient will necessarily be able to open and use the file that's been sent. Jazz supports a large number of standard image, video and project formats to ensure that the information transferred is accessible at the receiving end. As the network grows, Jazz hopes to attract other companies that can enhance this process.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to true collaboration has been the absence of Remote Control that allows a user in location A to access equipment in location B. There has to be someone at each location to control the local equipment. By providing drivers for popular hardware devices that can be connected to the network, Jazz allows unattended access to equipment in a different location. This can allow, for example, an editor in NY to control a DDR in Los Angeles. Setting in and out points remotely, the editor can indicate how to edit the footage or which portion to transfer to his or her location.

Along with remote access, Jazz has designed Asset Management into the system. This means that companies on the network can list the equipment they've connected to the network and indicate how each item can be utilized.

The next logical step in this progression is to allow members of Jazz Media Network to charge each other for access to and use of equipment. Jazz is set up to allow E-Commerce for these types of transactions.

Once you have a system in place that charges companies for the assets they use, one of the things that would be nice is to allow those assets, whether hardware or software, to be used on a temporary basis. Jazz can allow Asset Rental, which includes not just hardware, but software and content. Imagine being able to rent a copy of an expensive software package just so you could use it on a single project! Or searching through a library of stock footage images and arranging to use it automatically. These are the types of transactions Jazz envisions between members of its network.

The final unique aspect to the Jazz Media Network is the ability to have Project Level Data Management. If assets are spread out over multiple locations, it's important to know where they all are when the time comes to create a finished version of a project. For example, there may be D1 source footage at one facility that was turned into a low-resolution preview copy for use by another. When the final edit takes place, the system has to know where to find the high quality source.

The Odds Are In Your Favor
With all of the features that are planned for Jazz, this is one system that has to be seen to be believed. Fortunately, the company had a functional demonstration in Las Vegas at this year's NAB show. In partnership with Miranda Technologies, Pluto Technologies and Tektronix, these booths were linked to the Jazz booth in the Sands as well as to Jazz's corporate headquarters in Montreal. Throughout the show, live demonstrations took place, including uncompressed video transfers between locations.

Richard Cormier, President and CEO of Jazz Media Network, is extremely pleased with what they demonstrated in Las Vegas and has high hopes for its acceptance in the production community. "With Jazz, production professionals the world-over will be able to work together in real-time - transferring files, streamlining approvals, video conferencing and accessing service providers such as stock footage libraries, rendering farms and image processing facilities," says Cormier. The result, he adds, is that "Jazz makes the production cycle more efficient."

Mark Gray, CEO and Chairman of Pluto Technologies International, agrees that the capabilities of Jazz can redefine the production process. "The ability to deliver uncompressed video over a wide area network, within a collaborative production environment, is changing the way our industry thinks and works," comments Gray. "The Pluto storage and playback solution for Jazz is an excellent example of how companies are working together to answer industry demand for innovative technology."

This year's installation in Las Vegas was temporary, although there will probably be a similar installation at next year's show. In the real world, Jazz plans to start by connecting the world’s top five media centers. Once these cities are wired and connected to Jazz, other locations will be added based on the demand for services in those areas. The cities are Montreal, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles and London. In each of these locations, at least one high quality production company has agreed to become a part of the Jazz Media Network for trials that will take place between now and the end of this year.

Something for Everyone
Given the scope of the services offered as part of Jazz, the service can be attractive to more than just production facilities. As evidenced by the participation of Miranda, Pluto and Tektronix at NAB, the network also provides sales, service and rental opportunities to virtually any company that supplies equipment or services to our industry.

Jazz Media Network is a very ambitious undertaking that promises much more in the area of collaborative teleproduction than anyone has been able to deliver to this point. It will be interesting to watch their progress between now and next year's NAB to determine just how JAZZed people will become about them.

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