understanding RadiantGrid New Media Automation Platform

Monday, November 12, 2012

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The grid-enabled processing of virtual slices enables the platform to handle the heavy computational processing algorithms for motion compensation of the decoded uncompressed bit map frames and subsequent encoding of those uncompressed bit maps into the new format.

Kirk Marple, Chief Software Architect at RadiantGrid part of Wohler Technologies outlines the core features of its RadiantGrid New Media Automation Platform

The demands on sports broadcasters have never been greater. From acquisition to delivery, sports production presents unique requirements, calling on broadcasters to accommodate real-time and non-real-time feeds for the creation of everything from on-the-fly reporting, news and highlights, as well as longer pieces with advanced structures, and to deliver this content to an array of outlets. While contending with the challenges of a live production environment, sports broadcasters must create content that meets the extremely high expectations of the viewing public and deliver it to the home or mobile device without delay.

Speed of delivery without any sacrifice in content quality is of paramount importance to a network or channel’s competitiveness. The industry’s shift toward file-based operations has eased the burden of fast-turn sports production to some degree. However, even within this domain, broadcasters need new and better solutions that leverage end-to-end file-based workflows to their full potential to bring much greater efficiency gains. These gains come from realizing faster processing times for both short- and long-form content, as well as increasing the production team’s creative and editorial flexibility. For those working in the international market, rapid transformation and standards conversion is particularly essential to fast, efficient delivery of content.

While it is difficult for any one vendor to satisfy these requirements, workflow automation does so by consolidating all critical activities on a single platform that supports rapid parallel processing of transformational tasks, facilitates concurrent editorial and transformational activities, and enables more efficient management of media itself. Wohler’s RadiantGrid New Media Automation Platform offers these valuable capabilities by performing faster-than-real-time transcoding and audio processing, standards conversion, mixed cadence correction, video optimization, and audio loudness conformance in fully file-based workflows.

The Automation Platform
Added to the Wohler Technologies product portfolio with the company’s 2012 acquisition of RadiantGrid Technologies, the RadiantGrid New Media Automation Platform enables highly efficient file-based creation and distribution of media, even as it integrates with and augments trafficking, rights management, linear automation, and business process management systems. A media transformation and processing engine with an underlying content management fabric sits at the heart of the platform, and these technologies combine to yield a powerful solution for today’s sports broadcasters.

Engineered to eliminate the increasingly prevalent and inefficient “ping-pong” effect of sending media back and forth from one vendor’s server to another, the RadiantGrid workflow reduces the production resources required for multiplatform production. The new workflow model does so by compressing technology dependencies into a parallel platform architecture, with predetermined workflow policies and/or on-demand workflow actions. RadiantGrid ensures asset quality while enabling various content transformations, and the platform can perform these processes in batch or grid approaches.

To maintain the quality of downstream media for transcoding and distribution, the platform automates the intensive quality analysis and corrective processes typically associated with upstream correction. Using dynamic analysis, the system determines the appropriate preparation process for ingested media, eliminating the need to predefine the expected format’s frame, field, audio, and ancillary data parameters and automatically assigning the parameters that will generate the best quality output for the user’s requirements.

RadiantGrid’s grid-enabled CPU based processing technology is paired with GPU based image processing techniques from Cinnafilm® to facilitate faster-than-real-time processing of content without compromising its visual quality. This unique hybrid capability is critical for rapid file-based transcoding with standards conversion of premium sports programming, where getting there late means not getting there at all. 

Within the RadiantGrid standards conversion workflows, incoming content hits a watch folder and is sent through a farm for decoding and transcoding across multiple nodes. The source content is intelligently identified and then de-muxed, with gridded jobs taking multiple virtual concurrent reads from different segments of the source video essence. The audio and ancillary data are handled in parallel for their conversion requirements. Multiple servers running powerful GPU cards enable the frame rate conversion process occurring as an integrated frame by frame conversion, with different servers addressing different parts of the source video in parallel and each server running concurrent jobs. Upon completion of processing, these parts are stitched back together, with audio and ancillary data added back to the content, and delivered as a whole converted product ready for distribution. All the while, Cinnafilm GPU based algorithms  ensure that  that the content being so quickly delivered meets a high quality frame rate conversion.

The Cinnafilm plugin provides temporal and spatial image resampling to convert source video and image files to any new frame rate or resolution. With a motion compensated engine delivering accurate motion vector data, the RadiantGrid Platform can interpolate new frames for any desired delivery specification or standard. With a tera-flop of computational power available, the plug-in enables users to stack critical operations into a single conversion project. These operations include resolution scaling (mobile device to 4K); frame-rate conversion (any to any); standards conversion (525, 625, 720, 1080, 2K, 4K); interlaced, progressive, and pulldown interchange; automatic cadence correction; mixed pulldown (60i + 24p) with broken-pulldown pattern repair; accurate motion blur modeling; reporting and notification; and timecode preservation (drop frame/non drop frame).

This new approach to standards conversion and other critical processing tasks offers the industry a particularly compelling reason to transition from baseband to file-based workflows. While conventional standards conversion typically is performed four to six times slower than real time, grid-enabled conversion supports faster-than-real-time conversion, with speed depending on how the user scales its servers and GPUs (graphics processing units). Because content remains in the file-based domain (and within editors such as Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer), broadcasters realize the same flexibility and quality they would when working with high-end hardware systems in the baseband domain.

The Workflow Applied
One of the world’s leading sports networks has looked to the RadiantGrid automation platform for a significant part of its file-based operations, installing a system to handle grid-based transcoding with standards conversion from PAL to NTSC with high-quality motion compensation.

Looking for a solution for the network's Euro 2012 coverage, this sports broadcaster had sought to perform standards conversion in the file domain for efficiency, but was concerned about the lack of existing solutions that would maintain the real-time processing speeds it had known with more traditional baseband workflows. File-based solutions for high-quality standards conversion typically had been from four to six times slower than real time, largely because of the heavy computational challenges involved in managing this type of transcode along with motion compensation. In preliminary testing, the RadiantGrid platform demonstrated that it could not only match baseband workflows in speed and performance. In fact, the solution demonstrated its ability to complete a single file much faster than real-time across a four-server grid configuration. The network did not need one file done that fast, but rather, was looking for a balance that would allow for four files to be done simultaneously in just under real-time. Due to RadiantGrid’s TrueGrid™ capabilities they were able to tune their balance of gridded transcoding across the CPU/GPU combination to accommodate this goal. 

Successfully implemented for Euro 2012, the platform managed various processes as part of a workflow chain that collected the match content from games, then distributed and conformed it into U.S. standards formats commonly used in the Quantel and Avid edit suites at the network’s U.S-based facilities. Within this workflow, EVS HD MXF 1080i 50 PAL (Op1a variation with MPEG-2 essence) content was converted to QuickTime DVC Pro 720p 59.94 NTSC content. This is a very difficult conversion not only because writing to QT can be a slow transcode, but also because the conversion from 50 to 60 with high-action sports must be compensated for during the move from PAL to NTSC. Further complexity is added by the interchange from interlaced to progressive, with associated down-scaling.

With specific storage I/O requirements configured to handle 600-700 MB/s speeds on the backplane and the “RadiantWorker”/server ratio tuned to a sweet spot within conversion thresholds, the RadiantGrid platform leverages internal allocation of CPU and GPU resources to achieve faster-than-real-time end-to-end conversion for the network. The resulting system is organized as one giant supercomputer with 10Gbps I/O to a high-density, high-speed storage array. The grid-enabled processing of virtual slices enables the platform to handle the heavy computational processing algorithms for motion compensation of the decoded uncompressed bit map frames and subsequent encoding of those uncompressed bit maps into the new format.

This major US-headquartered network is just one leading broadcasters currently employing the RadiantGrid platform to achieve dramatic efficiency improvements in file-based content production and transformation workflows. Media organizations ranging from professional hockey leagues to public television services are using RadiantGrid to achieve faster-than-real-time processing and the benefits of intelligent, automated media analysis and handling. 

Looking Forward
In a game-changing new approach to standards conversion, the RadiantGrid platform leverages its media transformation and parallel processing engine along with Cinnafilm motion compensation to deliver outputs boasting excellent image quality in record time. Because the platform eliminates many processing boxes and instead supports an array of processing services (including but not limited to complex audio conversions and channel mapping, Linear Acoustic-based loudness processing, conversion of closed caption content and other ancillary data, watermark management, and even editorial changes like concatenation and multi-composite video track editing for bug insertion and motion graphics); sports broadcasters can implement the high-speed parallel processing functions they need today and simply adapt those processes to suit changing operational requirements. By embracing this file-based approach to media transformation, broadcasters also gain the flexibility to accommodate future file formats cost-effectively and with ease.

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