Take a trip to VENICE: next generation file-based workflows for TV production

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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DVS was one of the first companies to implement the open, web-service controlled FIMS communications standard.

Niklas Fabian gives us an insight into VENICE, an innovative news production platform from Rohde & Schwarz DVS GmbH (DVS) that offers solutions to these challenges.

To survive in the fast-paced world of news production, broadcasters are confronted with many challenges: their workflow efficiency should be constantly and continuously optimised and it should be easy to integrate new systems. Next come pressures around cost reductions and the opening of new distribution channels.

Today's TV production challenges

In an ideal world, broadcasters would be able to concentrate on working in a homogenous environment using a single content management system, producing programmes using a single production system and storing them on a single central storage system – and there would only be one single editing system and one file format, too.

Extensive discussions with our customers revealed a different picture where this ideal initial situation has little in common with today’s reality. Indeed, TV studios work using a heterogeneous infrastructure which mirrors the needs and preferences of the involved parties. They work using different production islands with varying equipment like video servers and different NLEs – each with their own storage solution – transcoders, streaming equipment and playout servers. These production islands are interacting slowly leading to time waste because of transferring and transforming media from one production step to another. As it is difficult to ingest and outgest material centrally, each production island would need to be equipped to do this which requires a multitude of systems and channels. 

Proprietary integration of all the systems involved is essential for file-based data exchange within the workflow. Any integration of additional systems into the infrastructure involves an enormous amount of effort and expense – something that needs to be repeated with every reorganisation of the architecture.

A lack of flexibility also exists as the various systems’ individual channels are permanently assigned for ingest, playout and transcoding whereby each system is only allocated one task making it impossible to assign resources flexibly.

Solutions

Broadcasters are committed to increasing their flexibility as well as making more versatile use of their existing resources. Profitability is increased by centralising individual tasks within the workflow. If free capacity is utilised for other tasks such as transcoding, file ingest and transfer, flexibility is increased at the same time. In other words: using fewer systems which unite as many functions as possible leads to cost reductions and more efficient workflows.

Versatile Media Production Hub

With VENICE, DVS is providing a solution to these highly complex challenges. With open communication standards and a web service-based architecture, VENICE integrates seamlessly into any production environment and supports all relevant file formats and codecs. This enables the workflow architect to modify the workflows to meet the actual needs of both the broadcaster and the production processes without being tied to a particular manufacturer.

A closer look at a broadcaster’s production processes reveals that they comprise four key components: Ingest involves adding material. Transfer means moving essence and metadata within the network. Transforming means converting the data such as by transcoding or transwrapping it, and Playout typically means playing out the material in the studio environment or distribution chain.

VENICE adds countless features to video server functions, covering these four main tasks.

Open system architecture for flexibility

The DVS Media Production Hub is designed to be versatile and easy to integrate into existing workflows. VENICE is available in different versions which differ according to chassis size, number of channels or internal storage capacities, etc. For example, the lightweight VENICE 2U chassis is perfect for mobile use as it can fit into the tiniest of spaces thanks to its compact size.

The entire VENICE system comprises six components:

The basis: the system (hardware/operating system)

Proven, fail-safe standards were used as the basis of the system. The Linux server ensures maximum compatibility with other systems, is freely configurable, reliable and virus-proof. VENICE includes secure and quickly accessible RAID storage. System and metadata are backed up in a RAID-1 configuration where data mirroring delivers a high level of performance and protection against data loss. The actual video data itself enjoys a higher level of protection still, while in turn being faster to access even when being heavily utilised. This is achieved by a RAID-6 array with a storage capacity of up to 9 TB. A redundant power supply ensures the system is protected against further malfunctions while in continuous operation.

Control software (including remote client)

The client software is available for all popular operating systems and can be installed on any network client where it can be used to control the server. The VENICE client gives the user access to the system and video channels. Besides visual monitoring of the current operating status by means of the live overlay and audio peakmeter among other tools, the remote client lets the user configure the entire system. This allows flexible configuration of many settings including the resolution, the codec to be used and the mode of operation (playout, ingest, transform) to meet current demands even in a dynamic production environment. Of key importance is the user-friendliness of VENICE. The user interface is designed to give the operator immediate access to all key functions in hectic broadcast operations.

Maximum connectivity: the VENICE server

The VENICE server software acts as a daemon in the system and makes the Media Production Hub’s functions available over various interfaces. The VENICE server enables external connections using web service-based standards such as FIMS (Framework for Interoperable Media Services) as well as communication to take place within the Media Production Hub via an interface.

Furthermore, the VENICE server software controls the core of the VENICE system: the Audio Video Universal Server (AVUS).

AV Universal Server

The core of the system, AVUS which is also DVS's own solution, has proven itself over many years in DVS products. With its low latency, AVUS serves as the basis for high performance, rapid access and maximum functionality in video processing. The server supports a wide selection of codecs and video formats, such as Panasonic’s AVC-Intra family, Sony’s XDCAM family, Avid DNxHD, Apple ProRes and JPEG2000.

Video server functionality thanks to DVS video hardware

The video boards and their drivers used in VENICE provide the system’s video server functionality. For video and audio signal input and output, DVS utilises the latest generation of its video boards. In parallel, the VENICE software uses two video channels per I/O processing card which can be switched between SD and HD independently of each other. The SDI inputs and outputs which are used as standard by broadcasters can also be configured independently of each other at 270 Mbit/s, 1.5 Gbit/s or 3 Gbit/s. In 3 Gbit/s mode, both Level A and Level B of the future 1080p50 broadcasting standard are supported. All ANC data, such as timecodes, are recorded and played out depending on their file format.

The card also has an LTC input and output as well as eight AES/EBU audio channels per video channel and an RS-422 interface. An image processing unit delivers multi-speed HD processing, including colour space conversions and multiple scalers. Two scaling processes can run in parallel per channel. One scaler reduces the material to a smaller proxy size whereby the downscaled image serves as the encoding basis for proxy files generated in parallel. This video is streamed in real-time to the VENICE client software with the lowest latency. The operator gets the best possible overview and sees exactly when the signal goes on or off. Furthermore, the proxy file can be sent to an external application, VENICE View, which displays streams of all VENICE channels in the network in a multi-viewer graphical interface.

The second scaler is used for format conversions such as from SD to HD and vice versa. This process is also carried out in real-time when playing out video material. The scaling algorithms excel with their extremely high quality.

Network-wide data management

Spycer, the intelligent content control software from DVS, helps users create a transparent network: the SpycerNet. Furthermore, Spycer virtualises file structures. Even proprietary file systems can be integrated into an existing directory structure using Spycer enabling Avid Interplay, for instance, to be displayed to the user in the form of a simple folder structure. If users want to ingest XDCAM content, for example, into a particular project, all they need to do is drag and drop it there. Generic FTP servers as well as Grass Valley K2 servers can also be virtualised. The Spycer Agent provides the VENICE client with this virtualisation functionality allowing the operator to select an Interplay project as the direct target for an SDI recording.

Open communications standards integration

DVS was one of the first companies to implement the open, web-service controlled FIMS communications standard, approved by the AMWA in the USA and by the EBU in Europe. The aim was to create a cutting-edge communications standard which minimises the effort involved in integrating additional systems to the greatest extent possible. 

The integration of FIMS controls the recording, transforming and transfer of video files. This enhances studio workflow efficiency by offering more opportunities to raise the level of automation. For example, the new Record Scheduler is executed using FIMS via SOAP. The Record Scheduler integrated in Spycer® offers easy handling of multiple recording tasks with just a few clicks – even channels on different VENICE systems can be controlled.

Besides these two cutting-edge protocols, VENICE continues to support proven standards.

With its host of supported codecs and interfaces, its diverse range of functions and its open system architecture, VENICE helps broadcasters to increase their workflow efficiency. The flexibility allows workflows and scenarios to be created and modified easily, and enables new market technologies and developments to be responded to quickly. VENICE lets broadcasters tailor their production processes to suit their requirements without any of the system-related restrictions posed by proprietary solutions.

www.dvs.de

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