Case Study: Sun tape ascends to digitising video

Sun UK has won a deal possibly worth £400,000 or more for Sun servers and a StorageTek tape library, to be used in a project involving the digitisation of ageing analog tapes. The customer is identified as a major European media organisation.

The project involves a sub-contractor; Ascent Media Systems. It is to design, pilot and the hopefully implement a digital archive system using the StorageTek tape library. The customer has in excess of 120,000 hours of video stored on analogue VHS video tapes which are degrading. It deals with film, video/DVD and video games for sale or screening nationally, and because of this, is required to store huge amounts of video material.

Paul Wilkins, the chief solution architect (read, technical designer) for Ascent Media in EMEA said: "The client is managing an increased amount of DVD material as VHS is gradually being phased out as part of the wider strategy of digitisation. With this in mind, there is an immediate need to identify the most efficient workflow for handling the huge and growing volumes of media."

As well as the long-term future of VHS tapes being insecure, there is an exponential growth in the amount of video media that is being handled on a daily basis. Both factors make it imperative for the customer to migrate its existing archive to a digital format. Future material can then be secured in the same archive. Bearing in mind that high-definition TV and higher definition Blu-ray and HD-DVD material is being produced the storage requirements trend is on a tremendous upward curve.

The VHS tape contents will be read and digitised to secure their better long-term storage and faster access. The new system has to digitise the material, store it, and manage it.

The system being installed was designed around TMD's MediaFlex, a file-based digital media management system. This is integrated with Sun Microsystems's StorageTek data tape library, a SL8500. With the amount of material being discussed the the smaller SL500 is not appropriate.

VHS media will be ingested using Snell & Wilcox noise reduction, and digitised using IPV Spectre View encoding technology. The resulting digital asset will then be stored on both LTO3 digital tape and disk for easy retrieval.

The Sun servers, probably AMD Opteron-based, will run Windows and there will be a central Oracle database. Paul Wilkins said: "The current plan is for 1000 hours of on line storage at 3Mbits\s MPEG4 for viewing and compliance checking, although one of the objectives of the pilot is to examine if this is enough."

Unlike an analogue system, media files are stored and recalled as perfect copies without the need for further quality checks.

There is a determined analogue-to-digital conversion movement in the broadcast and video media industry. A couple of years ago the BBC chose a Ingest Station/TMD Mediaflex integration as part of a pilot deployment within One Vision. This was a technology project implement a tape-less environment. It would streamline production, encourage collaborative working, and allow flexible delivery of content across a variety of delivery channels.

Channel 4 is using the Ingest Station/Mediaflex integration for archival purposes. The content on these analogue tapes will be ingested, digitised, and stored onto LTO data tapes in MXF format, with metadata being recorded in the MXF file wrapper. (MXF is the Material eXchange Format. It is a standard created for interchanging media and metadata. Many companies including Sony and institutions like the BBC endorse the format.)

In April this year Discovery Network Europe installed a StorageTek SL8500 as part of a project with Ascent Media. Encoded video files are archived on the StreamLine 8500 and transferred to disk when they are needed for playback.

Ascent Media Systems and Technology Services provides prime contracting and vendor-independent, end-to-end engineering design and systems integration services for broadcasters, telcos and the media distribution sector.

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