Moving Data More Quickly

May 5, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The broadcast technology business is poised for a long-awaited breakthrough. The emerging MXF file format is about to make the leap from the closely watched design and development stage to operational standard. Its expected use could significantly impact broadcast operations and substantially reduce time to air.
Within the next few months, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers is likely to issue its official seal of approval for MXF, which stands for material exchange format. It has been in development for three years in an effort led by the Professional MPEG Forum.
MXF allows files created in one piece of equipment to be read by equipment from a different manufacturer. MXF is essentially a wrapper that includes audio, video and metadata and allows them to travel together across an IP network.
At the recent National Association of Broadcasters Convention, several prominent equipment manufacturers demonstrated and introduced MXF-capable products, including Sony, Telestream, Avid, Leitch, Omneon, Quantel and Snell & Wilcox.
“It’s certainly a very important milestone to moving to an integrated digital production world,” said Gordon Castle, senior VP of CNN technology. “Without it [companies] like CNN are faced to do point-to-point integration,” which means requiring vendors to integrate with other chosen vendors. Knowing that Sony equipment could interoperate seamlessly with Pinnacle products, for instance, gives broadcasters the freedom to pick and choose “best of breed” solutions from a variety of vendors, which lowers costs, he said.
“We want the ability to pick the best vendor for the proper task and know we can still move content without losing quality from systems, and the metadata will move with that content,” Mr. Castle said. “As we move forward we will use MXF for moving content from field cameras to servers and eventually for moving content to our affiliates.” The lack of standards has hampered the industry, said Michael Koetter, VP, technology, at BBC Technology, which provides products and consulting services to broadcasters. “[MXF] will completely revolutionize the way broadcasters go to air,” he said. As broadcasters digitize their archives, the use of a standard file ensures that an archive has value and can be read years from now even if the manufacturer isn’t around, he said.
MXF is like an umbrella under which an entire facility can move around, said Theresa Alesso, director of product marketing, optical and network products group, at Sony, one of the manufacturers leading the MXF charge.
Sony’s e-VTR includes MXF capability and enables broadcast-quality video to be sent remotely over an IP network, saving time and money on satellite feeds, she said. Because the wrapped files are uncompressed, quality is maintained.
Within a station, MXF allows video to be sent more efficiently. Previously, video that needed to travel from one piece of equipment to another would be copied onto tape or decompressed down to baseband, the traditional way of moving video around a facility as a video signal.
The introduction of a standard will improve workflow and generate efficiencies at station groups and local stations, said Ardell Hill, senior VP broadcast operations, for Media General, which operates 26 TV stations.
Still, MXF isn’t a panacea. For instance, even if a piece of equipment can read MXF, it might not be able to read what’s inside the wrapper if two separate vendors handle audio differently, said David Heppe, VP of marketing and business development, at Telestream in Nevada City, Calif., which introduced MXF capability in its Flip Factory transcoding software at the show. “Oftentimes we hear people say, `This will solve all the problems,’ But each manufacturer has to do something to help it out,” he said.
The bottom line is that MXF translates into time saved …, said Joe Garcia, director of broadcast operations with Viacom’s South Florida stations, “as we do more and more with less people.”