May 22, 2009 – Video streaming and transcoding systems supplier Digital Rapids is carving a new niche for itself with introduction of technologies designed to overcome inefficiencies attending distribution and handling of video files across geographically dispersed production and storage centers.
Studios, programming networks and production houses have benefited greatly by moving away from hard copy shipping to use of IP networks to speed transfer and amalgamation of content and advertising elements. But they have had to endure a number of barriers to greater efficiency that stem from the fact that IP- and Web-based mechanisms were not designed for today's digital video business operations.
"You have to deal with the inefficiencies of having to deliver the same file to different end points on a point-to-point basis, the hassles of dropped packets and the time wasted with FTP transfers," notes Mike Nann, director of marketing and communications at Digital Rapids. "We've come up with a way to make the whole B2B distribution process much more efficient."
The Digital Rapids solution involves two components – the C2 data delivery software system, which facilitates better distribution over networks from points of origin, and the MediaMesh RX appliance, which eliminates the barriers to efficiency that are imposed by variations in coding, formatting, metadata and other requirements at the end points. The combination of C2 and MediaMesh RX enables ad spots, promos, paid programming, syndicated shows, long-form and digital cinema content to be distributed to affiliates and distribution partners efficiently, automatically and at substantial cost savings, Nann says.
"Things were much simpler under the old model, when studios sent content by tape to broadcast networks and the broadcasters only had to get programming out to affiliates, and everything was in SD," Nann says. "Now you have to ship content in HD, and your affiliates include everybody from iTunes to Web and mobile partners."
Where advertising is concerned, FTP file transfers have largely replaced tape shipments, but these are a hassle owing to the lengthy download times. "Ad agencies tell broadcasters to download the ads from their FTP sites, but many broadcasters hate that," he notes. "Even if you have a 45 megabit line, 5 megabits [per second] is the maximum speed for an FTP transfer with typical public network latency and packet loss."
The Digital Rapids C2 software employs a proprietary transport protocol that allows content to be transferred simultaneously to multiple end points on a mesh rather than point-to-point basis over all types of IP connections, including public and private fiber, DSL and satellite links and hybrid combinations of these and other platforms. By putting the raw data, which can be any type of video or non-video file, into the C2 transport protocol, the Digital Rapids platform not only supports distribution of the single file to multiple points across multiple types of networks; it does so at maximum speed and reliability, Nann notes.
"The key is to get as close to wire speed as possible, minimizing the effects of latency and dropped packets over public infrastructure," he says. "On a 45 mbps line we might achieve 40 mbps of throughput for the payload while assuring the professional quality performance you'd get over a dedicated private line."
But for point-to-multipoint distribution of professional-quality video files to be a practical option, in most instances there needs to be a platform at the end points that can translate the files to each recipient's format requirements. "In an idea world all your affiliates would be using the same metadata, the same wrapper, the same encoding," Nann says. "But in the real world people require different metadata, different compression modes, different media formats. The MediaMesh RX allows the master file sent from the origination point to be conformed to the individual requirements at the edge."
These transcoding and re-packaging capabilities allow received media to be repurposed and conformed to local requirements. In addition, the platform has other important features, including verified receipt, visual quality control verification, inventory management, transfer to broadcast servers, print-to-tape and play-to-air, all of which are tightly integrated in an intuitive graphical interface.
Nann notes that MediaMesh RX works seamlessly alongside Digital Rapids' ingest, encoding and transcoding solutions to form complete workflows from ingest through delivery. Such workflows can also be built in combination with third-party systems through open standards workflow features such as watch folders and Web Services APIs for custom development, he adds.
Along with breaking new ground in the media distribution space, Digital Rapids has significantly enhanced its legacy product portfolio with various improvements, including a new version of its Stream encoding software that allows producers to tightly integrate the processing into the production workflow. "With our earlier 2.5 upgrade, we extended our distribution format flexibility to connect broadcast-oriented workflows to new distribution opportunities," says Brian Stevenson, director of product management at Digital Rapids. "Stream 3.0 extends that versatility to a whole new level."
Version 3.0 features new or enhanced support for compression and container formats including Avid DNxHD(r), MXF, LXF, GXF, DVCPro, Dolby(r) Digital (AC-3), Dolby(r) Digital Plus and more, Stevenson says. The expanded format support enables Digital Rapids' ingest and encoding systems to integrate seamlessly with a broader array of broadcast servers, acquisition devices and editing systems. This includes the ability to deliver enhanced performance and quality with the existing DRC Studio AVC Encoder and AVC for Adobe(r) Flash(r) option modules.
"Our expanded formats and extended closed caption support move us from the edges of broadcast and production workflows into the core of their operations," Stevenson says. "At the same time, our new open plug-in architecture for video and audio processing allows users unlimited flexibility in refining the source content as they prepare it for distribution or archive."
Digital Rapids has also optimized a live streaming version of its Broadcast Manager platform to accommodate the operating requirements of live productions. The new version 1.4 of Broadcast Manager features enhanced enterprise integration capabilities including Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) monitoring support, enabling Broadcast Manager error conditions to be monitored alongside other SNMP-compatible devices by any SNMP-compliant network management system. Additional new features include extended user authorization and access control, and enhanced port management for firewall and proxy traversal.
"We found that as we brought broadcasters into live streaming, they wanted to tie these capabilities into the existing facility-wide operations system," Nann says. "So we're tying the new technology back to the old-school environment, but the front end doesn't change."