|At the December 18 meeting...
Pinnacle Systems' Vision of Digital Networking
By Robert Lamm
I have to admit I was very impressed with Pinnacle's vision of digital video networking for nonlinear editing and servers. The centerpiece of it is their Liquid nonlinear editing system and Thunder server, which are specifically designed to work with networked footage. Ed Krasnow, the local rep, gave a very good demonstration and explained the technology behind it.
The first third of the meeting was devoted to the SAN (Storage Area Network) that the system uses to store media on a centralized drive array that multiple stations can access simultaneously. This makes a lot of sense for facilities that have more than about four NLE's. The advantages include:
Users aren't tied to a particular station: They can move from machine to machine and still have access to their project and all its media.
Free disk space is available to all stations instead of being tied down to the station it's installed on.
Capture/playback can be centralized at a single station, cutting down on the number of decks needed plus media from sources such as satellites is immediately available to all stations.
Multiple stations can be working on the same program and with the same media at the same time. A program can be created on multiple stations, assembled into a whole, and played back on any machine on the system without having to run off any dubs.
The big problem with networking media storage like this has been that normal computer networks don't have the bandwidth to carry high-quality video, especially when multiple systems are running multiple streams. That's where SAN's (Storage Area Networks ) come into play: These are networks based on SCSI and FiberChannel technology that can handle the heavy data load.
In fact, all a SAN really consists of is regular SCSI or FiberChannel drives that are hooked up with a cable that connects them to multiple computers. Networking software is installed on the computers to manage the communication on the cable and the drives appear to each computer as their own SCSI/FiberChannel drives.
The management software does more than just keep the bits going to the right stations: It also allows the system administrator to determine who has access to what so users can't accidentally screw up each other's projects and to make sure that things like capture are always given bandwidth priority.
If you use FiberChannel drives, this network can stretch across miles!
(I should mention here that SMPTE/New England ran an article about this technology - co-authored by one of the pioneers of SAN technology - back in January, 1997! You can read it at http://www.v-site.net/smpte-ne/articles/networks.html.)
The Editing Software
Once the networking principles were explained, Ed gave us a demonstration of Pinnacle's Liquid range of nonlinear editors. They're special systems designed for fast editing - they incorporate a concept that Ed called 'real-time rendering': Effects such as wipes, DVE's, etc. are rendered with special hardware so fast that the effect is ready for playback almost instantaneously. Ed entertained us by setting up various effects and trying to play them back before rendering was complete. Liquid won a lot of the matches.
Liquid comes in a couple of flavors. Well, colors actually:
'Purple' is a DV-only system that Ed showed on a laptop. It's designed for field editing applications like news.
'Silver' supports analog and SDI I/O and can also capture to MPEG and uncompressed SDI. It's targeted at the industrial/corporate marketplace.
'Blue' supports SDTI, IMX, DVCPRO 25/50 and is designed for broadcasters and high-end production houses.
Operationally, all these systems are identical: They all share the exact same features - the only difference is the I/O and codecs they support.
So who has these things?
Ed also told us a bit about some of the places that have lately bought systems:
One was NBA Entertainment, which produces virtually all the video for NBA games, including spots, the games themselves, etc. Liquid's networking capabilities (they have something like 50 editing stations!) are what sold them on the system, but the ease of configuration - you can change the UI so it looks and feels very much like an Avid - is what made the editors fall in love with it.
Another system was installed for the Pennsylvania legislature. They have separate production facilities for Democrats and Republicans, and here the big selling point was the media managment that allowed them to keep the two apart since they're not supposed to be able to see or mess with each other's stuff. No, there was no word on how Independents are treated...
Ed also gave us a quickie tour of Commotion, Pinnacle's compositing application. But alas, time was running late and some of us had to go to work the next day. So Ed will be bringing all this stuff back to the Nonlinear/Post-Production Technology Showcase on January 15 at WCVB-TV. He promises to bring the same demo media back - which consisted of some very, um, tempting Carnival footage from Brazil.
Bob Lamm (the author of this article) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ed Krasnow (Pinnacle representative for the Northeast) can be reached at email@example.com. Additional information about Pinnacle products is at http://www.pinnaclesys.com.