SPEED’S OPEN ARCHITECTURE

September 15th, 2009 | Tags: , , ,
Master control for Studio A.

Master control for Studio A.

by Erik Arneson

SPEED, Fox Cable’s motor sports and automotive cable television network, decided to make the transition to HD last year. “We knew our viewers’ appetite for HD programming was rabid,” said Rick Miner, SPEED SVP of Production & Network Operations. “A lot of our guys are early adopters of new technology — these are cutting edge technology guys.”

So the first thing the SPEED team, led by Miner, SPEED VP of Finance Francois McGillicuddy, FOX Network Engineering & Operations and an outside architect, did was determine what the new facility needed to be able to do – How would SPEED operate? How many studios? How many edit rooms? How would workflow be structured?

SPEED, now in 78 million homes in North America, decided up front that it was not going to invest a single dime in linear, tape-driven architecture. The result was the innovative re-purposing of a 78,000-squarefoot facility, with more than 56,000 square feet operational in six months. The Charlotte, N.C.-based facility, which opened for business on Dec. 15, 2008, includes two major studios (3,600 square feet and 2,400 square feet) along with a smaller flash studio.

SPEED Studio B is 2,400 square feet and home to the weekly motor sports news program The SPEED Report.

SPEED Studio B is 2,400 square feet and home to the weekly motor sports news program The SPEED Report.

In that same six-month window, Miner and the FOX team explored workflow systems. “We evaluated what systems were out there, asking, ‘Are there any that are turnkey to accomplish this or would we ultimately have to design one ourselves?’ The decision was that there was no single system that would provide what we wanted. So we went with open architecture, where we could interface various proprietary software packages to make all the different pieces work together.”

“Our parent company, News Corporation, was inclined to allow us to do things the right way and the folks at FOX NEO have an invaluable scope of knowledge,” Miner added. “We were able to take our very specific workflow needs and their general knowledge and meld the two and through talking to each other, figure out the best approach. As with any business, we had to answer, ‘What are the costs involved? What are the ongoing costs? How long will the technology survive?’ They looked at this project very much as a lab to study how they would build production facilities moving forward.”

It was decided that SPEED would be a Final Cut Pro facility. For the studio equipment decisions — the cameras, switchers, audio boards — anything that would pass an HD signal to the standards we wanted was considered,” said Miner.

Ingest - Quality control and point of entry and encoding for all video to SPEED servers regardless of the source.

Ingest - Quality control and point of entry and encoding for all video to SPEED servers regardless of the source.

The last remaining decisions included the engineering architecture and how SPEED would store, move and edit video throughout the plant. “We believe we have a ‘best of breed’ system, where we integrate multiple manufacturers’ equipment to achieve the flexibility, reliability and level of performance we want,” Miner said. “That includes a Dalet Digital Media Systems’ Enterprise Edition, which is the overlaying control software through our IBM LTOs for near-line storage of digital content that is fully accessible and restorable in an automated fashion. Along the way the system includes a wide array of additional components, be it Omneon servers for playout and encoding of video, Front Porch DIVArchive software for the management of the digital archive, and DataDirect Networks SAN storage and a Quantum StoreNext SAN file system.” All have been designed to integrate together to accomplish the work.

“There is good and bad in this obviously,” Miner added. “The good is you have the best of breed. The bad is when anybody does software upgrades. They have to be vetted across every platform with which they will interact.” It looks good so far, but time will tell if this “open architecture” model does the job for SPEED.

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