DPP Tapeless workflow seminar

Media City piazza

Media City




It was great to get down to MediaCity today and find out where to park my car and locate Starbucks and find myself in the fantastic square outside BBC Quay House. Also to see the wonderful atrium and communication pods otherwise known as seats…
Well the basics under control we got down to the business in hand and assembled with other media professionals to talk about “tapeless” workflow.
The meeting was hosted by Digital Production Partnership an initiative by BBC, ITV and Channel 4 with representation from Sky, Ch5, S4C and the independent sector to maximise the benefits of Digital Production.
First up to talk about her experience in the digital production process was Emma Riley,


BBC meeting pods

Head of Production Technology at Mentorn Media and Sunset & Vine. These companies come under the Tinopolis Umbrella.
Emma has a great deal of experience in the digital arena and worked on many programmes that gather massive amounts of rushes such as Idiot Abroad. I will try and summarise some of the highlights, as I perceived them.

1. Emma pointed out that in fact it generally is not a tapeless workflow. As in my company Activideo Communications we actually have a file-based workflow as we have non-tape based acquisition but still have tape based archiving at the back end. There are many systems but generally LTO is a main choice for cost effectiveness, data integrity and longevity.
2. Reasons for choosing file based cameras:
– Acceptable broadcast tape based HD cameras are hard to find or very expensive.
There were many more options when using SD cameras.
– There is a need to Future Proof rushes and revenue potential.
– A need to save money as these days there is no funding to change to HD from the broadcasters (so called HD uplift.) Now HD is the norm.
– A need to save time, file based ingest (sorry Steve for using a geek word) is generally faster than real time.
1. Emma went on to outline where to start.
– Check your spec for the broadcaster and make sure you spend some time talking through your workflow with colleagues both on location and in post. Every project has its differences and these needs to be taken into account if you are to reduce pitfalls and fine tune the bottom line.
– Tape delivery formats have been agreed such as HDCAM SR but the file-based workflow is in development. I was sat with my ex-colleague who is on the committee and he indicated that a likely format will be the AVC Intra codec. A good 422, 10bit, full raster (1920×1080) codec that is only 100mbs.
– Many cameras that are suitable for use with broadcasters were outlined; see the broadcasters specs for details.
– As a general rule broadcast spec is any chip of 1/2 inch and up with a full raster codec of 422 sampling and a bit rate of 50mbs or above, the cheaper cameras don’t have on board 422 50mbs plus recording capability so you need to use an outboard recorder on the likes of the EX1R and EX3 (1/2 inch chip cameras).
– Outboard recorders are Nanoflash, Ki pro, Ki pro mini, Atomos Ninja and many others springing onto the market. Some downsides to the systems are shots broken into many separate files when recorded with FAT32 systems so they don’t easily integrate into post. Hard to mount on camera in an ergonomic fashion and not as robust as they should be in the field.
To conclude Emma pointed out that:
Tape is going, get used to it!
HD uplifts are gone.
Metadata is replacing logs and tape numbers.
Delivery and storage are going cloud based.
On the financials they are seeing savings from purchasing the recording cards and hard drives but only when wiped then used on another series, capital investment is paying back only as a company and on a number of series. Other savings are banning DVDs as a material viewing medium and making people watch online material that is cloud based, although it is hard to force some people to change. She mentioned a figure of £45,000 spent on DVD costs! Lots of potential saving there then…

Next up was Steve (anti geek) Warr from Raw Cut TV.
Steve made some early luddite remarks such as you don’t have to use a computer, you can still use a typewriter and a VHS will still enable you to watch your material. No one is forcing you to use file-based workflow.
My impressions of Steve are that he loves making programmes but is forced to consider all the things he hates with the technology. Fair play, he has got into the thick of it and mastered change while outside his comfort zone, I applaud him for that, a real HD warrior 🙂
He pointed out that a file-based workflow could improve quality and reduce costs. He used Police Interceptors as a case study. They were using EX1 cameras and one of the main areas they have had to embrace is that the camera operators have had to become data wranglers too. On factual programmes there isn’t the budget for another person to just be responsible for copying and managing data so breaks in shooting time have to be allocated to
allow backup.
He pointed out the use of G raid drives for data copying (as did Emma) as they are mirrored for protection but highlighted a weakness. He referred to an incident where a drive was dropped and it is great having two drives for backup but if they are dropped together they can die together…
A note from myself is that as drive sizes are going up if you lose both you also lose a lot!
So now they instruct anyone using the drives to remove one drive from the housing when not recording.
After backing up data on mirror systems it is a simple and effective policy to split the drives up as you can put either drive back into the enclosure to recover your files. He mentioned the use of a prodisc system for archiving.

So overall what were my conclusions:
1. Great event in a stunning setting
2. Very good to hear other peoples experiences in the field
3. Good to find people are slowly coming to see that metadata is just valuable information that can travel with the files.
4. Good to hear that the data is also being integrated into a system for rushes management and a search of the data can return general view material quickly for other programmes rather than sending out another crew for pictures you already have!
5. Outboard recorders are a pain and not good in demanding production or climatic environments.

Why oh why Sony and Panasonic can’t you just make a shoulder mount 1/2 inch full raster camera that records onto an SxS or P2 in camera at 50mbs at about £6500? If we can hack DSLRs why hasn’t someone hacked a PMW320K, mmm there is a thought!

Quite a lot of us have been embracing file-based workflows for a while but for some it is still Black Magic and the need for physical media to hold onto is very powerful. Think about the times you have had a tape clog and lost the lot or when the tape chewed up. Files are generally more reliable and any workflow is only as reliable as the system and the people that implement it.

Exciting init?

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