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It used to be easy. A tape, an envelope, a finished delivery. Now there are many more ways for things to go wrong! Here are ways to keep your digital deliveries on track.
Editor's Note: We add new forums at CreativeCOW.net as our members tell us they need them. Among the most frequent requests of late, and our newest forum: Digital Delivery. The transition from sending tapes to sending files to clients and networks is rapidly accelerating. Needless to say, there's nothing even vaguely resembling standards for this. Rather than ask one person to provide a comprehensive overview, we have asked the irrepressible Bob Zelin, Contributing Editor, to introduce the lay of the land. To further illuminate, we offer a small slice of the many conversations already springing up in the new Digital Delivery forum.
Most of those posts have been gently edited from their original online appearance for length, and for reading outside their original threads.
Having dealt with videotape formats for all these years, I never thought about what happens to an HDCAM tape, or DigiBeta tape, once it leaves a facility. But I was recently asked to build a small TV station. It's just video equipment, I thought. It would be the same stuff as always. Boy, was I wrong! Now I had to start understanding how to get these tapes -- and the output of a video switcher that was creating a daily news show -- onto an on-air broadcast server.
All of a sudden, MPEG-2 became very important, as most professional on-air servers use this format. So instead of being concerned about getting the best image quality from a Final Cut Pro or an Avid system, all that matters now is, how the heck do I get anything -- and I mean anything -- into the specific flavor of MPEG-2 that this particular on-air server wants to see?
Faced with all of this new equipment, which included a Broadcast Pix video switcher, and several Grass Valley editing systems, the only end result that mattered was that stinking on-air playback server.
So, I started to ask around, what is everyone else doing? How are files being delivered?
It turned out that many of the "big boys" were using products like Telestream FlipFactory to take any sort of file format and convert it to MPEG-2. I spoke with my local cable company about their requirements for digital delivery, and they, too, used FlipFactory, along with another product from Telestream called AdManager to automate this process.
All of a sudden, I started to understand why people bought Sony IMX VTRs that were native MPEG-2 file format. All of a sudden, I understood why products from Telestream, Anystream or Digital Rapids were so important -- because there need to be quick, easy, and efficient ways to transcode from the input files to the required file formats.
File conversion was only half the battle. Speed is the other concern. Normal broadband Internet connections may seem fast when you are looking at YouTube, but are a joke when you are trying to send a 2 GB file to or from an FTP server on the web.
To send files from one place to another, I purchased a little product called Pogoplug, a very inexpensive FTP (File Transfer Protocol) appliance that you plug a USB2 drive into -- and now you have your own FTP site on the web. That's it. I did a little test with a text file, and it all seemed so easy.
Then we tried to do a real test: send a 200MB MPEG-2 file across the internet. All of a sudden, reality kicked in. It took about 30 minutes to accomplish this. We tried similar techniques, like Dropbox, which is a free service, and YouSendIt, free for files up to 100MB, and $9.99/month for files up to 2GB. But the reality was that if you had to send an entire show, like a two or three gig file, it was going to take a long time.
You soon see that Internet connection services like T1 are not that wonderful when you are sending or receiving massive files. We have a dedicated DS-3 line from the phone company that is used to receive a live TV network feed in H.264 from Miami to Orlando. DS-3 is 45Mb/sec -- perfect, but guess what -- it's $3000 a month. Not only is this not realistic for most small companies, it's not even realistic for this station for "secondary" feeds, like receiving completed shows or commercials.
For now, commercials and graphics will use a slow, cheap FTP internet service, but TV shows must still be delivered via Federal Express.
There ain't no free lunch. Not yet -- not to my knowledge. Until "the rest of us," without expensive MPEG VTRs, know how to deliver the exact file format that these stations and cable companies want, it's still going to be a long wait.
-- Bob Zelin