It doesn’t take much research into either Reinheitsgebot or file specifications to realise that this title is almost complete nonsense. When Reinheitsgebot, aka the “German Beer Purity Law,” was first endorsed by the duchy of Bavaria 499 years ago (23rd April 1516) it actually had nothing to do with the purity of beer and everything to do with the price of bread – banning the use of wheat in beer to ensure that there was no competition between brewers and bakers for limited supply.
Reinheitsgebot has come to represent a mark of quality in beer and something that German brewers are very proud of, but as the law spread across what is now modern Germany in the 16th century, it actually lead to the disappearance of many highly regarded regional specialities and variations.
By contrast, the definition of file formats for exchange and delivery in the media industry has everything to do with the purity, or quality, of media files – indeed the initiative that has lead to the publication of the ARD-ZDF MXF Profiles in the German-speaking community was lead by the group looking at quality control and management.
This has represented a fairly significant change in mind-set in our approach to QC. Within reason, the file format should not really affect the “quality” of the media (assuming sufficient bit-rate). However, to have a consistent file-QC process, you need to start with consistent files, and the simplest way to do this is to restrict the “ingredients” in order to deliver a consistent “flavour” of file. By restricting the variations, we considerably simplify QC processes, mitigate risk of both QC and workflow errors occurring downstream, and reduce the cost of implementation through decreased on-boarding requirements.
This point is critical, and for illustration, one need only refer to the results of the IRT MXF plug-fest that takes place each year. At the 2014 event, outputs and interoperability of 24 products from 14 vendors, restricted to four common essence types and two wrapper types, were tested.
Even with these restrictions, a total of 4,439 tests were conducted. Assuming each test takes an average of 60 seconds, that equates to very nearly two whole man-weeks of testing before we even consider workflow-breaking issues such as time-code support, frame accuracy, audio/video off-set, etc.
Constrained media file specifications equate to far fewer variations, simplifying the on-boarding process and enabling media organizations to easily facilitate thorough automated and human QC, while focusing on the quality of the media, not the interoperability of the file.
However, the file specifications themselves may not completely answer all our problems. Referring back to the German beer market, despite the regulation being lifted in 1988 following a ruling by the European Court of Justice, many breweries and beers still claim compliance with Reinheitsgebot, even though very, very few beers actually do. We have two issues in media that are equivalent – future proofing and compliance.
When introduced, Reinheitsgebot specified three permitted ingredients – water, barley and hops. Unknowingly, however, brewers were adding another ingredient – either natural airborne yeast, or yeast cultivated from previous brews, a necessary addition for the fermentation process. Without launching into a convoluted discussion about “unknown, unknowns,” from this we learn that we have to accept the extreme difficulties of scoping future requirements.
Reinheitsgebot was replaced in 1993 by the Provisional German Beer Law, allowing for ingredients such as yeast and wheat, without which the famous Witbier (wheat beer) would not exist – one of the German beer industry’s biggest exports. Globally, this has lead to much confusion over what Reinheitsgebot compliance means, especially with many wheat beers claiming adherence. In the media industry, the UK DPP launched a compliance program run by the AMWA, but there are many more companies claiming compliance than appear on the official list.
While I suspect that many beers have been consumed in the writing of media file specifications, in reality it is unlikely that the story of the German beer purity law has had much impact – it may still have some lessons to teach us though.
And now, time for a beer! Cheers!
Note: this article also appeared in the June 2015 issue of TV Technology Europe