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Jan 27, 2015
Digital Production Partnership (DPP) - A Broadcaster's Perspective
Recently, we staged a webinar at AmberFin in partnership with ATG Broadcast which focussed on the Digital Production Partnership (DPP).

Digital Production Partnership (DPP) - A Broadcast

Recently, we staged a webinar at AmberFin in partnership with ATG Broadcast which focussed on the Digital Production Partnership (DPP).

DPP Broadcasters PerspectiveRecently, we staged a webinar at AmberFin in partnership with ATG Broadcast which focussed on theDigital Production Partnership (DPP) file standards. We had a number of contributors giving the perspectives of a service provider, a media facility and a broadcaster.

The broadcaster’s perspective was provided by Shane Tuckerfrom UK broadcaster, Channel 4. The broadcaster does not produce content itself, however it does commission a great deal of content. Channel 4 is not alone in the UK commissioning market – together with the BBC and ITV, Shane explained how it identified the need for a joined up approach.

DPP - Strength through a unified approach

The UK broadcasters that established DPP have a desire to establish the means for shared learning and best practice with other UK broadcasters. Also, if UK broadcasters are unified in their adoption of digital file-based workflows, they can exert a greater influence outside of the UK. Both of these opinions were confirmed by Shane Tucker in the webinar.

Another key advantage for our industry focuses on production companies. Major production companies supply several UK broadcasters and it will be a big benefit to them if we can standardise on one media interchange standard.

What benefits does DPP bring to Channel 4?

To start with DPP just makes sense. This view was confirmed by Shane Tucker, who said in the Webinar that DPP represents a common file format based on established standards (MXF, SMPTE, EBU) and has been established in conjunction with major UK broadcasters, screen & production companies.

Furthermore, Shane highlighted that DPP offers a common descriptive metadata schema. It offers the ability to access, process and automate metadata within digital file-based workflows is so important. It creates improved efficiency associated with automated workflows between broadcasters and their trusted suppliers. It cuts down on the need for data re-entry and speeds up material transfer and processing from delivery to playout/CDN avoiding unnecessary transcoding.

Automated QC workflows

Another advantage of DPP is the potential to capitalise on automatic QC workflows with the production company or facility. In the webinar, Shane Tucker pointed out that there is a strong likelihood that QC processes will have been performed at numerous stages in the workflow before the media file reaches Channel 4 so any further QC cycles are unnecessary.

Shane concluded his contribution to the webinar by highlighting a number of challenges that remain in the successful adoption of DPP, not least the support needed from equipment vendors. At AmberFin, we recognise this and we’re straining every sinew in our efforts to support this fantastic UK initiative.

To see the webinar in full, please click "Watch the Webinar" button below. 

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Dalet Solutions Earn DPP 2020 Security Certification for Production and Broadcast
Dalet, a leading provider of solutions and services for broadcasters and content professionals, continues its commitment to the highest security standards, attaining the DPP Security Marks for Production and Broadcast under ‘The DPP Committed to Security’ program. The marks certify that all Dalet products and solutions are developed, configured and deployed according to stringent DPP cyber security best practices across R&D, code safety, and operational measures. As early adopters of DPP compliance and security initiatives, both Dalet, and Ooyala - now part of Dalet - have worked with the DPP on certification and security initiatives since 2014. The company also attained its ISO/SEC 27001:2013 certification in 2018, earning the highest level of security practices across Dalet internal development processes, its product line and its practices. “Security has always been of paramount importance at Dalet. With media organizations quickly pivoting their operations to enable work from home scenarios, security has taken on an even higher level of urgency for our customers,” states Rami Pinku, Dalet Deputy General Manager, R&D Operations. “Our commitment to developing and delivering highly secure solutions that embrace industry best practices is stronger than ever. Dalet security processes start from the moment we begin developing our solutions to the time they’re delivered. We are proud to have achieved the DPP’s security marks for our solutions as these are key criteria for media organizations investing in enterprise-grade workflow solutions.” Achieving the DPP security marks demonstrates Dalet’s commitment to working towards and adhering to cyber security best practice across its entire solution range. Powering exceptional user workflows from enterprise productions to OTT preparation and finished asset distribution, Dalet’s line of DPP accredited media supply chain and broadcast solutions, including Dalet Galaxy five, the Ooyala Flex Media Platform and Dalet’s latest SaaS offerings, Dalet StoreFront, Dalet Media Cortex and Dalet Galaxy xCloud, offer secure, hybrid and highly scalable workflows on-premises and in the cloud. "We're delighted that Dalet has been awarded the DPP's Committed to Security mark for both Broadcast and Production," says Rowan de Pomerai, DPP Head of Delivery & Growth. "Building on the great work they did with the Ooyala Flex Media Platform, all Dalet products are now developed in line with our Security guidelines, meaning that they remain part of a community of forward-thinking companies demonstrating a clear commitment to cybersecurity best practice, and to playing their part in building a more secure media supply chain." About the DPP Committed to Security program The DPP launched the Committed to Security program in October 2017 to help technology providers advance, hone and demonstrate their commitment to security best-practices. Participants are assessed according to a rigorous set of controls specifically applied within the categories of Production, including policies and procedures, physical security, incident planning, recovery management, IT security, business continuity and other areas; and Broadcast, including documentation & testing, authentication and controls. For more information go to and About Dalet Digital Media Systems Dalet solutions and services enable media organizations to create, manage and distribute content faster and more efficiently, fully maximizing the value of assets. Based on an agile foundation, Dalet offers rich collaborative tools empowering end-to-end workflows for news, sports, program preparation, post-production, archives and enterprise content management, radio, education, governments and institutions. Dalet platforms are scalable and modular. They offer targeted applications with key capabilities to address critical functions of small to large media operations - such as planning, workflow orchestration, ingest, cataloging, editing, chat & notifications, transcoding, play out automation, multi-platform distribution and analytics. The integration of the Ooyala Flex Media Platform business has opened vast opportunities for Dalet customers to deploy successful strategies that better address their audiences with agile multi-platform content distribution in a wider range of markets, such as sports for teams and leagues, brands and corporate organizations, as well as Media and Entertainment companies looking to scale up their digital offerings. Dalet solutions and services are used around the world at hundreds of content producers and distributors, including public broadcasters (BBC, CBC, France TV, RAI, TV2 Denmark, RFI, Russia Today, RT Malaysia, SBS Australia, VOA), commercial networks and operators (Canal+, FOX, MBC Dubai, Mediacorp, Fox Sports Australia, Turner Asia, Mediaset, Orange, Charter Spectrum, Warner Bros, Sirius XM Radio), sporting organizations (National Rugby League, FIVB, Bundesliga) and government organizations (UK Parliament, NATO, United Nations, Veterans Affairs, NASA). Dalet is traded on the NYSE-EURONEXT stock exchange (Eurolist C): ISIN: FR0011026749, Bloomberg DLT:FP, Reuters: DALE.PA. Dalet® is a registered trademark of Dalet Digital Media Systems. All other products and trademarks mentioned herein belong to their respective owners.
Reinheitsgebot: A clear and positive influence on the definition of European media file exchange and delivery formats
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
5 reasons why media delivery standards might be good for your business
Like me, I am sure that you have been to a restaurant in a group and everyone orders from the set menu EXCEPT for that one person who orders the exotic, freshly prepared fugu, which requires an extra 30 minutes of preparation from a licensed fugu chef so that the customers don't die eating it. Restaurant etiquette means that our main course is served at the same time, forcing everyone to spend a long time hungry, waiting for the special case. And if you split the bill equally, the special case becomes subsidised by the people wanting the set meal. Does this model relate to the media industry? Is there a cost for being special? How can we reduce that cost? What gets done with the cost savings? How can you help? Fortunately those 5 questions lead into 5 reasons why delivery standards might be a good idea. 1. The set meal is more efficient than the a la carte I must confess that when I write this blog while hungry there will be a lot of food analogies. I'm quite simple really. In the "set meal" case - you can see how it's easier for the kitchen to make a large volume of the most common meal and to deliver it more quickly and accurately than a large number of individual cases. In the file delivery world, the same is true. By restricting the number of choices to a common subset that meet a general business need, it is a lot easier to test the implementations by multiple vendors and to ensure that interoperability is maximised for minimum cost. In a world where every customer can choose a different mix of codecs, audio layout, subtitle & caption formats, you quickly end up with an untestable mess. In that chaotic world, you will also get a lot of rejects. It always surprises me, how few companies have any way of measuring the cost of those rejects, even though they are known to cause pain in the workflow. A standardised, business-oriented delivery specification should help to reduce all of these problems. 2. Is there a cost for being special? I often hear the statement – "It's only an internal format - we don't need to use a standard". The justification is often that the company can react more quickly and cheaply. Unfortunately, every decision has a lifespan. These short-term special decisions often start with a single vendor implementing the special internal format. Time passes and then a second vendor implements it, then a third. Ultimately the custom cost engineering the special internal format is spent 3 or 4 times with different vendors. Finally the original equipment will end of life and the whole archive will have to be migrated. This is often the most costly part of the life cycle as the obsolete special internal format is carefully converted into something new and hopefully more interchangeable. Is there a cost of being special? Oh yes, and it is often over and over again. 3. How can we reduce costs? The usual way to reduce costs is to increase automation and to increase "lights out" operation. In the file delivery world, this means automation of transcode AND metadata handling AND QC AND workflow. At Dalet and AmberFin, all these skills are well understood and mastered. The cost savings come about when the number of variables in the system is reduced and the reliability increases. Limiting the choices on metadata, QC metrics, transcode options, workflow branches increases the likelihood of success. Learning from experiences of the Digital Production Partnership in the UK, it seems that tailoring a specific set of QC tests to a standardised delivery specification with standardised metadata will increase efficiency and reduce costs. The Joint Task Force on File Formats and Media Interoperability is building on the UK's experience to create an American standard that will continue to deliver these savings 4. What gets done with the cost savings? The nice thing about the open standards approach is the savings are shared between the vendors who make the software (they don't have to spend as much money testing special formats) and the owners of that software (who spend less time and effort on-boarding, interoperability testing and regression testing when they upgrade software versions.) 5. How can you help? The easiest way is to add your user requirements to the Joint Task Force on File Formats and Media Interoperability list. These user requirements will be used to prioritise the standardisation work and help deliver a technical solution to a commercial problem. For an overview of some of the thinking behind the technology, you could check out my NAB2014 video on the subject, or the presentation given by Clyde Smith of Fox. Until next time.
HPA: Mapping the Future, One Pixel at a Time
I love the HPA Tech Retreat. It is the most thought provoking conference of the year, one where you're guaranteed to learn something new, meet interesting people and get a preview of the ideas that will shape the future of the industry. Here are the six most interesting things I learned this year. Collaborating competitors can affect opinions At this year’s HPA Tech Retreat, I had the honour of presenting a paper with John Pallett from Telestream. Despite the fact that our products compete in the market place, we felt it important to collaborate and educate the world on the subject of fractional frame rates. 30 minutes of deep math on drop frame timecode would have been a little dry, so we took some lessons from great comedy double acts and kept the audience laughing, while at the same time pointing out the hidden costs and pitfalls of fractional frame rates that most people miss. We also showed that there is a commercial inertia in the industry, which means the frame rate 29.97i will be with us for a very long time. In addition to formal presentations, HPA also features breakfast round tables, where each table discusses a single topic. I hosted two great round tables, with John as a guest host on one, where the ground swell of opinion seems to be that enforcing integer frame rate above 59.94fps is practical, and any resulting technical issues can be solved – as long as they are known. I will never be smart enough to design a lens Larry Thorpe of Canon gave an outstanding presentation of the design process for their latest zoom lens. The requirements at first seemed impossible: design a 4K lens with long zoom range that is light, physically compact, and free from aberrations to meet the high demands of 4K production. He showed pictures of lens groupings and then explained why they couldn't be used because of the size and weight constraints. He went on to show light ray plots and the long list of lens defects that they were battling against. By the end of the process, most members of the audience were staring with awe at the finished lens, because the design process seemed to be magical. I think that I will stick to the relative simplicity of improving the world's file-based interoperability. Solar flares affect your productions We've all seen camera footage with stuck or lit pixels and, like most people, we probably assumed that they were a result of manufacturing defects or physical damage. Joel Ordesky of Court Five Productions presented a fascinating paper on the effects of gamma photons, which, when passing through a camera’s sensor, cause the sensor to permanently impair individual pixels. This is something that cannot be protected against unless you do all of your shooting underground in a lead lined bunker. Joel presented some interesting correlations between sun spot activity and lit pixels appearing in his hire stock, and then showed how careful black balance procedures can then reduce the visibility of the issue. UHD is coming – honest The HPA Tech Retreat saw a huge range of papers on Ultra High Definition (UHD) issues and their impacts. These ranged from sensors to color representation to display processing, compression, high frame rates and a slew of other issues. I think that everyone in the audience recognised the inevitability of UHD and that the initial offering will be UHDTV featuring resolution improvements. This is largely driven by the fact that UHD screens seem to be profitable for manufacturers; soon enough they will be the only options available at your local tech store (that’s just good business!). The displays are arriving before the rest of the ecosystem is ready (a bit like HDTV), but it also seems that most of the audience feels better colour and high dynamic range (HDR) is a more compelling offering than more pixels. For me, the best demonstration of this was the laser projector showing scenes in true BT2020 wide colour range. First we saw the well-known HDTV Rec.709 colour range and everything looked normal. Next up was the same scene in BT2020 – and it was stunning. Back to Rec.709, and the scene that looked just fine only seconds before now appeared washed out and unsatisfactory. I think HDR and rich colors will be addictive. Once you've seen well-shot, full color scenes, you won't want to go back to Rec.709. The future is looking very colourful. Women are making more of an impact in the industry (Hooray!) There were three all-women panels at this year's HPA, none of which were on the subject of women in the industry. This was a stark contrast to the view of women in the industry as shown on a 1930s documentary of the SMPTE Conference, where men with cigars dominated the proceedings and women were reduced to participating in the chattering social scene. This contrast was beautifully and ironically highlighted by Barbara Lange (Executive Director of SMPTE) and Wendy Aylesworth (President of SMPTE 2005-2015), who hosted their panel in bathrobes with martini glasses, while explaining the achievements of the society over the year. If you haven't yet contributed to the SMPTE documentary film project or the SMPTE centennial fund, it's time to do so now. These funds will help support the next, diverse generation of stars. IMF and DPP are a symbiotic pair One of the most interesting panels was on the Interoperable Mastering Format (IMF) and the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) interchange format (and yes, this was in fact one of my panels!). One format’s purpose is to distribute a bundle of files representing several versions of one title. The other is designed to create a finished, single file with ingest-ready metadata, where the file can be moved to playout with virtually no changes. Both formats have a strong foothold in the life cycle of any title and are likely to form the strongest symbiotic relationship as we move into the future. One thing that I pointed out to the audience is that the DPP has done a huge amount of work educating UK production and postproduction houses about the change management that is required for file-based delivery. They have written a wonderful FREE guide that you can download from their website. All in all, the HPA Tech Retreat is a wonderful event with so much information flowing that it takes weeks to absorb it all. I must confess though, that one of the highlights for me was being able to cycle up the mountain every morning before breakfast. It meant that I could go back for seconds of all the wonderful cake that was on offer. Happy days! Until next time – don't forget about our UHD webinar, happening today. If you didn’t sign up in time, drop us a line at and ask for a re-run. The more people that ask, the more likely that we'll do it!
IBC2014 Pre-Awards: BT Sport Rocks the Red Carpet
The excitement is building for the IBC2014 Innovation Awards. The big show hasn’t even started yet, but Content Management nominee BT Sport is already turning heads on the proverbial red carpet. The broadcast studio quickly made its mark on UK sports television after its official launch last summer. With three sports channels and an extensive digital-media offering from a state-of-the-art production center (built in the international broadcast center previously home to the London 2012 Olympic Games), interest has peaked. BT Sport became the first UK broadcaster to adopt the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) file-based delivery specifications for all its internal and external productions, and it’s looking more and more like their leap into the future will land them on this year’s “best dressed” list. Funded by BBC, ITV and Channel 4, the DPP was formed by British broadcasters to help producers and broadcasters maximize the benefits of digital production. While the DPP rules that it will be required that all UK program makers deliver digitally using AS-11 as of October 15, 2014, the standards and practices proposed by the DPP are already being widely adopted across the British television industry. BT Sport was happy to blaze the trail. For more information on the DPP deadline and what it means for the industry, check out our post, DPP deadline day – what’s all the fuss about? After appointing Timeline Television as their service provider, BT Sport chose to work with AmberFin to turn their file-based delivery dreams into a reality. If you’re not already aware, AmberFin is both a supporter of the DPP initiative and a developer of a sophisticated family of AS-11 UK DPP-enabling products and systems. Timeline Television worked with AmberFin to integrate the company’s iCR software platform into BT Sport’s groundbreaking production center, which includes three studios – two of which can be configured into one 14,000-square foot studio claiming to be the largest LED-lit L-shaped studio in the world. AmberFin provides high-speed file playback and transcoding resources as well as comprehensive standard conversion capabilities in BT Sport’s facility. In addition, AmberFin’s UQC (Unified Quality Control) technology combines the best of both automated and manual file-based QC to ensure high media integrity and quality as well as rapid turnaround of workflow material. Essentially, it’s making the whole process far more efficient. BT Sport’s production center has been praised as forward thinking, innovative and efficient, so it’s no wonder the crowd favorite was shortlisted for IBC’s Content Management category. They’re certainly rocking the pre-awards show. About the IBC2014 Innovation Awards The IBC Innovation Awards are very highly regarded because they are unique. They honour not just new developments but the way they are used to solve a real world puzzle. They have to help a broadcaster or media company be more creative, more efficient or reach its audience better. The IBC2014 Awards Ceremony will take place at 18:30 on Sunday 14 September in the auditorium at the RAI. See the full shortlist for the IBC2014 Innovation Awards here:
Why is Hollywood interested in DPP?
The Digital Production Partnership (DPP) is a thoroughly British concept. Its major sponsors include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky. From its earliest inception, DPP was an initiative forged by the British broadcast industry, for the British broadcast industry. So why is it that in my day-to-day dialogue with executives in and around the Hollywood studio community DPP is frequently raised and I’m asked for regular updates on its progression? Without doubt, AmberFin has been a big supporter of DPP initiative from day one. With people on our team such as my colleague Bruce Devlin - who is co-author of SMPTE’s MXF specification - we really know our onions when it comes to intra- and inter-company file-based media workflows, so who better to ask than AmberFin? But I believe this US interest in an inherently UK initiative goes much deeper than technical curiosity and is fuelled by commercial considerations on a global scale. Can the DPP initiative support a global industry? As we all know, today’s broadcast media market is entirely global. International markets offer tremendous opportunities for broadcasters to maximise their revenues. The BBC’s Top Gear programme, for example, has become a global phenomenon and is watched by more than 350 million viewers in 170 countries – each broadcaster in each market having their own delivery specification and without doubt, there is a significant amount of duplicated pain associated with the necessary testing of delivery specs – especially when upgrading software and systems. In order to maximise global revenues, more and more versions of material are created to satisfy this demand. Standards such as SMPTE’s IMF (Interoperable Master Format) address the need to “publish” multiple versions of a media asset for shipping to the ‘despatch’ company, which is typically a Post House. Now standards such as DPP in the UK and the tongue-tripping, US-originated Joint Task Force on File Formats and Media Interoperability (JTFFFMI) provide delivery specifications for a commercially significant territory. The underlying ethos of both of these initiatives is that they reduce overall system complexity without affecting business flexibility and through this they make very sound commercial sense for anybody involved in this market, on either side of the Mill Pond. JTFFFMI – now there’s an acronym to be proud of! The JTFFFMI is a new industry group that has recently been formed by AMWA, SMPTE, NABA, 4A's, ANA, EBU and the IABM. The kick-off meeting took place last week in New York and I attended. So far, it is too early to tell if any of the practices and specifications deployed by the DPP will be utilised in the US, but without doubt, the DPP is providing a valuable testing ground and insight as to the best practices and potential pitfalls that manifest themselves in this area. Having been involved with the DPP from the earliest stages, I applaud their approach. The DPP’s intention was never to be dictatorial and impose its preferred flavour of MXF. It has created a forum where all interested parties, including broadcasters, facilities and equipment vendors, can come together and evolve a set of application specifications that are most appropriate for the UK. What will happen on 15 October 2014? Without doubt, not everything that is appropriate to the UK will necessarily be equally appropriate to other regional markets, but what the DPP has achieved is to break the back of this herculean challenge and create a blueprint that will help any other territories develop their own application specifications for MXF-based file-based workflows. This time, it really is rocket science and this is why Hollywood, and indeed, many other areas of North America are closely watching the development and deployment of DPP. DPP Deadline Day – 15th October 2014 – is fast approaching. The world is watching to see what will happen – will they be watching your organization? If you would like more information about the DPP, then a very good starting point is AmberFin’s Technical White Paper, which you can download for free here -
QC control within file-based workflows – an EBU update
At AmberFin, Quality Control (QC) has always been close to our hearts. Media files must always be fit for purpose – when they are not they quickly become toxic and can be highly destructive within any file-based workflow: The EBU shares our point of view- QC is key. “Broadcasters moving to file-based production facilities have to consider how to use automated Quality Control (QC) systems. Manual quality control is simply not adequate anymore and it does not scale,” so says the EBU. The EBU recognised QC as an important topic for the media industry in 2010. In 2011 it started anEBU Strategic Programme on Quality Control, with the aim to collect requirements, experiences and to create recommendations for broadcasters implementing file-based QC in their facilities. So what is QC all about? In an earlier blog, I questioned whether the broadcast industry really understands what Media Asset Management (MAM) systems are, and here too in QC, I fear that some vendors are muddying the waters. In Quality Control the big clue is in the word “control” and the role played by QC systems must not be confused with Test & Measurement (T&M) or Quality Assurance (QA) systems. In short, QC requires careful T&M of media parameters as a starting point but then the user needs to analyse the T&M data in order to make decisions (control) before modifying processes and making other decisions to assure quality is maintained throughout a file-based workflow. The role of EBU in bringing stability to QC To do this consistently, we need all the technology vendors to measure and report on these measures in the same way. The EBU QC project has succeeded in defining a set of metrics that can be consistently measured and reported on. The full range of QC criteria has been presented by the EBU as a periodic table which would grace (and fill) any chemistry lab wall. But the great standardisation work does not stop there – within the UK-based Digital Production Partnership (DPP) much more work has been done to identify the optimum number of tests required to prove that a DPP compliant file is indeed, compliant . The DPP’s aim is to take the completed EBU definitions & create a minimum set of tests & tolerance levels required to deliver a compliant DPP AS-11 file to UK Broadcasters.The timeline for implementation will depend on the outputs of the EBU group, but publication is likely to be during Spring this year. Over time, the UK’s broadcasters will move away from performing a full QC check on all delivered programmes, and rely on a spot check. A spot check, as opposed to full QC, is a technical video and audio check for every programme at the start, mid-point, and end. It also includes checks on key metadata such as SOM, duration, identifiers etc. Production companies will be required to deliver their compliant files along with a valid QC report, as has previously been the case with the PSE report. Why not engage with the EBU project online? The important thing in all of this work is that the recommendations that are made are based on the largest collective point of view possible. The EBU really appreciate input from as many people and organizations as possible. If you are a broadcaster, an SI, or indeed a QC product provider then why not get involved – go to the EBU’s website and follow the instructions to provide your feedback to this important initiative. Also, if you want to know more about the underlying principles to QC within file-based workflows you can download AmberFin’s free technical White Paper.
Mixed cadence, a broadcaster’s view
Sadly, nothing in life is perfect and this is as applicable in the broadcast sector as anywhere else. Despite the best laid plans, what starts out as something good will over time fall foul to simple time and commercial pressure: As soon as compromises are made, the potential for problems – either immediate or further down the workflow – is created. The media value chain is long and the lifetime of media can also be long. In today’s busy world, there just isn’t the time or money to keep material in its native format throughout a broadcast facility. The consequence is that a US broadcaster or media company will normalize all of its content to a standard Mezzanine form on ingest. Commonly this will be a format like XDCAM HD or AVCIntra or DNxHD or ProRes, but in nearly all cases the frame rate will be 29.97. How deeply seated is the mixed cadence problem? Providing that the only thing that happens next is simply the playout of the media, then all is well. Standard, reliable, known ways of inserting a 2:3 cadence are in common use in ingest devices, transcoders etc. and those devices, by and large, are quite good at it. Life, however, is never that simple. Many processes are required before the content airs, depending on the material and the territory. Whereas a few years ago, these processes may have been done on a live video stream, there is a trend for these processes to happen in the editing software. Edit for duration Transcode on the way into and / or out of an edit platform Overlay a logo Edit for censorship Insert black segments / slugs for adverts Squeeze & tease New credit roll Transcode on the way into an archive Transcode on the way out of an archive (maybe as a partial restore) So we now have a sensibly made movie that has become a video sequence with a 2:3 cadence where the chance that 2:2 cadence video edits, effects and overlays corrupting the underlying 2:3 cadence has dramatically increased. In short, your perfect film has turned into a video nasty. Commercial pressures lead to rushed decisions Again, if all you’re going to do is play it out at 30/1.001 fps then any problems are generally invisible. Life, today, is getting more complicated and there is huge commercial pressure to quickly and automatically push that content on a multi-platform distribution system, or move the content to another territory for re-broadcast. The lifecycle of the media becomes more erratic now. Sometimes there will be an attempt to recover the original 24fps material, often there will be scaling to change resolution, sometimes there will be scaling to change aspect ratio, sometimes there will be a standards conversion to a new frame rate, sometimes there will be further editing. This is where the problems really start. Compression algorithms work best when content is predictable. A regular 2:3 sequence should be easier to compress than a 2:3 sequence with breaks, hiccups and video overlays. Removing a 2:3 sequence is trivial if the sequence is regular. If, however, the sequence is irregular with video overlays on portions of the content and with video inserts, then getting back to the “original” 24fps becomes very difficult. Failing to handle the cadence correctly has a knock-on effect on every downstream process because once upstream problems have been “stamped into” the content by a compression stage, then removing is more and more difficult. Mixed cadence – keep the solution simple Fixing cadence issues assumes that you know what problem you want to fix. There are some very complex, and costly, cadence correction solutions on the market but you don’t need, or want, something that is too complicated. In an ideal world, your operators need a solution with a GUI that is intuitive and easy to operate. Today, more flexible post-production workflows make this mixed cadence challenge is a more common occurrence. You need a solution that fixes the business problem and delivers your perfect film back from the video nasty. At AmberFin, we have looked at the various techniques involved in removing cadence problems and in changing frame rates in general. We have developed a method of adaptively switching between different conversion mechanisms, which provides the ability for user control of conversion policy on a file by file basis as well as the ability to review automated decisions within a QC environment. To learn more about this really neat, business focused mixed cadence solution you can download our free White Paper. I hope you found this blog post interesting and helpful. If so, why not sign-up to receive notifications of new blog posts as they are published?
#DPPIOD – The Digital Production Partnership Interoperability Day (what, no HEVC?)
This week say another Digital Production PartnershipInteroperability Day. It was bigger and better than all the ones that went before. More importantly it seems that interoperability is going beyond simple video and audio and is including themetadata that is exchanged along with the file: We’re seeing more device types being DPP-native. It’s no longer just transcoders and players – there are ingest devices, servers and QC tools that are all becoming DPP aware. The work that’s going on within the Digital Production Partnership is attracting a room full of people that exceeds the borders of the UK. The topic is important enough for vendors to fly in from Europe and for multi-vendor testing to exercise the whole stack, not just the MXF layer. If you’re a follower of twitter, then a running commentary of the day is online and it makes interesting and very positive reading. Are we in good shape for the October file delivery deadline? Yes, I think so. There is still work to do in the UK though. There was interesting discussion on the nature of the specifications and the fact that bitstream compliance does not 100% guarantee that everything will work. Vendors are forced to provide option switches that control behaviour depending on the context of the operation. AmberFin was willing to share a use case with the group. We made some DPP files. No-one found any errors in the file and they appeared to meet the specification. A layout server was able to play them, but there appeared to be an interesting behaviour when it came to queuing to Timecode and overlaying Timecode. It seems that the playout server was taking Timecode from two different places in the file – one mandatory and one optional. This makes perfect sense for the way in which the server was configured, but the fact that the optional Timecode was not in the file caused an error. Well Bruce, I hear you say, why not put the optional Timecode in the file and make the server happy without having to change its configuration? This is indeed what we did via configuration of ourtranscoder BUT this may potentially be dangerous in a complex workflow. By inserting a frame-by-frame Timecode that is optional, we have now increased the chances of Timecode discontinuities downstream. Someone may edit the file next week, next month or next year. Because the optional Timecode is not looked at by all software devices, the edit may well create a discontinuity in the embedded Timecode that is not picked up until it reaches the playout server in a week, a month or a year. Worse still, the discontinuity may be localised to the end of the file and a 3 spot check would never pick it up. This was a good topic of conversation amongst designers, specification writers and the operational staff who have to cope with these issues. It’s clear that the DPP’s delivery specification is a powerful interoperable tool for UK based file delivery. It’s also clear that as an industry we have to start looking at the behaviour rules of software so that we can make systems that have long term stability. It is not enough to have compliant bitstreams to guarantee system stability. I continue to be proud to work with the DPP and as Andy Quested of the BBC pointed out – it must be working because staff in some of the post houses have enough time to create funny videos. I am sure at NAB there will be lots of talk about future HEVC projects, but for me the real action is tangible changes in our business with files truly replacing tapes and the improved connectivity between business processes using assisted, unified QC to transfer trust between organisations. If you want to know about HEVC, then feel free to download our white paper, but if you prefer to recognise the importance of trust transfer between businesses then our UQC paper might be more interesting. See you at NAB. I hope you found this blog post interesting and helpful. If so, why not sign-up to receive notifications of new blog posts as they are published?
Taking MXF Interoperability to the next level
Next week, in a corner of the Bayerischer Rundfunk campus in Munich, Germany, likely without much fanfare, something fairly monumental will take place – the IRT MXF PlugFest. Now in its ninth year, this event brings together vendors in the media and entertainment industry to facilitate MXF interoperability tests. Following each event, the IRT (Institute für Rundfunktechnik) publishes a report on the levels of overall interoperability, standard compliance, decoder robustness, and the common errors and interoperability issues – you can download the previous reports here. All of the previous eight reports make interesting reading (particularly if read in order), but none has been more greatly anticipated than the report due from this ninth PlugFest. What then, you may ask, makes this year’s event so special that we would dedicate a whole blog post to a relatively small, vendor-only event in Bavaria? The UK DPP (Digital Production Partnership) has been closely watched by a number of industry organizations and groups, particularly with regards to the file specification it has published, based on AMWA AS-11 for the delivery and interchange of media files. This specification aims to end the headache of media file interoperability at the point of delivery for broadcasters and media facilities across the UK and Ireland. While the issue of file compatibility is not unique to the UK, unique challenges in the German-speaking media community have dictated a slightly different approach to the creation of a standardized interchange format. The ARD group, the Association of Public Broadcasting Corporations in the Federal Republic of Germany, is made up of 10 member broadcasters, covering regional, national and international distribution, who have the capability to exchange media at almost any point in any workflow including news, production and archive. In July this year, together with ZDF (in English: the Second German Television), with support from other German-language public and private broadcasters, the ARD published two new MXF-based media file-format “profiles.” At this point, you would be forgiven for asking, “Do we really need another specification/standard?” In fact, the two profiles, named HDF01 and HDF02, are not too dissimilar to the AMWA Application Specifications AS-10 and AS-11. What makes the ARD-ZDF MXF-profiles different is that not only do they describe what the output of the MXF encoder should look like, but the tolerances and behavior of MXF decoders. For example, MXF files compliant with the profiles shall not have any ancillary date tracks (commonly used for the carriage of subtitles or transitory audio and aspect ratio metadata), but to ensure interoperability, it is required that decoders are tolerant of ancillary data tracks that may be present. Specifying not only the encoder, but also decoder behavior will have a massive benefit to interoperability, particularly when deploying and testing systems. Many of the properties specified in the profiles are low-level elements that frequently cause interoperability problems that require lengthy discussions between multiple vendors, users and integrators to find resolution. Constrained encoding profiles ensure that “problematic” files can quickly be analyzed and “non-compliant” elements identified, but without specifying additional decoder requirements, applying these constraints can introduce as many challenges as they remove with little or no consideration for legacy assets or flexibility to find quick, short-term resolutions to interoperability issues in workflow. Dalet is proud to have been one of the very first vendors to have a product certified by AMWA for the creation of UK DPP delivery specification compliant files and is equally pleased to be going into the first IRT MXF PlugFest since the publication of the HDF01 and HDF02 ARD-ZDF MXF profiles, as one of the first few to fully support the new profiles. The event next week will set the baseline for a new era in media file interoperability and, while reading the historic MXF PlugFest reports is interesting, I personally cannot wait to see what I expect to be the biggest change yet, between the report for next week’s ninth and 2015’s 10th event.
Are you going to BVE?
So 2014 is showing the same tendency to slip by as previous years and here we are with BVEjust around the corner. Having made the short journey across London to the Excel centre, this year’s event will be important for several reasons: Apart from the annual gathering of the broadcast industry clan, this year is significant in that it marks the Digital Production Partnership’s deadline for the adoption of its specifications. At BVE, on stand N45, we will come together with our UK regional channel partner, broadcast systems integrator, ATG Broadcast, to jointly promote an approach to the adoption of digital file-based workflows that focuses on the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) initiative in the UK. Final BVE before DPP deadline day From its outset, AmberFin has been a strong supporter of the DPP initiative because it promises Open Standards interoperability and this dovetails neatly with the company’s strategic development goals. The DPP’s self-imposed deadline of 1st October 2014, where file-based content delivery becomes the preferred exchange format for almost all major UK broadcasters is less than nine months away and still most facilities and production companies are a long way from finalizing their DPP adoption strategies, so BVE 2014 will be an important event, helping them firm up their implementation plans. The widespread adoption of the DPP specification will be an important event in the UK broadcast industry and many other geographic regions are watching its progress very closely. DPP will be a defining moment when all the hard work that has been put into standards such as MXF come to fruition and we see the many significant benefits that file-based workflowscan bring to broadcast operations of all sizes and scales. Affordable Transcode Farm Controller Another UK first for AmberFin at BVE sees the showcase of our new affordable Transcode Farm Controller which enables the creation of transcode farms that are scalable from one to many nodes whilst providing fault tolerant operation. With our AmberFin iCR platform, media facilities of all sizes, scales and business models can scale up an initial proof of concept to whatever system capacity they require without needing any kind of external orchestration system and in doing so dynamically support their business development strategy with minimum capital expenditure. First introduced at IBC last year, the new iCR Transcode Farm Controller functionality builds on AmberFin’s market leading multi-format transcode capabilities. It significantly increases the flexibility and versatility of a multi-node transcode environment, bringing improved resilience and robustness whilst simultaneously bringing cost savings through more versatile network licensing capabilities. So, as you can see, we have lots to tell and show off at BVE. Assuming that we haven’t all floated away on the floods by then, make sure to call around to stand N45 and have a chat with our team of product and market specialists. If you can’t make it to the Excel, then another good option is to download a selection of our free White Papers which look at many areas of new technology and file-based media operations from DPP to Enterprise-Class transcoders.
Building a business around DPP (Digital Production Partnership)
Much of what has been said and written recently about the Digital Production Partnership (DPP)centres on the enabling technology and the versatility of the standards created by the organisation. Whilst AmberFin is a company with technology implementation at its heart, we never forget that the technology is just a means to and end, rather than an end in itself: The end is the building of enterprise operations around the media transformation process. How can we make the most efficient media factory possible – one that will thrive in today’s dynamic market? When looked at in this way, DPP is so much more then really creative technology and thoughtful standardisation. DPP is a platform around which businesses can expand their enterprise operations, increase operating efficiency and minimise task duplication and resource waste. Make your business exempt to interoperability tax 
If your business were to become an early adopter of DPP, you would be making yourself exempt from an interoperability tax (if such a thing existed). When you look at a single transaction, the extra cost and resources needed if system interoperability is an issue might seem insignificant, but when you multiply this by hundreds of files the cost soon adds up to something really significant. In a standardised DPP world, to achieve true system interoperability across the industry there would be a limited amount of pain and cost felt by everybody but this would be shared equally amongst the organizations involved and it would be a limited cost, which is incurred only once. After this point, our industry has a fantastic common interchange format to help encourage partnerships and build businesses. In a world that has adopted DPP, media and metadata interoperability is not an issue since the format is built on a strong, detailed common interchange specification. In this homogeneous scenario the resources that would have been used in the interoperability engineering process can be used in more creative and productive ways, such as programme making. Let’s exploit DPP’s potential and grow our enterprise operations 
The essence of the problem facing our industry today is the lack of a common interchange format to enable these transactions. DPP is the first open public interchange format that is specifically designed to address this issue. DPP is intended to transform today’s 20 per cent trickle of file-based media transactions between organisations into an 80 per cent flood in the shortest time. Yes, in many ways DPP represents a technological innovation but we must never forget the business driver that underpins all of this activity. Whether you are a public service broadcaster or an independent production facility, DPP offers something new and quite different. Its potential to open up new commercial opportunities and generate new business is tremendous. The hard work has been done by DPP. Now, the challenge is how we adopt it. In this situation, the biggest winners will be the first to recognise the opportunity that DPP presents. If you would like to explore these opportunities with one of the leading supporters of DPP then contact your local AmberFin office.