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Jun 30, 2015
Life before and after DPP (Digital Production Partnership)

Life before and after DPP (Digital Production Part

Life before and after DPPPeople that know me will be aware that file-based workflows are a passion of mine. Ten years ago I was co-author of the MXF (Media Exchange Format) specification and ever since I have been engaged in taking this neatSMPTE standard and using it to create a business platform for media enterprises of every size and scale. This is why I’m so excited by the Digital Production Partnership (DPP): 

it represents the first ratified national Application Specification of the MXF standard and is set to revolutionize the way that media facilities and broadcasters work.To explain what I mean, let’s compare life with a DPP ecosystem to life without. 

Less pain to feel the gain


In a standardized DPP world, 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 an unstandardized world, where different facilities have decided to use different tools and variants of MXF or other formats, the major cost becomes the lack of third-party interoperability. Each time content is exchanged between different facilities, a media transcode or rewrap in that format is required.

This means that all vendors in all the facilities will ultimately support all the file formats andmetadata. The engineering required to implement and test takes time and costs money on an on-going basis. 

Interoperable metadata helps the content creator


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. 

Programme making is a process where most broadcasters utilise external resources. In a world without DPP, whenever a broadcaster or production facility receives a new file from an external facility, such as a Post House, the question must be asked whether this file meets the requirements of their in-house standard. That evaluation process can lead to extra QC costs in addition to possible media ingest, transcoding, conformance and metadata re-keying costs that need to be taken into account.

Building a business platform


This heterogeneous environment is an issue not just for interaction with external facilities: often different departments within the same major broadcaster will adopt slightly different file standards and metadata making interoperability a big issue to them. As a result, today only about 70 per cent of transactions within companies are file-based – the remainder employ tape. However, this is much higher than where external agencies are involved – here, only 10 – 15 per cent of transactions are file-based.

The essence of the problem 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 into an 80 per cent flood in the shortest time.

To find out more about DPP and how it can transform the way your operation works and also your effectiveness working with other organizations read AmberFin’s White Paper on DPP.

 

DPP White Paper Download


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More Secrets of Metadata
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If you read my previous posts about IMF, you will already know what it is and how it works. But one of the questions I often get is "how is IMF different from AS02 and will it replace it? After all, don’t they both claim to provide a solution to versioning problems?". In a nutshell, the answer is yes, IMF and AS02 are different and no, IMF will not replace AS02; in fact the two complement and enhance each other. Let me explain: MXF AS02 (for broadcast versioning) and IMF (for movie versioning) grew up at the same time. And while both had very similar requirements in the early stages, we soon ended up in a situation where the level of sophistication required by the broadcasters’ versioning process never really reached critical industry mass. Efforts were continually made to merge the MXF AS02 work and the IMF work to prevent duplication of effort and to ensure that the widest number of interoperable applications could be met with the minimum number of specifications. When it came to merging the AS02 and IMF work, we looked at the question of what would be a good technical solution for all of the versioning that takes place in an increasingly complex value chain. It was clear that in the studio business there was a need for IMF, and that the technical solution should recognize the scale of the challenge. It came down to a very simple technical decision, and a simple case of math. AS02 does all of its versioning using binary MXF files, while IMF does all of its versioning using human-readable XML files. There are maybe 20 or 30 really good MXF binary programmers in the world today; XML is much more generic, and there must be hundreds of thousands of top quality XML programmers out there. Given the growing amount of localized versioning that we are now faced with, it makes sense to use a more generic technology like XML to represent the various content versions whilst maintaining the proven AS02 media wrapping to store the essence components. In a nutshell this is the main difference between AS02 and IMF. Both standards have exactly the same pedigree and aim to solve exactly the same problems, but IMF benefits from a more sophisticated versioning model and therefore requires a greater degree of customization – and XML is a better means of achieving this. IMF is not going to replace AS02. Rather the goal is to get to a place where we have a standardized IMF package as a means of exchanging versioned packages within the workflow. IMF will actually enhance the AS02 bundles that represent componentized clips that are already ingested, transcoded and interchanged today.
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
BEST…NAB…EVER!!!!!
The other day, a member of our talented development team commented, quite accurately, that every time we return from an NAB Show, we nearly always refer to it as the biggest, busiest and best NAB ever. If you’ve ever watched or read one of my presentations or blogs on workflow, you may recollect that I’m a fan of the Toyota Production System and the “Kaizen” concept of continuous improvement. However, I do confess that, following my colleagues’ observation, I momentarily felt a certain amount of pressure to come back from NAB 2015 with evidence that it really was bigger, busier and better than previous years. However, earlier today I was talking to the editor of one of our excellent industry magazines about the most likely themes and trends for this year’s show and something struck me. Although I’m not much of a fan of “buzzword bingo,” given the host of announcements we at Dalet have for this year’s show, I’d place a bet on us sweeping the board. Even before the show, we’ll bring UHD to Dalet AmberFin – supporting UHD inputs in our next release at the end of March. By decoupling format from transport mechanism, Video over IP is one of the most revolutionary changes to the industry in some time, and our Dalet Brio video server platform is spearheading that charge. Building on all of this, Dalet Galaxy, our media asset management platform, continues to facilitate and enhance collaborative workflows with new features for user interaction and geographically dispersed operations –I can barely contain myself from mentioning the “C” word! It doesn’t stop there though. Back in September, we got quite emotional about being one of the first vendors to have a product certified for the creation of UK DPP files. The DPP has led the way in specifying standards and operational guidelines for file delivery and as other regions has followed, Dalet has been right there supporting them. Demonstrating our continued commitment to international standards that improve, ease and simplify the lives of our customers, we’ve now implemented the FIMS capture service in the Brio video server. I believe that initiatives like FIMS become ever more important as the video world increasingly leverages IT technology and, specifically, interaction between control and capture devices as we move to an era of hybrid SDI and IP acquisition. Despite regulatory rulings in the US and elsewhere, captioning and subtitling technology has seen little innovation in the last few years. Since Dalet and AmberFin came together a year ago, we’ve really focused on this as an area where our knowledge and expertise can benefit the industry as a whole. We’re now ready to show you what we’ve been up to and how we can simplify captioning workflows and bring them into multi-platform, multi-version workflows in an effective and efficient way. You’re probably aware of the Dalet Academy, which was launched with much fanfare in January this year. The response from the wider industry has simply been immense, and we now have many thousands of followers subscribed to the Bruce’s Shorts videos and reading our educational blog. For NAB 2015, we’ll be donning our robes and mortarboards to bring the Dalet Academy to the stage, live on our booth (SL4525). Bruce will be there – in his actual shorts – to present special live editions of the video series with support from other Dalet and industry experts for more short seminars. All of the presentations at the show will be followed by a special round-table discussion (limited seating). And while you’re keeping your media knowledge in good shape, there will also be an opportunity to win prizes that are sure to keep you in good shape too! To make sure the excitement doesn’t overwhelm too much, we’re keeping a couple of bits of news to ourselves until the show itself, but if you want to find out more on any of the topics I’ve touched on here, be sure to get in touch, book an appointment, or read more on our dedicated NAB page. As for our development team – sorry guys, I can already tell you that this year is going to be the biggest, busiest and best NAB Show so far!
Could your MXF files be infected with a virus?
We all know not to click on those shifty-looking attachments in emails, or to download files from dubious websites, but as file delivery of media increases, should we be worried about viruses in media files? In the case of the common computer virus, the answer is “probably not” – the structure of media files and applications used to parse or open MXF, QuickTime and other files do not make “good” hosts for this type of virus. Compared to an executable or any kind of XML-based file, media files are very specific in their structure and purpose – only containing metadata, video and audio – with any element labeled appropriately sent to the applicable decoder. Any labels that are not understood or supported by the parser are simply ignored. However, this behavior of ignoring unsupported or unrecognized labels facilitates the existence of “dark metadata,” and this is a potential area of weakness in the broadcast chain. Dark metadata isn’t necessarily as menacing as the name could suggest and is most commonly used by media equipment and software vendors to store proprietary metadata that can be used downstream to inform dynamic processes – for example, to change the aspect ratio conversion mode during up or down conversion, or audio routing in a playout video server. When you know what dark metadata you have, where it is and what it means, it can add value to the workflow chain. Since dark metadata will usually be ignored by parsers that don’t understand/support the proprietary data it carries, it can also be passed through the media lifecycle in a completely harmless way. However, if you are not aware of the existence of dark metadata and/or the values of the data it carries, then there is a risk that processes in the media path could be modified or activated unintentionally and unexpectedly. In this case, the media is in some way carrying a virus and in the worst case, could result in lost revenue. The anti-virus software installed on your home or work PC isn’t going to be much help in this instance, but there are simple steps that can be taken to ensure that you don’t fall foul of “unknown unknowns.” Implement a “normalization” stage at the entry point for media into your workflow. You can read other articles in this blog about the benefits of using a mezzanine file format, but even if files are delivered in the same format you use in-house, a simple re-wrapping process to “clean” and normalize the files can be a very lightweight process that adds little or no latency into the workflow. Talk to your suppliers and vendors to make sure you’re aware of any proprietary metadata that may be being passed into your workflow. If you have an automated file-QC tool, check whether it has a “dark metadata” test and switch it on – unless you definitely use proprietary metadata in your workflow, this won’t generate false positives and shouldn’t add any significant length to the test plan. We’ll be looking at some of the other security concerns in future blogs, but as long as you know your dark metadata, there’s little risk of viral infection from media files.