Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


The push towards full file-based systems

File-based operations and integrated workflows are no longer just buzzwords, they are increasingly the reality for broadcasters today. Kevin Hilton looks at the joint project by the AMWA and the EBU to ensure everything works together and discovers audio is a crucial part of all this.

New technologies typically go through several stages before they are completely the norm. File-based working is nothing new in broadcasting. Radio was flirting with it back in the mid-1990s as a way for reporters to deliver material. TV and post-production has followed this lead and now both sound and video are either produced as data from the start or converted later. On location, in the studio and at the post-production stage through digital intermediate (DI) this is now the generally accepted way of getting things done. So it comes as a surprise that the industry is not as fully data-centric as might be thought. “We’ve got the interoperability between different pieces of equipment but that’s not sufficient for complete file-based operations,” says Brad Gilmer, executive director of the AMWA (Advanced Media Workflow Association). “What is needed is implementation at the systems level so different facilities within a broadcast centre can connect and work on the same project.” The goal is the creation of the rather unwieldy named Service Oriented Media Workflows, which work over networks with IP playing a major role. To achieve this end the AMWA has teamed up with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to form FIMS (Framework for Interoperable Media Services) Task Force, which will be giving demonstrations of full broadcast production chains based on the principle during NAB. These will show what are regarded as typical media services, including ingest, capture, move and transcoding. All these functions will be based on the exchange of media files created using the AS-02 MXF (Material eXchange Format) versioning format. IBM and Sony are providing what are extravagantly described as “orchestration engines”, with other key equipment being supplied by Avid, Cinegy and RadiantGrid, supported by Snell, Italian public broadcaster RAI and UK play-out facility Red Bee Media. The main audio component of FIMS comes from German manufacturer and developer Cube-Tec. Formed by the merger of Houpert Digital Audio (HDA), Cube Technologies GmbH and Cube-Tec Development, the company is best known for its archive processing products, including Quadriga and Dobbin. Originally designed as an audio processor and rendering engine, Dobbin’s features have been expanded to included a loudness assimilator and calculator to automatically normalise sound levels in material being transferred from an archive, in accordance with EBU R128. Jörg Houpert (pictured), head of R&D at Cube-Tec, says the company made the decision to include loudness capability in Dobbin because it has “the most relevance” to broadcasters who might otherwise be unfamiliar with the company’s activities and products. “Our archiving products wouldn’t be the most important to broadcasters but loudness is and with the CALM [Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation] Act just passed in the US, NAB is a good place to promote both R128 and FIMS,” he says. Cube-Tec systems are used for the mass ingest of audio material from quarter-inch tapes, cassettes and LPs into workflow and archives. An algorithm controls the transfer, so, Houpert says, the operator only needs to deal with the more problematic elements and can get more done simultaneously. The Dobbin loudness normalisation is only applied to material that is being transferred from an archive into a production flow for playback. Houpert explains that the amount of loudness control applied is determined by the metadata attached to the file, which identifies the kind of material it is (programme, commercial, promo). Houpert acknowledges that audio might be regarded as a relatively small part of a file-based production chain but says companies like Cube-Tec have been working with material as data for at least ten years and so have more experience with the concept than many of their video counterparts. Brad Gilmer of the AMWA, who began his career as a sound engineer in radio, agrees. “The audio industry has been working with files for a lot longer than the video market, partly because there is so much video information to convert,” he says. “Video is being handled as files today but audio is still a critical part of all this, as Cube-Tec has shown. If you don’t have audio you don’t have a programme so there is no question that we want other sound companies involved in what the FIMS Task Force is doing.”