Engineers are betting the new video metadata specification under development within the Advanced Media Workflow Association will result in seamless interoperability of software and devices from a variety of vendors. “Our goal is to have a single file that could move from camera to edit to playout to archive and back, really to be able to traverse the entire work flow,” says CNN’s Michael Koetter. Part of the vision is a certification program that would allow vendors to put an “AS-10 Inside” seal on their products.
One of the problems in dealing with video files in the never-quick-enough environment of a TV newsroom is the metadata that is (or should be) embedded in the files — descriptions of the video, GPS location, camera settings, the AP MOS code and story slugs.
Current standards and specifications for insuring that the media remain intact and readable as it moves between devices — from camera to editor, say — are not quite up to the task.
Hoping to solve the problem is a working group of the Advanced Media Workflow Association. It is nine months into developing a new specification — AS-10 — for passing around video files and finally delivering on the promise of seamless interoperability of software and devices from a variety of vendors.
And if all goes well, says Michael Koetter, the VP of technology at CNN and the AMWA director who is championing the AS-10 effort, the new spec should be ready by next April’s NAB Show. (Dan Shockley at CNN is chair of the AS-10 working group.)
“Our goal is to have a single file that could move from camera to edit to playout to archive and back — really to be able to traverse the entire work flow,” Koetter says.
“People may be file based, but what invariably happens is, they’ve got a QuickTime island over here and they have got a GXF island over there and they have got an AVI island over there. There may be an MXF island over here, but it’s this flavor of MXF with another flavor over there.
“What AS-10 is all about is specifying a file format that is able to satisfy the needs of all of the different phases of an end-to-end newsgathering workflow and achieve the end goal of seamless content interop.”
Software will be available for vendors to build to the new spec and to test their gear against the spec, he says, adding that he hopes to create a certification program that would allow vendors that pass muster to put an “AS-10 Inside” seal on their products.
JVC is among the vendors participating in the project. “The development of AS-10 will provide a standard for interoperability that’s designed by and for the ENG community,” says Larry Librach, VP, broadcast and public sector, JVC. “We’re believe the work that’s underway at AMWA under the leadership of Koetter will be a tremendous asset to the ENG community moving forward.”
For JVC, such a spec is a way of preserving the metadata features that are built into its camcorders, Librach says. “If a broadcaster is working with an editing product that conforms to AS-10, he can be assured that everything that is available in the camera will be available in the editor.”
The closest thing to AS-10 now in use is Sony’s RDD-9 specification, an outgrowth of the Material eXchange Format (MXF), an open file “wrapper” designed to package audio-video content with associated metadata. It was codified as an SMPTE standard in 2004.
But RDD-9 is lacking in some features that would be handy in newsgathering and it is not universally used. Panasonic, most notably, has its own incompatible MXF spec (OP-Atom).
According to Koetter, Sony has agreed to allow AMWA to use RDD-9 as the foundation for AS-10 so long as AS-10 is backward compatible with existing RDD-9 products. “We would like to get rid of some older disclosure documents that are published by Sony and have a more up-to-date and non-vendor-specific specification that all these different vendors can collaborate around.”
One enhancement involves frame-chase editing, which allows broadcasters to edit a video file while it is being recorded and turn it around more quickly. While RDD-9 permits frame-chase editing, AS-10 will make it easier.
Koetter has seen the value of having metadata compatibility within CNN’s sprawling newsgathering operations. “Every single camera we have, every single video server, editor, playout server, everything is based on this common MXF file spec and so really what it leads to is worldwide interoperability of content.
“From a journalist’s perspective, that’s really allowed us to be much more effective at reusing our content. And along with some of our internal media asset management systems, it allows us to have global content discovery and viewing on your desktop because the core video asset is fundamentally interoperable.
“Somebody from the London bureau can instantly pull something from Hong Kong and use it in a package, or someone down in post-production in Atlanta can pull something that’s been just recorded in the DC bureau and use it for [the Web].”
Making available software that vendors can use to easily test their compatibility with AS-10 is a key part of the effort, Koetter says. Today, vendors must test for compatibility by running their products with every product with which they are likely to interface. “They may have to put it through five different editors,” Koetter says. “The costs of testing are very, very high.”
The AS-10 effort has attracted some strong support beyond CNN. Right now, Koetter says, the other major sponsor is NRK, the Norwegian state broadcaster. Joining JVC on the vendor side are Sony, Harmonic, MetaGlue, MOG Solutions, Canon and Adobe.
Koetter says a certification and product labeling program would “derisk” the purchasing of software and gear for newsgathering. “I would love for CNN or CBS or whoever to be able to walk up to a and see a little badge on it that says ‘AS-10 Inside’ and have some greater level of assurance than I do today that that means that the file is going to work within the AS-10 infrastructure.
“It’s aspirational right now, but it’s part of the vision.”
AMWA may not be the final stop for AS-10, Koetter says. “Once these things really gel in AMWA, it’s very possible that we would just hand them off to SMPTE and it could just go through due process standardization and we end up with something that is universally accepted. “