ESPN Winter X Games pushes EVS, Avid to extremes for HD file transfer; speeds up time to air

By Ken Kerschbaumer

When ESPN made the jump to HD for the Winter X Games required an accelerated learning curve for ESPN but also its vendors as EVS and Avid offered an industry first: direct file transfer Between EVS servers and Avid editing systems. Stephen J. Raymond, ESPN Event Operations coordinating technical manager, says the big discovery was the amount of bandwidth required to move around 7.5 TB of HD media. “We’re now looking for opportunities to use the workflow at other events like the French Open or Wimbledon,” says Raymond.

The move to direct file transfer speeds up the production process and time-to-air as previous workflows required a baseband, real-time transfer. But with the direct file transfer speeds of ingest and output hit upwards of four-times realtime.

“Approximately A quarter of the transferred media was sent via direct file transfer and that will go up in the future,” says Raymond.

Building the infrastructure and workflows to go tapeless was not an easy task. The X Games EVS file-transfer workflows required four data paths. A primary SAN handled program record from the venues, restore and publishing and was also connected to the Avid Unity. An Avid Unity to EVS XT[2] Server interface handled the Avid edit station “Send To” EVS playback servers. Dual EVS networks handled SDTI production, browsing, and venue B SDTI to Ethernet transfers to the “pretures” edit department (more on a preture later). An EVS X-File SD archive publishing system sent converted content to

“We used 35 EVS servers for the event and they were primarily all XT2 as we wanted the high-speed SDTI network,” says Raymond. Ten seats of Avid editing systems were tied into the 24 TB Unity and three Avid Transfer Managers ingested program and iso content from the three venue production units.

Once on the Unity system editors from the Pretures unit could build packages and features from the media (Pretures derives its name from the combination of Pre-set and Features functions it serves).

“We could turn the Edited pieces around much more quickly because editors have nearly instant access to program record streams and iso camera clips. Additionally as we have employed a tapeless workflow since Winter X Games O7’ our editors have simultaneous access to media recorded on the EVS servers and don’t have to share tapes,” says Raymond.

ESPN learned early on that it would need some alternate workflows as network traffic demand quickly exceeded capacity and not every EVS was upgraded with a GigE interface. In the future the hope is to move to full GigE backup. “We’re probably looking at fitting every machine with GigE,” says Raymond of future events. “We use the X Games as a Petri dish for new technology and we had strong support from the EVS team. One current issue is there are a lot of trucks that do not have XT[2]servers, which are critical to larger network workflows”

The graphics GigE network consisted of 13 Extreme Gig switched with the core switch using a bonded 4Gig interconnect between the EVS/Pretures production area and a central location in the compound 500 plus feed distant. Each of the trucks in the compound had one Extreme Gig switch with a 2 Gig interconnect to the central compound switch.

All told the network supported 180 workstation and server connections and the EVS servers handled more than 10,000 clips, 120 hours of recorded HD media, and built 6 TB archive.

A media management team had to ensure that all program records were scheduled properly. For example, during practice and qualifying events only “venue clean” feeds were recorded. But during elimination and final rounds both a “venue clean” and “dirty” feed were recorded.

Each edit room had an IP Director that executed the transfer from EVS to the Avid system in a background process that moved material to the Avid Unity target directory. Once a system operator uses Media Tool within Media Composer to locate raw media files and create a master clip the material is available to all Avid users.

In terms of performance, Raymond says EVS’s VC-3 100Mb codec worked well and transfer speeds between the EVS and Avid system were high. It was also easy to initiate transfers from IP Director and EVS metadata transferred well to Avid bin columns. Bu there is some room for improvement like the ability to place finished Avid pieces onto the network without a baseband transfer because of issues with incidental pull-ups during timeline gaps. “We couldn’t have any gaps in a finished piece pulled up on an EVS,” explains Raymond. “And audio mapping tools don’t exist on the Avid system for mixdown in file transfer mode.”

Another first for ESPN was the use of Vid-MOS Gateway with the Quantel system, allowing clips to be associated with stories in the run down and have them automatically loaded and ordered in Eplay for playout. A Quantel ingest server with six bi-directional ports and 50 hours of storage recorded incoming baseband video and was tied to three QEP craft editors and four Qcut laptop editors. A Quantel playout server with four playout and two inputs for tape ingest and Qplay or Eplay controls for the four playout ports was also on hand.

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