Now That’s a Changeup: MLB Network’s Offsite Infrastructure

MLB Network DIAMOND

One of the most daunting challenges in the media industry is media management for a major sports organization. Think about the amount of content flowing in on a daily basis during the season, when as many as 15 Major League Baseball games are being played on a given day — each of them defined by a series of pitches and at-bats that demand a wealth of metadata description — and then consider the archival requirements as every one of those pitches must be maintained for posterity and easy retrieval. And then consider that MLB Network is itself a broadcaster, with programming dedicated to baseball. Keeping that beast fed with up-to-the-minute sports stats and video highlights would be a challenge all by itself. MLB keeps up with a custom asset-management infrastructure it calls DIAMOND, a backronym for Digitized Industry Assets Managed Optimally for Networked Distribution.

DIAMOND has been around for a while, but it's only in the last few years that much of its infrastructure has been moved offsite to a data center near its Secaucus, NJ headquarters. How does it all work? Tab Butler, senior director of media management and post-production for MLB Network, spoke at the Association of Moving Image Archivists' Digital Asset Symposium, held this week in New York City. Here are some highlights from his talk.

1) What's the bottom line? MLB Networks currently cares for 650,000 hours of unique content. The total is expected to consume 50 PB of storage — mostly on tape but some on SANs (see below) — by the time of the MLB All-Star Game scheduled for July 12.

2) Where does it come from? The size of the archive grows every time an umpire yells "Play ball!" — and not just by the length of a game. Consider that each game is represented by a "clean feed" without graphics and a "dirty feed" with stats, a scoreboard, and more superimposed on screen. There may also be multiple dedicated feeds for ISO camera positions, including one or more dugout cameras. The standard minimum for a single game is seven feeds, but Butler said there could be as many as 10 or 11.

3) How fast is it growing? In 2010, Butler said, DIAMOND was managing some 2,000 hours of new footage a week. Does that sound like a lot? Well, over the next six years that number tripled — today, MLB Network brings in some 6,800 hours of video every week, Butler said.


Hours of Footage Added to MLB Network Storage Every Week

Year Hours/week
2010 2,000
2011 2,500
2012 2,900
2013 3,600
2014 4,200
2015 5,200
2016 6,800

Source: Tab Butler


4) How is it edited? MLB Network was forced to reconsider its editorial workflow in 2012, as Final Cut Pro 7 and Grass Valley's Aurora came to their end of life. "We looked at Avid and other platforms, but we needed it to couple very closely with DIAMOND," Butler said. Adobe Premiere Pro, with its panel integration capabilties, turned out to do the trick. As a result, editors can search for footage right inside Premiere, then drag the matching clips right onto the timeline. DIAMOND DASH (that's short for DIAMOND Asset Sequence Handler) works with the AP ENPS newsroom platform and Grass Valley's Stratus Rundown to identify the materials that are being edited and send the finished cuts directly to a playout server. "We need to know about everything on every timeline and in every sequence," Butler said.

5) What's the best interface for logging footage? MLB Network's 20 DIAMOND logging workstations had originally been designed using big buttons on touch-screens for tagging clips with metadata. Users would tap a "pitch" button to start each play, then touch buttons that corresponded to terms that described what happened during the play. However, experiments eventually confirmed that those systems were too slow. Today, MLB Network logs video with a mouse-and-keyboard system that is faster than the original touch interface.

6) How much storage is online? MLB Network has two 2.88 PB SANS, one for the National League and one for the American League. Each SAN runs on the Quantum StorNext 5.2.2 file system and can hold about 90,000 hours of footage  A special "virtual file display" has been created to display the files to users in a way that's easy to understand. "It's the only way to manage the size and scope" of the DIAMOND storage system, Butler said.

7) What moved offsite? The company designed its data center in 2012 and 2013 and had it up and running in 2014. Recording, online storage, editing workstations and DIAMOND infrastructure were moved to 28 racks of VMWare infrastructure at Coresite's nearby location. The data center is connected to MLB Network via two redundant fiber paths.

8) What stayed in the office? The studio playback system, the tape archive, and the editorial personnel all stayed at MLB Network HQ nearby. Editors have access to 84 Adobe Premiere Pro editing workstations running on Cisco UCS C240 2RU rack servers at the data center connected to MLB Network over a single dark fiber path. Each one drives two displays, a keyboard and a mouse over MultiDyne KVM hardware with "no visible delays," Butler said.

Off the Beaten Path: NAB Day Three

On Wednesday, I tried a step-tracking app on my phone to see how much I actually walked around NAB, and by the time I hit the shuttle bus for the ride back to the hotel, I was just under 4 miles. (Walking from the shuttle to my room put me over 4 mi).  In those 4 miles I still found some new and interesting products.

 Palette2 

1. Palettegear Palette — The most far-out thing I saw was a user-configurable control surface for Adobe Premiere Pro by Palettegear. It is made up of several audio faders, buttons and knobs that are held together magnetically. It allows you to pull it apart, almost like Lego, and put it together in any layout that works for you. It is very easy to set up, and it can sense your configuration. Very cool! Different systems start at $199.

DracoMagicQue

2. Draco Broadcast Magicue Prompter  —  One of the most difficult operations for a small crew can be coming up with someone to run a teleprompter. With a MagiCue prompter, using their app for iOS (and Android later this year), you don't need a teleprompter operator. Once you feed the script to the app, it listens to your talent, follows your script as they read it, auto-scrolling and pausing when they pause. Right now it is tuned for English, but other languages are coming soon. Pricing TBA.

Sennheiser mke 440

3. Sennheiser MKE 440 — This compact stereo microphone is unlike anything I've seen before. It has two short shotgun mic elements to pick up stereo audio in a single unit. It looks like a pair of pants. Street price is $350.

4.  Sennheiser Action Cam Mic — No model number or pricing was given, nor were photos allowed of this prototype that attaches to GoPro and other action cameras. I did get to hear samples of the audio from a GoPro on a bike and on a kayak, and this mic actually makes the audio from the GoPro usable for productions.

Atomos Flame

5. Atomos Shogun Flame — This is a seven-inch 10-bit AtomHDR 1500nit Field Monitor with 4K/HD 10-bit ProRes/DNxHR recording, Sony and Canon raw to ProRes/DNxHR recording, professional HDMI, SDI and XLR connections along with LTC/Genlock & bidirectional SDI/HDMI conversion needed on set and in broadcast. Their drive caddies are now compatible with G-Tech enclosures. MSRP: $1695.

AJA-Utap

6. AJA U-Tap HDMI and HD-SDI — These USB 3 capture devices come in HDMI and HD-SDI models. These units allow you to use them for video-capture applications and video conferencing using a wide range of pro and consumer cameras. Easy set-up does not require drivers and works on Windows, Mac and Linux, and can easily be moved from computer to computer as needed. MSRP $345

AJA Helo

7.  AJA HELO — This is a standalone recording and streaming H.264 USB and SD recording device.  It has HDMI, HD-SDI, and audio ins and outs. It can be configured before standalone use via the USB connector. It is very affordable at an MSRP of $1295.

IDX-cw1

8. IDX CW-1 — This compact transmitter and receiver set allows uncompressed transmission of 1920×1080 over up to 328 feet, line of sight. The transmitter plugs into an HDMI out on the camera and the receiver can go HDMI in to a switcher. It is the most affordable HD transmitter/receiver set I've seen at MSRP $700.

IDX-CW-3

9. IDX CW-3 — This compact transmitter and receiver set allows uncompressed transmission of 1920×1080 up to 380 feet, line of sight, and operates in the 5 GHz band that doesn't require a license. The transmitter uses the HD-SDI out on the camera and the receiver can go HD-SDI into a switcher. It is the most affordable HD-SDI transmitter / receiver set I've seen at MSRP $1300.

GoPuck

Gopuck-2

10.  Go Puck 6XR – This is a portable, lightweight, rechargeable 9000 mAh battery for extending the record time of action cams. It was designed by Blake Fuller to power cameras in NASCAR race cars — the first lithium-ion battery for starting race cars. It has two USB power outputs, one for 5v and one for 5v, 9v and 12v. It can also power and quick-charge a cell phone. MSRP $99.

Tomorrow is the last day of NAB, sniff sniff. While I'm not scheduled to make a report, I'll be walking the halls looking for new products to review. Please let me know which of the items I reported on you'd like to see in a full review.

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Off the Beaten Path: NAB Day Two

So Tuesday I was back wandering the halls of NAB.  I meant to start it at our Studio Prime Awards — but due to a stuck Coca-Cola semi blocking the shuttle bus exit I missed them. I started in the the front of South Hall at Blackmagic Design, then went to the back of Central Hall. Unofficially I refer to it as the knock-off pavilion, but even there, where a large percentage of items are cheap, reverse-engineered products, I found some original products to add to yesterday's standouts.

BMDduplicator [259232]

1. Blackmagic Design Duplicator 4K – This device has an H.265 encoder that can record to 25 SD card slots. It can be hooked up to the output of a camera or switcher during a live production and have 25 copies ready for distribution at the end of the event. The program signal can be looped through to an unlimited number of Duplicator 4K units to make an unlimited number of copies at one time. This unit works in real time only, and can not copy at faster-than-real-time seeds like USB data duplicators. MSRP $1995.

bmd-micro

2. Blackmagic Micro Converters – There are two models: HD-SDI to HDMI and HDMI to SDI. They are both one-way converters, but they are only $85 MSRP, so it is easy to afford a couple going in both directions, and they are tiny enough not to get in your way at one-third the size of their mini converters.

MatroxLCS [259229]

3.  Matrox Monarch LCS – This device will be of interest to educators and anyone who records a lot of lectures where Power Point-type presentations are used. It has two HDMI and one HD-SDI that can be switched between via software or buttons on the unit. Through the software control, you can set up the sources as full screen, side-by-side, or picture-in-picture, and cut between the different configurations. The unit can record to two USB sticks and one SD card slot. MSRP $2495.

ToughGaff [259227]

4.  Tough Gaff – If you've ever been on a film or TV set, no doubt you've seen a gaffer or production assistant running around, hands full, with a roll of gaffer tape hanging from their belt with rope or a carabiner, requiring two hands to rip off a piece — meaning they probably have to put something down to do it.  The “Tough Gaff” mounts as a holster on the gaffer's belt (a Tough Gaff belt is optional), comes in one- or two-inch widths and allows the tape to be ripped with one hand. I spoke to a few people on the show floor who thought it was great and were buying it for themselves and their crew. MSRP: One-inch, $25; two-inch, $30.

Tascam DR701D [259228]

5. Tascam DR-701D – This is a six-track recorder for use with DSLRs that includes four XLR microphone inputs, two built-in mics, timecode sync via HDMI for record start, timecode, and perfect clock reference to picture. This should speed up syncing of separate audio and video recordings by a lot.  Like other Tascam models, it offers a dual-record system at a lower level, in case your main tracks get overdriven. Street price $599

FL40Airlight [259230]

6. Intellytech FL-40 Airlight – This is a 10×10-inch flat and flexible bi-color (tungsten and daylight) LED light that is less than 1/4-inch thick. It produces 1950 lux at 3 feet. Its brightness and color are controlled via an included control module. The unit's flexibility allows it to be mounted in tight spaces such as cars, and it's light enough to be gaffer-taped to a ceiling. MSRP $499

AudioTechnica [259231]

7. Audio Technica System 10 – This is a digital microphone system that allows two systems to be used together in a configuration with two receivers stacked on the camera with a special mount. Using two systems, the mics can automatically sync with the receivers and keep from interfering with each other, at a moderate price. With an optional cable, the lav transmitter can also be plugged into line-level devices to get feeds from boards. Street price: Lav system, $449.95; handheld, $399.95.

8. Orca Alarm Bag – This equipment bag has a Wi-Fi connection to your smartphone. If someone moves it a settable distance from where you put it down, it will sound an alarm on your phone and give an idea where it is. No pricing yet.

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Off the Beaten Path: NAB Day One

While most NAB reports will take you to pretty much the same info on cameras and related gear or major NLE updates, I'm going to be looking at some of the things that generally not as “sexy” but important for you to know about if you are in the business of video production.  Here are the things I found interesting on NAB day 1.

LaCie 12 Big

1. LaCie 12 Big: This 12-bay RAID can be populated with up to 8 TB drives in each of the 12 bays for a total of 96 TB.  Is you are doing 4K resolutions and up, this will give you the space you need in a RAID 5 configuration.  While most of LaCie's Big product line only has Thunderbolt 3 ports, which are fine for many Macs, but only good on a few PCs, the 12 Big also offers a USB 3.1 port that features throughput of 400 MB per sec. While not as fast as Thunderbolt 3, it is still quite usable. It uses enterprise-class drives and includes a five-year warranty. It should be available sometime this summer; no MSRP as of yet.

Datavideo HS-1200

2. Datavideo HS-1200 video switcher: This is a six-input (four HD-SDI, two HDMI) switcher capable of 1080i and 720p video along with two XLR audio inputs. What sets it apart from other low-cost switchers is it includes everything in one package. Unlike other low-cost switchers, you do not need a PC to control it. It has a built-in control panel with real buttons and a T-Bar, and a multi-viewer LCD screen built in. It also features a chroma key, luma key, two HD-SDI outputs and an HDMI output. Expected to ship this June.  MSRP $3500.

Decimator MD-HX

3.  Decimator Design MD-HX: Mini HDMI/3G/HD/SD-SDI cross-converter with scaling and frame-rate conversion. What makes this converter different is it's bi-directional. Most of the others only go from HDMI to HD-SDI or HD-SDI to HDMI, but not both. The MD-HX not only converts both ways, it also can convert to and from most HD and SD frame sizes and frame rates, all for the price of a one-way converter without scaling: MSRP $295.

Azden SMX-30

4.  Azden SMX-30: Stereo/mono switchable video microphone with broadcast-quality sound, gain control, and low-cut filter. This mic has two completely different mic elements, a short shotgun and a stereo mic, so you can use which ever mic element is needed for the situation. It has a 20dB gain booster that is much cleaner than the gain circuit built into most DSLRs. MSRP $310.

HP ZBook Studio G3

5.  HP Z-Book Studio:  This version of HP's third-generation Z-Book has a number of enhancements. There is a return of the Dreamcolor display, now available in 4K in the 15-inch and 17-inch models. The processor offerings now include Intel Xeon M 1505 and (soon) 1535 CPUs, and an Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPU with 4 GB of RAM.  It's now available with two solid state Turbo Drives with up to 1 TB apiece. The power supply has also been shrunk from a two-pound brick to under a pound. Pricing starts at $1999.

Tune in tomorrow for NAB Day Two.

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5 Reasons Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s 8K Workflow Kicks Butt

Reunited Guardians Vol 2

Beyond fans clamoring for new plot and character details, many industry eyes turned to the current production of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 after Red and the film's director, James Gunn, revealed in January the film is one of the first features to be shot with the 8K Red Weapon camera. With principal photography underway in Atlanta, the GotGVol2 filmmakers and the production services company Shed have developed a massive 8K pipeline to crunch the camera's files on set and send them swiftly and efficiently to post. Here's why—and how—it brings the earthbound workflow into Star-Lord territory.

 Red Dragon.Weapon 8K

1) It Never Underestimates Little Monsters

Cinematographer Henry Braham, BSC, calls his Red Weapon with its 8K Red Dragon sensor his "little big camera." Although Marvel shot the first film with its favored ARRI Alexa XT, the super-high resolution and compact form factor of the Red camera immediately won them over.

2) It's Already Handled 100+ TB of Data and Counting

With multiple cameras on set capturing 8192×4320 pixels per frame, some at up to 75fps, the amount of RedCode Raw data generated on this film is ginormous. In fact, the production generated more than 100 TB of data in its first 34 days. In order to handle all that data daily, Shed designed a Codex-based workflow that could take the filmmakers from set through post, especially during visual effects pulls and archiving. Every day on set for the duration of the 81-day shoot (due to wrap in June), 1 TB Red Mini-Mags are loaded into a Codex S-Series Vault nearby. After an initial check of the metadata, data is then cloned to an 8 TB Codex Transfer Drive. Codex Transfer Drives have a pretty stellar track record using SSDs and the Codex File System to transfer data where it needs to be securely and quickly. 

Codex Vault XL-Series (1)

Codex Vault XL

3) Shed's Not Afraid of Heavy Lifting

Shed is no stranger to managing massive amounts of data on set: recent credits include Captain America: Civil War and the just-released Jungle Book: Origins. For GotGVol2, Shed is using a pair of Codex XL-Series Vaults to crunch the heaviest data back at its Atlanta studio, where the production is based. These Vaults use Codex's dailies system Codex Production Suite to process R3D raw files with LUTs applied, making quick work of the rendered deliverables: DNxHD 115 for Avid, PIX 720 and 1080P, and 4K Open EXR for visual effects pulls. Shed is also using ACES to manage color looks throughout the entire process. Says Matt Watson, Shed's colorist, who helped set up the pipeline, “In addition to the Red 8K Weapons, the crew is also using Phantom and GoPro [cameras] on occasion. Using Codex for all our deliverables means we have one workflow for the various cameras that are being used. Codex makes it simple.”

4) Every Piece of 8K Data, Including Metadata and White Balance, Is Tracked by Codex Backbone

Throughout the production, the original 8K camera data, including critical camera metadata like camera gyro and accelerometer data, plus any white-balance changes, are tracked and updated with the editorial ALE files and tied together with Codex Backbone, which is also being used to manage and generate all VFX pulls from a database created automatically during production and near-set dailies. Marvel likes that attention to detail. Says Marvel's VP of post, Jesse Torres, "Codex has become our standard for digital productions and was the natural choice to facilitate the flow of data from set-to-post.”

GotGVol2 Storyboard

Director James Gunn posted this on the GotGVol2 Facebook page in March: "Another Wednesday, another one of my storyboard thumbnails for #GotGVol2 from a scene we just shot. What is it? Who is it? Guess away. But you'll have to wait until the movie comes out to know for sure!"

5) With All That Firepower Under the Hood, Effects and Action Sequences Might Get Even More Intense

OK, that last one is purely speculation, but given the bits of information that writer/director James Gunn is posting to the film's Facebook page and the technical details we now know, it stands to reason. Before we find out for sure, you better get busy with other things: Vol. 2 won't arrive until spring 2017. Watson and Shed's Matt Tomlinson, however, will give an in-depth look at the 8K workflow behind Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 at 3:00 p.m. Monday, April 18, and 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the Red Digital Cinema booth (#SL1517).

The teaser cast reunion shot, at top, was posted to GotGVol2's Facebook page on February 17.


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