Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Video Furnace Channels and Workflow

So we have been lucky enough that Comcast has been really good with working with us.  We used to have a hardline (off the pole from outside) which is a much thicker/rigid coax cable that also carries high voltage to power amplifiers and such.  This hardline was tapped to run a standard coax cable to our eqiupment rack and then using a few splitters was split 22 ways.  We now have fiber and established a node directly in our facility.  We have 20 1u Dell Servers each with 2 encoder cards (VFLive).  The coax terminates at each card, and I can control and tune each card to the appropriate channel we wish to use.  I then setup the channel information inside Video Furnace software.  We also have 1 video on demand server (VFNow) and a license manager server.  We also have 5 in-house scheduled channels which run our Scala message board.  Channel 1 goes out to the community via Comcast and Verizon FIOS by feeding the associated equipment and encoders from the output of a set-top box.  We can then schedule any asset (recorded or live) to play on that channel for the community to view.  This is how we do things like school board meetings, and live graduation.

Video Furnace is now merged with Haivision who makes hardware encoders.  Previously (and in our current setup) Video Furnace only had the server based encoders, and portable encoders which were really just small form factor PC's with an encoder card inside.  They work, however often the unit needs to be opened and have the daughter card/PCI cards reseated from being jostled around.  HaiVision brings to the table a hardware encoder platform as well as a chassis based encoder farm instead of servers, which both are a welcomed addition.

So, for live events we feed directly into a portable encoder, and schedule that to be live at the times needed on either an in-house channel or the community channel.  Otherwise, we record our events using nNovia video hard drives and edit in Final Cut Pro.  We then use utilities like FFmpegX to convert to MPEG2 video and MPEG2 audio then ingest that into the system and schedule it to play  using some rather interesting free utilities listed here. I can also convert and ingest video directly from DVD's as well as other digital sources and video furnace also has a workstation with an encoder card that allows me to ingest directly from VHS or other analog video sources (you could, of course, just use a VCR and a portable encoder as well).

Just some points to consider....

1. live video switching with a product like the Sony Anycast is great because they offer both recording directly to a hard drive in AVI format and Firewire output to a device like a DV deck or nNovia HD recorder.  However, the Anycast only does basic switching and the AVI files are recorded onto a hard drive which is formated in a Linux (ext2) format which requires special software to access on both Windows and OSX. The OSX software is listed here which appears to not install on 10.6 at the moment.  Also, if using a product like Newtek Tricaster, make sure you record locally in a format like MPEG2.  If you use AVI, Newtek uses a custom video codec which is only available on Windows.  Only newer Tricaster units have this option.

2. Ripping from DVD requires program to Decrypt the CSS copy protection on the DVD.  Although this practice is considered illegal by many, it is sometimes your only choice other than actually playing the video and ingesting it in real time via an encoder (which sometimes a system called Macrovision will cause strobing or very dark video).  Please make sure you have the publishers permission to take the material and use it in this manner, as often it requires the purchasing of additional network rights.  I will not link to such utilites here, but you can find them on the internet if needed.