In this article we focus on three familiar concepts in the AV industry – remote content, content management solutions, media servers – and home in on their potential as a combined force. What kind of impact can remote content and management have on media servers, for both content and show creators? What are the challenges and, most importantly, what are the benefits?
But first, let's define the concepts…
- What is a professional media server?
- What is remote content?
- What is content management?
- What is a digital asset management system?
- How do media servers manage content today?
- How can media servers manage content in the future?
- What are the benefits of remote content and asset management?
- What are the challenges with remote content?
What is a professional media server?
A media server is a dedicated hardware or software solution that delivers video and audio content to display devices. In professional applications, it is used for creating spectacular visuals for live events, theater, sporting arenas, exhibitions and themed attractions.
In home use, a media server is a system that delivers video and audio on demand, typically in dedicated home theaters or for streaming of content to multiple rooms. The most common and known use of a media server is for Video on Demand (VOD) by subscription services such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney, HBO, etc.
What is remote content?
Remote content is content that is not stored on a local device, but stored on a remote unit, such as a dedicated server on-premise, a remote network or in the cloud. Avid Nexis is an example of professional use with their workflow-optimized video storage solutions for media production on-site and in the cloud. Dropbox is an example for private use, where content can be stored on your computer and backed up to the cloud, or stored in the cloud and downloaded to your device when you access it.
What is content management?
Content management (CM) is a system that supports storing, managing, and publishing of information in any form or medium, such as text, images, video and audio.
With a wide range of content management solutions and systems in the market, there’s definitely room for confusion when the terms are not assigned consistently. A content management system (CMS) is most commonly used to create and manage digital content. Web content management (WCM) systems are a type of CMS specifically designed to manage web content. An enterprise content management (ECM) system can be supported by a CMS, and encompasses document management and digital asset management systems (DAM).
The rest of the article will focus on content management using a digital asset management system or platform.
What is digital asset management (DAM)?
Digital asset management is a system or software that helps organizations store, organize and share digital content in single or multiple locations.
What are the benefits of digital asset management systems? Regardless of your role in an organization, you have most likely searched - desperately - for that specific file, image or presentation (all assets) that you need to get your job done.
In fact, according to canto.com, a provider of DAM systems, a whopping 51% of marketers waste time and money recreating unused or missing assets.
This also applies to media server professionals, whether you are a show programmer, content creator (where is that animated logo?) or media server show operator (are you really sure you are playing the most recent version of the content you got - and are you sure it was encoded correctly?)
How do media servers manage content today?
A professional media server, such as a Dataton WATCHPAX server running WATCHOUT software, stores the files locally, on the specific media server. When producing a show, the show content is typically stored on the show programmer’s computer.
To test or to review the show, using the media server, the content is pushed to the media server for playback to the video display or audio device directly from the server.
This way of working is common across the majority of media servers. Some also offer pre-programming or show design tools to encode, pre-program, and visualise projects.
Media servers can range from compact units with a few display outputs to behemoths with a large amount of display and audio outputs, inputs and capture systems. The smaller devices are, of course, not capable of the same playback performance as the large servers.
How can media servers manage content in the future?
Since most media servers support more ingest formats than playback formats, a media server asset management system would be beneficial for many reasons.
Let’s look at H264 as an example. When encoding H264 you have hundreds of parameters you can adjust, resulting in thousands of possible combinations of encoded videos. While playing back the video on your content creation system looks flawless, you can encounter challenges when playing it back on the media server.
To top it all, the different media servers can have different hardware that requires specific encoding for optimal playback performance. Content that will be used in a live event can also be incredibly large (uncompressed, 10-bit HDR) and working with these files in a production environment requires a very powerful production computer.
The future of media server content management is in a remote, asset-management style environment.
What are the benefits of remote content and asset management?
An asset management system for media servers could be used to solve both of the previously mentioned challenges. When ingesting a video file in to a media server asset management system, the system can do two things:
- Automatically convert the video to a video format that is optimal for the media server to secure flawless playback. This will allow content creators to be able to work in their preferred format, even if the media server opposes that format from a playback performance point of view, or does not even have a licence for the codec.
- Create a preview (“production” quality) sRGB version of the file. That allows the show operator to work locally with a format that is optimized for production and not for the live show – instead of, say, working with a large 10-bit HDR file
In addition to these benefits, storing the show content in a centralized location, either in the local network or the cloud, enables sharing of content across multiple playback locations, sharing of content assets across multiple shows, etc, without the headache of constant local backups.
What are the challenges with remote content?
One of the obvious challenges with remote content is related to the size of the shows and video files. The record-breaking video wall in the Dubai Mall has 1.7 billion pixels on its 820 OLED displays. Creating content for such large screens is of course not a normal case, but uncompressed video for “just” 10 x 4K screens would require quite some storage space - as well as infrastructure.
A few years back, when I was CEO for Nordic Media Lab, a creative company that often filmed using RED cameras with 8K, we were challenged to find an optimal workflow and access to remote content.
In our showroom, we had a large screen with 8000 x 1600 pixels. When building our infrastructure, we provided our production room and media server room with dual 1000 Mbps Gigabit network cards and cables.
With this network quality, we could use the AVID Nexis remote system that enabled our producers to work from anywhere with the same media access, workflow, and user experience as if they were editing at the facility, and we could just click “add” and have the media server play back 8K video.
When media server manufacturers bring in new features such as remote asset management, there is no doubt that creative users will find great workflows to support their needs.
Having experience from delivering content to shows for video playback, I have felt some of the challenges personally. Badly or wrongly rendered content delivered at the last minute, conflicting file versions (what is actually the latest, correct, video file?) and lacking access to files (safely stored on the desktop of my colleague, currently on a flight from Oslo to Los Angeles), I see a future for remote content and asset management systems in the media server world.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic! Did I miss something?