Real-Time Frame Rate Conversion in a Tapeless Workflow


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Introduction - (for the full diagramatic version of this article please click on the magazine cover above.)
When content moved within facilities and around the world on tape or via live feeds, frame rate and format conversions were easily achieved using real-time hardware converters such as Snell's Alchemist Ph.C-HD. As broadcasters and content owners moved to more convenient tapeless workflows, which enabled them to lower their costs, save time and improve logistics, the frame rate conversion step remained a baseband island within the file-based processing flow.

Initial products designed to facilitate tapeless conversion were undermined by slow processing speed, poor conversion quality and a lack of supporting tools, such as timecode conversions, needed to achieve perfect deliverables. Addressing these issues, Snell's FileFlow™ option enables users to get the benefit of Alchemist Ph.C-HD real-time standards conversion quality, even in a tapeless workflow. FileFlow™ allows users to convert media files from one frame rate to another in real time without any quality, speed or metadata issues.

Overview of FileFlow™
Snell's FileFlow™ option integrates seamlessly with Alchemist Ph.C-HD hardware via dedicated file and conversion management hardware and software supplied by Snell, as shown in Figure 1. Real-time operation is straightforward, thanks to the simple user application that controls the system’s conversion parameters and scheduling.
To convert a media file using FileFlow™, the user need only move the required file to the FileFlow™ server, select the desired conversion parameters and start the conversion process. When the file is ready, it can be transferred back to the customer's chosen location. A user-friendly queuing mechanism is provided via the FileFlow™ client, which allows users to set up multiple jobs that can be run unattended, in a user-chosen order, as illustrated in Figure 2.

This workflow could be employed, for example, by a U.S. media organization that has received some European content (at 50Hz) as an MXF OP1a file in DNxHD and needs to convert it to 59.94Hz as a QuickTime ProRes HQ file for a client. In this case, the Alchemist Ph.C-HD operator transfers the file to the server and, using the profile configuration tool supplied by Snell, sets up the required output file format and codec parameters (QuickTime ProRes HQ in this instance), as well as the desired Alchemist Ph.C-HD conversion parameters: input set to auto and output set to 1080 59.94i.

Benefits of FileFlow™
FileFlow™ is totally unique, as it is the only product in the world offering file-based, real-time, motion compensated frame rate conversion for SD and HD video. With its sophisticated queuing mechanism, users can load up to 16 hours worth of conversion jobs in fewer than 5 minutes, and the queue runs unattended. As a result, facilities enjoy lower operational costs, as conversions can be automatically carried out, and assets can be used 24/7.
A key advantage of FileFlow™ is that conversions can be precisely timecode-controlled according to the source file start and end points. No other file-based standards conversion system offers this facility, which is essential for clean frame start of conversion.
An API, based on the industry-standard control protocol SOAP, is published by Snell to allow control of the application through a user-scripted automated process, which can be called from third-party media asset management systems. This control capability has enormous benefits for large content owners whose workflows have been set up around a preferred media asset management system.
The user maintains visibility of the conversion progress through the Snell application and is informed when the conversion is complete. As the video and audio standards conversion is carried out by Alchemist Ph.C-HD, the real-time conversion quality is perfect.

Applications
File-based frame rate conversion can be a necessity in a number of workflow scenarios and use cases. Two examples follow.

Use Case 1: Incoming Content Conversion
A user accepts content from multiple sources globally, and this content may arrive in many different formats and frame rates. These pieces of content must be converted to DVCPro 100 720 59.94p, which is the “house” format used across the entire facility's editing processes. One example might be 2012 Olympics 1080 50i content requiring conversion to 720 59.94p for editing and distribution by a U.S. broadcaster. A suitable conversion chain (shown in Figure 3) first decompresses the file, converts it from 1080 50i to 720 59.94p at baseband using Alchemist Ph.C-HD and re-ingests it as a DVCPro100 file. In this way, the user gets the best possible quality of converted content with the convenience of tapeless processing, all in real time.

Use Case 2: Outbound Content Conversion
When a company sells content internationally, frame rate and format conversion may be required if the destination country's format or frame rate is different from that of the source. For example, a client might request some content from the company’s recent archive, wishing to integrate it into a new program. When the content is of high value and has a lot of fast action (e.g., sports footage from football or baseball games), a high-quality standards converter such as Alchemist Ph.C-HD is essential. The workflow is shown in Figure 4.

The use case shown in Figure 4 also could apply when an international customer places an order and, in an automated process, the content is pulled from the archive server and the correct conversion applied, all according to a script generated by the customer order process. FileFlow™'s support for SOAP ensures that integration of conversion processes into a customer media asset management system is easy.

Summary
The aforementioned workflows and use cases show that media companies can continue to benefit from the outstanding real-time conversion quality of Alchemist Ph.C-HD as they migrate from baseband to tapeless workflows.

Paola Hobson is senior product manager for conversion and restoration at Snell, provider of a comprehensive range of solutions for the creation, management, and distribution of content, as well as the tools necessary to transition seamlessly and cost-effectively to digital, HDTV, and 3Gbp/s operations.

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