Tape is dead. Long live Tape

An area that has been a vital part of television – defining much of ‘how’ and ‘what’ things are done – is recording. At first film was the medium, then in 1956, Ampex invented the video tape recorder with the prime aim of providing delayed programmes across the USA. Soon video tape editing, and other applications rapidly expanded and the 2-inch quadruplex VTR standard reigned supreme for nearly two decades. Then, spurred by the availability of larger (than analogue) digital storage that revolutionised timebase correction, cheaper and far more versatile 1-inch open-reel formats emerged and ‘format wars’ began. Hostilities escalated with the arrival of smaller digital cassette formats. However, with videotape being the only storage medium it had to do everything – recording, editing, replay, slo-mo, and archive. It fitted some areas better than others but its linear access, durability and running costs were limiting editing activities, and for archives bulk, weight, cost and multiple formats were far from ideal.
In the mid-1980s hard disk drives started to be used as short-term storage for high-end short-form editing. Then the total storage was a few minutes but now, after 25 years of non-stop development and 1 or 2TB drives commonplace, capacity is no longer an issue for online editing storage (and if development continues at the current rate, in 10 years 64 TB drives will be readily available and we’ll all be watching SHV!). This, and the rise and rise of computer power, means that editing is now non-linear and the video is held as files. At the same time, the meteoric rise in SD solid-state memory capacity has meant that camcorders are becoming ‘chipcams’.... that record files. ‘File-based’, also called ‘tapeless’, operation has become the aim for many workflows. It has many advantages – from ‘chipcam’ through to editing and transmission – hooked together mainly by Ethernet and shared storage. But in live production SDI rules and there is little movement towards file-based operation. Here SDI and its associated production equipment is very efficient and reliable, so why change? At the same time ‘format wars’ is back with a vengeance, as various codecs, file wrappers and bit rates proliferate in the file-based world. This leaves two big questions, how do you distribute hours of HD video between areas not knowing it will work; and how do you archive?
It is ironic that, after years seeking ‘tapeless’ operation suddenly tape is back in demand. But this is not videotape; it’s file-based tape. For years the IT industry has been using tape for backup and archive and so too has some of the video and digital film industry. The LTO-1 data tape system, with a cassette capacity of 100GB, became available in 2000 and has been used by many as an in-house back up and archive. This year LTO-5 was released offering 1.5TB on the same sized 102.0 x 105.4 x 21.5 (mm) cartridge. With a maximum data rate of 140 MB/s this goes faster than real time. So far, so IT! However LTO-5 offers much more than an expected greater ‘bang for buck’ from successive generations of IT. The real benefit of LTO-5 is the associated LTFS (Linear Tape File System), an open source file system software from IBM which makes loading and unloading data from a tape drive as easy as dragging and dropping files from a USB stick or a hard disk. Successive generations of LTO- tape will be able to exchange data from LT0-5 between different devices, making it a truly open system.
Up to now those working with LTO have used relatively IT-based interfaces and they have also had to negotiate various file formats. FOR-A saw that the LTO family has all the makings of an excellent archive format but working with it would not suit most TV production people. So the new LTS-100HS Video Archiving Recorder was designed to offer the best of both worlds, using LTO-5 as the archive medium and building a front-end that is familiar to TV operational staff. It bridges the gap between pure TV and pure IT by accepting SDI video and recording on the file-based LTO-5. The LTS-100HS is housed in a compact half-width 3RU unit that includes an LCD video monitor, two terabytes of hard disc storage, familiar VTR-style controls and an LTO-5 data cassette drive along with HD/SD-SDI video and audio connections. It records and replays file-based MEPG2 MXF at up to 50 Mb/s that has a video running time of 50 hours on one LTO-5 cartridge. With the LTFS being open technology, it enables reading and writing files on PCs as ordinary external storage and is widely supported by many major companies in the IT industry. Users can store programmes or unedited footage onto LTO-5 cartridges, place them on the shelf, or take a pack of material on site to support OB or other remote operations – all within the file-based domain.
Back in the ‘quad’ VTR days broadcasters archives rapidly became a physical problem, the weight and volume of the 2-inch reels meant that valuable shelf space filled too quickly and probably contributed to some ditching of old programmes. Yes, size matters, and small is best, both for long-term storage and for transport. Also, with the LTO project currently mapped to the 12.8 TB LTO-8, it will be live for many years yet and endure for years beyond that. The LTS-100HS allows recording file-based tapes from SDI video that can still be easily read in many years time.

Tags: for-a | iss045 | tape | vtr | ampex | quadruplex | ltfs | linear tape file system | lts-100hs | lcd | N/A
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