NFL embraces MXF for game exchange; NCAA next

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The Collegiate Sports Video Association (CSVA) 13th annual convention in San Diego got off to a lively start this morning with a panel and demonstration of the use of the Material Exchange Format (MXF) as a means of allowing true interoperability between disparate game analysis and editing systems.

“We’ve been chasing the Holy Grail of [easier game tape exchange] and MXF is the Lady in the Lake,” says Henry Kunttu, video coordinator for the Buffalo Bills.

MXF is a “container” or “wrapper” format which supports a number of different streams of coded “essence”, encoded with any of a variety of codecs, together with a metadata wrapper which describes the material contained within the MXF file.
MXF has been designed to address a number of problems with non-professional formats. MXF has full timecode and metadata support, and is intended as a platform-agnostic stable standard for future professional video and audio applications.

Kunttu says the NFL video coordinators voted 32-0 in support of the new MXF format, a unanimity he said is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to NFL matters.

Beta testing will begin in June and, if all goes as planned, NFL teams in the upcoming system will be able to transfer digital files from one to another and play them and add metadata even if the systems they use are different. Five companies, led by NL Technology, came together to develop the standard. They include DVSports, LRS Sports, Webb Electronics and XOS Technologies.

As defined in the standard (which, in fact, still needs to become an official standard by an as-yet unformed.org group that can remain agnostic) the NFL will use DV25 as the essence format and have an MXF wrapper using the SMPTE 390M pattern OP-Atom (a very simple and highly constrained layout for simple MXF files) and supporting Span files. The data agreement also includes porting over all play marks and logged metadata.

“The goal is to make game video files complete with video marks and metadata compatible with every team, NFL Films, broadcasters, and also the NCAA,” explains Kunttu.

John Barkley, NL Technology CTO, says the companies began meeting last winter and met five times (and had many conference calls) to create the interoperability.

“We also hired an MXF expert to create one metadata scheme that was the glue for everyone,” Barkley adds.

The five companies also demonstrated the interoperability at CSVA. An NL Technology field pack was used to shoot video and then the video was passed from one vendor to the next with each of the four vendors adding a separate piece of metadata to the demo footage. At the end the clip was returned to the first company, DVSports, to show that all of the subsequent metadata was now visible with the clip.

The next step is to help CSVA and its members develop a version that can be ported to the college ranks. The goal, says Barkley, will be to eventually create different flavors of MXF (in particular the metadata fields) that best suit different sports like basketball, volleyball, baseball and more.

Luke Goldstein, CSVA president, says expanding beyond football could involve laying out open fields that can then be defined by each sport individually. An open architecture for all manufacturers and video coordinators is the goal.

Barkley adds that a near-term goal is to get additional feedback from the video coaching community on which metadata fields should be included.