Still Stores, Part 1: Coming of Age

By John Rice

As graphic systems oriented toward live sports production continually improve and provide greater capabilities and more cost-effective operations, there remains a place in the market for products that, for lack of a better description, store and play back stills and clips.

While there are no dramatic advances in still/clip products to be unveiled at this year’s NAB Show (at least, that have been announced), there are refinements and advances in increasing file-format capabilities, ease of operation, and connectivity.

“The still-store business has obviously changed as the graphics requirements of broadcasters have changed,” explains Chyron Product Manager Bianca Beck. “The current requirements within the sporting arena for still stores also include text and animated backgrounds. The traditional still store is now more of a graphics system.”

Chyron has two offerings in the still-store/clip-store arena: MicroClyps and XClyps. MicroClyps, Beck explains, “is more of a traditional clip store. We don’t have the ability to modify the content” — for example, with statistics — “on the run. Graphics in MicroClyps are prebuilt.”

XClyps, originally released in 2006 as a dual-channel HD clip-playback device, has been joined by a recently launched single-channel iteration, “which has been very popular for a truck environment,” says Beck. But what she is most enthusiastic about are new tools for the XClyps that “enable anyone from a Web environment to edit templates.”

IRB (Intelligent Rundown Build-Up) will debut at NAB and allows “access of any templates on the graphics machines from a Web interface. You can edit them, replace movie files and text and save them into a running order.” A second introduction, ISQ (Intelligent Sequencer), enables navigation through lists created with IRB. “Because they’re templated, they’ve got the pre-populated data coming from whatever data source you’ve configured it to,” Beck explains. “It puts the scheduling of these assets into the hands of anyone through this Web-based interface.”

IRB and ISQ are available for Chyron’s XClyps as well as for its graphic systems.

While Chyron does see a market for dedicated products like XClyps, Beck says, “the traditional still-store market is now being split up between two types of products.” XClyps fulfills the need to play out such elements as animated opens, bumps, and stings, but, as more and more live-sports graphics “need the latest data that’s being updated, we find that kind of material is now coming out of a graphics system where that data and information can be populated with the latest information as of the moment that it is being recalled.”

Abekas targets the still- and clip-store market with its ClipStoreMXc. Originally brought to market about three years ago, it was developed to compete with a then-popular existing product that provided standard-definition, two-channel capabilities for still and clip storage and playback. “We are actually less expensive, and we offer SD and HD,” explains Abekas Chief Product Manager Douglas Johnson.

Using JPEG-2000 compression for HD, the ClipStoreMXc features video-plus-key in both SD and HD and uncompressed eight-track digital audio. “We’ve delivered quite a number of these machines into mobile-production trucks,” says Johnson. “The technical director can program the switcher to load clips into our machine and play them out according to the switcher timeline.”

Johnson says the majority of applications for the product are to play interstitials and transitional elements — for example, when going from live action to an instant replay. “It’s quite well suited for this type of application,” he says, “where you want to maintain as high a quality as possible and yet don’t want to bust the bank in terms of cost of the equipment.”

Although the product is approaching its third anniversary on the market, there have been on-going improvements and feature additions. The most important of these, according to Johnson, is the ability to ingest Quick Time MOV files in addition to more-traditional methods of loading from videotape. “A lot of customers have been asking for a file-based workflow instead of video-based,” he says. When ingesting MOV files, the ClipStoreMXc creates individual clips as opposed to breaking apart individual clips from a continuous videotape timecode.

QuickTime files can be loaded directly from a portable USB or Firewire disk drive. Abekas has also added removable media to the system. “Clients will come in with all of the graphics and load the ClipStore at the beginning of the season,” Johnson explains. “Then, they take out the disk drive and take it to the next venue, so they don’t have to reload the material all over again.”

Noting that there will be a software upgrade to be released around NAB, Johnson describes ClipStoreMXc as “a relatively mature product now.”