NAB Servers Preview, Part 2: Cost-Effective Instant Replay Gets Competitive

By John Rice

With every dollar spent building sports-production facilities” whether a truck, a venue, or network operations center” more important than ever, attendees at NAB will be hunting for cheaper and more cost-effective instant-replay options. This might be the year those attendees get what they’ve been looking for.

“There are tremendous pressures on production costs and pressure on infrastructure for [lower] production costs,” says Grass Valley Director of Product Marketing Ed Casaccia. “Fortunately, technology has a way of taking care of that. Moore’s Law does it for us.”

At Grass Valley, that means the introduction of the K2 Dyno replay controller. The controller works with the K2 Summit production server and features a touch-screen interface, external VGA screen, high-speed Gigabit Ethernet connection, and USB connectors in a compact unit. A familiar T-bar and switcher buttons promise easy operations.

“It has characteristics that make it exceptionally well-suited for the sports-replay environment,” says Casaccia. The system boasts a record-to-play time of less than a half second, thanks to software-based encoding and decoding. Effects can also be done within one channel.

He points to the USB port as a valuable feature of the K2 Dyno system. Also, drag-and-drop allows easy transfer of QuickTime, AVI, and MXF files. “There’s no special twist and magic,” he says. “No hoops you have to jump through to change from what you want to edit to what you want to play to air. We don’t care what’s on the other side of the USB port.”

With sports broadcasters and networks looking to cut costs, Casaccia adds that K2 Dyno/Summit package is available at a price that makes it appropriate for smaller, regional operations because they can get the same functionality that, in the past, they would have paid twice as much for.

Abekas is touting lower-cost solutions as it enters the server market with its Mira Production server. “When you use the latest technology to design things,” says Abekas co-founder, President and CEO Junaid Sheikh, “you can really bring the cost down.”

Mira, he adds, does not replace the higher-end, more ubiquitous servers like EVS found in broadcast production trucks. Instead, Abekas is aiming at what he refers to as tier-two and tier-three users involved in college sports and even high school productions.

Mira is available in three sizes: 15 hours (priced at $32,000), 30 hours ($35,000) and 60 hours ($40,000). Each has four channels, with eight audio channels per video channel.

“There is nothing close to our kind of pricing,” Sheikh says. “I have talked to people who have small trucks covering high schools. They are using tape. They look at this machine, and their eyes pop out.”

He sees Mira as also playing a role in stadiums and arenas and even to feed flat-screen panels on a set (Turner Sports and Speed are already using it for that purpose). “From a production-design point of view, you want to zoom into one of those monitors and cut the image to air,” he explains. “That’s where you need a proper broadcast-quality genlock machine that is feeding your plasmas and your switcher.”

Mira has been shipping for two months, but its “coming-out” party will be at NAB. Also, working with Sony, Abekas will demonstrate Mira as an instant-replay/slow-motion server. “For $50,000, you can now do super slow motion [with Mira],” he says. “Now you can afford to do it inexpensively with much better picture quality than you will find on other machines.”

Both Abekas and Grass Valley are eyeing a segment of the market they believe is hungry for an alternative to EVS servers. But EVS Operations GM Greg Macchia says his company is introducing an option at NAB for those looking to move beyond tape: the XS server.

“It’s based on the same hardware [as the XT[2] LMS], but we’ve limited it to four channels to be more cost-effective,” he says. The XS has SD/HD configurations and includes native support of Avid DNxHD, Apple ProRes, and Panasonic DVCPRO100.

EVS is continuing to improve its core server as well. The XT[2] is “where everything comes from,” says Macchia. Software modifications include integration with hyper-motion cameras, support of 1080p, and 3D HD. “There’s no doubt that 3D is going to be a big future, not only in sports but TV in general,” he says. “There have been games that have been shot [in 3D], and we’ve been very closely involved with that. Although it is a reality, it’s a little bit of a science project right now.”

EVS will also show Insio, ingest software for multicamera studio production as the company looks to broaden its markets beyond the live sports environment.

“We’re continuing to look ahead and be ready,” he says. “From our perspective, we are as hungry as we’ve always been. We are constantly improving, constantly looking to be better.”

Today’s roster of servers for sports is oriented toward a broadening market, reaching far beyond the major broadcasters and cable networks to include regional broadcasters and even local sports trucks that cover small-college and high school events. While each market segment faces its own budget and personnel issues, new technologies, enhancements, operational features, and applications show an ever-maturing product line that seems to understand what the marketplace is looking for “ and providing answers.

To access NAB Servers Preview, Part 1, click here.