Riding the digital storage bus at the HPA Tech Retreat

By Tom Coughlin

At the 2018 HPA Tech Retreat in Palm Desert there were many panels that spoke to the changing requirements for digital storage to support today’s diverse video workflows. While at the show, I happened to snap a picture of the Maxx Digital bus — these guys supply video storage and RAID. I liked this picture because it had the logos of a number of companies with digital storage products serving the media and entertainment industry. So, this blog will ride the storage bus to see where digital storage in M&E is going.

Director of photography Bill Bennett, ASC, and senior scientist for RealD Tony Davis gave an interesting talk about why it can be beneficial to capture content at high frame rates, even if it will ultimately be shown at much lower frame rate. They also offered some interesting statics about Ang Lee’s 2016 technically groundbreaking movie, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which was shot in in 3D at 4K resolution and 120 frames per second.

The image above is a slide from the talk describing the size of the data generated in creating this movie. Single Sony F65 frames with 6:1 compression were 5.2MB in size with 7.5TB of average footage per day over 49 days. They reported that 104-512GB cards were used to capture and transfer the content and the total raw negative size (including test materials) was 404TB. This was stored on 1.5PB of hard disk storage. The actual size of the racks used for storage and processing wasn’t all that big. The photo below shows the setup in Ang Lee’s apartment.

Bennett and Davis went on to describe the advantages of shooting at high frame rates. Shooting at high frame rates gives greater on-set flexibility since no motion data is lost during shooting, so things can be fixed in post more easily. Even when shown at lower resolution in order to get conventional cinematic aesthetics, a synthetic shutter can be created with different motion sense in different parts of the frame to create effective cinematic effects using models for particle motion, rotary motion and speed ramps.

During Gary Demos’s talk on Parametric Appearance Compensation he discussed the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) implementation and testing. He presented an interesting slide on a single master HDR architecture shown below. A master will be an important element in an overall video workflow that can be part of an archival package, probably using the SMPTE (and now ISO) Archive eXchange Format (AXF) standard and also used in a SMPTE Interoperable Mastering Format (IMF) delivery package.

The Demo Area
At the HPA Retreat exhibits area we found several interesting storage items. Microsoft had on exhibit one of it’s Data Boxes, that allow shipping up to 100 TB of data to its Azure cloud. The Microsoft Azure Data Box joins Amazon’s Snowball and Google’s similar bulk ingest box. Like the AWS Snowball, the Azure Data Box includes an e-paper display that also functions as a shipping label. Microsoft did early testing of their Data Box with Oceaneering International, which performs offline sub-sea oil industry inspection and uploaded their data to Azure using Data Box.

ATTO was showing its Direct2GPU technology that allowed direct transfer from storage to GPU memory for video processing without needing to pass through a system CPU. ATTO is a manufacturer of HBA and other connectivity solutions for moving data, and developing smarter connectors that can reduce overall system overhead.

Henry Gu’s GIC company was showing its digital video processor with automatic QC, and IMF tool set enabling conversion of any file type to IMF and transcoding to any file format and playback of all file types including 4K/UHD. He was doing his demonstration using a DDN storage array (right).

Digital storage is a crucial element in modern professional media workflows. Digital storage enables higher frame rate, HDR video recording and processing to create a variety of display formats. Digital storage also enables uploading bulk content to the cloud and implementing QC and IMF processes. Even SMPTE standards for AXF, IMF and others are dependent upon digital storage and memory technology in order to make them useful. In a very real sense, in the M&E industry, we are all riding the digital storage bus.


Dr. Tom Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, is a storage analyst and consultant. Coughlin has six patents to his credit and is active with SNIA, SMPTE, IEEE and other pro organizations. Additionally, Coughlin is the founder and organizer of the annual Storage Visions Conference as well as the Creative Storage Conference.
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