Computer Technology Set To Revolutionise Content Storage

Updated: Nov 17 2003, 05:30am hrs
Content in video form, rather than text, is becoming more and more the basis for information exchange. Most of us spend more time watching TV than reading newspapers and books. Visual media, in most cases, is a faster and easier way of conveying any information. A large chunk of video content is produced each day by TV production houses, producers of movies and documentaries, TV news stations, multimedia content producers, medical institutes, universities etc. At least some of it is worth storing for years to come. The content which could be stored include movies, educational films, news footage and other infotainment material.

How are we handling these valuable assets in terms of storage, accessibility, re-purposing and distribution (for sale or otherwise) And how safely can this material be stored The world over, many organisations have produced useful systems to handle these aspects of video assets. Computer technology is the base for these systems, whereby video content is digitised, compressed and stored on various media like hard disks, optical disks, CDs, DVDs and data tapes. While hard disks are used for temporary storage, other media are meant for long-term storage (archives) and also distribution.

The Internet
At present, it is text, data and low-quality video content that people are able to search on the Internet. Even so, it is believed that more than 95 per cent of storage space available on the Internet is occupied by multimedia content (graphics, moving pictures and sound). The difficulty is in accessing such content in good quality through the narrow bandwidth of the conventional dial-up connectivity. However, availability of large amounts of bandwidth cheaply, will soon make it possible for individuals to access large amount of high quality content over the Internet.

In fact, it is believed that, sooner or later, broadcasters will relay programmes on the Internet. And this revolution is going to change drastically the way we access information, especially video and audio content. To make this happen, we need to move into the concept of managed storage of multimedia (video/audio) content, both in private and public domains. I suspect, we will need such facilities soon.

Managed Archives of Video Content
* We need cost-effective automated archive systems that can store large amount of video/multimedia content in digital form.

* The archives will hold video content of various categoriesentertainment, infotainment, educational, medical, etc.

* These archives may be owned, either by the right-holders of content or by organisations desirous of providing services of managed storage to multiple right holders, at a price commensurate with the quality and volume of the content.

* The content will be held by archives in a secure way to protect the right holders interests. The concept is similar to a bank locker. However, in this case, the material is also for display and sale.

* The system will handle the process of delivery through highly secure and proprietary encryption and conditional access. This will protect the content from access by unauthorised persons.

* The archives can be accessed by authorised users, through Internet and the content can be browsed through powerful search engines to locate the requisite material and even view a trailer, get synopsis, terms of purchase /use etc.

What These Archives (Managed Storage) Will Be Made Of
Digital data tapes used in the information technology (IT) industry are available in large capacities, up to 500 GB and the manufacturers are promising to make the capacities as high as 4000 GB (on a single tape) within three to four years. A tape of 500 GB can store as much as 50 hours of high-quality TV programmes or 20 hours of digital cinema (of quality for use in theaters for large screen projection) or 150 hours of good quality educational/medical content. Cost of storage in these tapes is much less when compared to the conventional hard disk or videotapes.

Automated robotic cart machines that can be used for stacking and handling large number of such tapes are available for capacities more than 1000 terabytes (to hold more than one lakh hours of video content) and are scalable in multiples of such units, providing literally unlimited amount of automated storage.

Archives at various locations can be interconnected through satellite or wideband land links for exchange or duplication of content between the archives. Each archive will have an Internet gateway.

Basic Requirements Of A Well- designed Archive System

* Image qualityImage quality of the original material should be retained.

* Archive lifespanShould have long life span.

* Ease of useShould be easy to access data.

* Low administrationThe system should be automated to a large extent.

* ScalabilityShould be expandable both in terms of capacity and users.

* OpenShould be usable through web browsers and Internet.

* E-commerce readyIt should able to support e-commerce activity.

* Integrity and user-trackingShould maintain users log to track users.

The Process Of Archiving
* Acquisition/indexingThe process of acquiring the material in digital form and loading into the archive and get it indexed.

* StorageData storage mechanism.

* Offsite connectionDesign of the system to allow departments located in other sites to be connected.

* Search, browse & accessHow the users of the system find material and then use it.

* DeliveryMethod of providing users with requested audio and video material.

Distribution/delivery From Archives
* The delivery of content from the archives can be in any of these modes: satellite, video tape, land link, DVD or any digital media.

* The quality of the content, so distributed, depends on the compression standards used. It is possible to adopt various compressions for various types of content.

Advantages Of Large Data Tape Archives
* Easy access.

* Redundancy of datagreater protection.

* Security of contentCan provide content to television channels, video-on-demand services, and institutes, quickly and easily.

* A host of other infotainment content can also be archived or distributed to public and educational institutions on a subscription basis.

* Pay and view on Internet.

* Supports learning, video/film appreciation and research.

* Easy to locate as contents are indexed.

* A boon for documentaries.

* Many new search engines are being developed that may make searching content easier, if content is archived.

Digital Archives For The Indian Film Industry
The Indian film industry produces the largest number of films in the world every year. On an average, about 1000 films are produced per year. About 15,000 cinema halls exist with a seating capacity of over 50,00,000. We have so far produced over 30,000 feature films and many more documentary/short films. Movies provide a substantial support to the television channels. TV and cable Channels show over 100 films and thousands of film songs every day. At present, digital delivery and projection (D-Cinema) is taking shape. Digital archives for the movies will be required sooner or later to efficiently distribute movies in digital form to theatres all over India.

Digital archives with a capacity of about 500 terabytes, with all requisite accessories and infrastructure, may cost approximately Rs 50 crore to 60 crore. With an operational cost of about Rs 10 crore per year, it will cost a right holder of the content the following to avail the services of the managed storage:

* For high quality D-cinema fit for display on large screensRs 25,000 per year per film of two and a half hour duration.

* For high-quality TV programmeRs 5000 per year per hour of programme.

* Infotainment programmesRs 2000 per year per hour of programme.

* Video tapes and film are not going to be the main source of storage of content in future.

* Adopting computer technology is going to be more cost-effective.

* Speed and bandwidth are going to increase by leaps and bounds.

* Internet is going to be the mainstay for multi-media data flow, including TV.

(The writer is director (technical), Digital Broadcast India Pvt Ltd)