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Backfield in Motion: DVD-RAM Jukeboxes Supply Video Delivery Back-End

by Lou Skriba

A record 113,000 visitors journeyed to Las Vegas, Nevada to attend NAB 2000, a show purporting to feature the future of video. Main-line vendors promoted a vast array of digital tape and camera formats, from standard to high definition, without certainty of immediate sales. While analog video peripheral vendors slept in quiet Las Vegas Convention Center booths, dot-com companies spent millions in Venture Capital to hype TV on the Internet and Internet on TV equipment. Clogging the narrow aisles of the Sands' Expo Center were youthful visionaries learning to be network billionaires. Overwhelming it all were the biggest, brightest-ever, flame-throwing "data" projectors fully intent on being the extinction event for film.

Among the chaos, the islands of sanity were the hardware and software folks dedicated to authoring DVD. All of the market leaders were there with announcements of new and improved products, joint ventures, acquisitions, and marketing partnerships predictably staking DVD's claim as an industry that has finally arrived. But a surprise discovery were those vendors who have embraced DVD as the inexpensive, reliable, flexible, and convenient solution for archiving, backup, and Near Video On-Demand (NVOD) storage of program content on DVD-R and DVD-RAM jukebox arrays.

Claiming to be first to embrace DVD-RAM media, Cygnet Storage Solutions Inc. (http://www.cygnet.com), showed its id 100 Digital Library system that permits production facilities to backup as many as 3.9TB on DVD-RAM discs from an array of small storage towers that could literally fit on a shelf. The company features the unit in a video networking system engineered by a systems integrator and based on an Apple G4. Well-suited to Mac professionals authoring DVDs, the starter system jukebox can be purchased for under $10K. For the more upscale purchaser, Cygnet offers the InfiniDISC+, which can handle up to 1,500 discs.

Most relevant in the Cygnet approach is ability to stripe data across several DVD-RAM discs to give higher transfer rates (3MB/sec with current 2.6GB single-sided media) for very large files. Already accepted in other "financial, insurance, and medical markets," the system was generating strong interest among broadcasters because of its convenience, and the predicted long-term availability of a media format based on a consumer product, according to one company spokesperson.

"Old-time" video systems house Leitch (http://www.leitch.com) featured a DVD-RAM jukebox (OEM'd from ASACA) in its "new technology" display. Tightly integrated into a popular digital video server networking solution, this approach to data backup also supported striping, but their main focus was to promote the lower total cost (lower than any other tape or disc option for very large data libraries) for broadcasters.

Broadcasters seemed drawn to the Leitch unit's very small footprint (a huge plus in the crowded engineering suites of major network facilities), its promise of fewer full-lifecycle maintenance problems compared to popular tape systems, its scalability to 60TB-plus, fast data delivery speed owing to its massive cache, and its ability to provide reliable access to news/sound bites or commercial spots.

"Long-time" jukebox manufacturer ASACA (http://www.asaca.com), went a few steps beyond Leitch in making the point for efficient scaling of systems based on DVD-RAM. Exposing the well-engineered guts of its TeraCart box (through clear plastic cabinetry), the 250, 750, and 1,450-disc cabinets (utilizing 100-disc removable cartridges) revealed their dual-disc "picker," which removes an unnecessary disc from a drive and replaces it with another in a rapid, yet smooth motion, and the handy disc "flipper," which allows access to both sides of a double-sided RAM disc. The system supports several media types and formats, including CD-ROM, CD-R/RW, DVD-ROM, and DVD-R. Multiple towers can be chained together to meet the capacity needs of most network and corporate video environments yet to be built around the expanding use of compressed digital video.

Also supporting DVD-RAM a smaller, focused ASACA-based system is InnovaCom (http://www.transpeg.com) developers of the DVDimpact turnkey MPEG encoding and DVD authoring systems for NT developers. The DVDImpact system appears to target those post production facilities, both independent and in-house corporate, that want to get into major DVD authoring projects. That is, rather than merely serving as a "backup" tool for video networks, which are typically based on a massive hard drive array for primary storage, the InnovaCom jukebox makes DVD-RAM and DVD-R storage integral parts of program production by using the drives to format the final video-image files. The system seems to emphasize the features of time-efficiency, networking, and flexibility in authoring DVD media.

A newcomer to DVD-RAM-based mass storage is DISC Inc. (http://www.discjuke.com). Similar to the ASACA jukebox but physically much larger (housing up to 1,054 discs), the DISC, Inc. system also targets the bigger network facilities with support for both MO and DVD-RAM media. Employing barcodes on the media cartridges, this unit promises "dramatically reduced inventory time, automatic re-indexing, and support for CD media."

Never to be overlooked, Pioneer (http://www.pioneerusa.com) featured its 720-disc DVD-R jukebox, the DRM-7000 FlexLibrary, which is capable of storing 3.4TB, with new lower prices for hardware in applications that require the security and permanence of non-erasable media ("paper trail" concerns common to banking and insurance records management). No new announcements or demonstrations were made by Pioneer regarding its DVD-RW rewritable media. However, the company did demonstrate its home DVD recorder that is now on sale in Japan.

Notable in its absence was a duplication system for rewritable DVD media. There were VCR duplication systems on display, and several schemes to duplicate CD-Rs and even DVD-Rs, but no turn-key box pumping out a few dozen on-demand DVD-RAM discs. So the media's status as a data distribution vehicle remains limited-not surprising given the still-small installed base of RAM-compatible readers. But given the prevalence of RAM-based library systems targeting broadcast environments, DVD-RAM's behind-the-scenes role in digital video delivery seems increasingly promising.

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