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Media Servers  Dust Off Those Old Tapes

Media Servers Dust Off Those Old Tapes

Deploying a media server technology will provide a sense of control, knowing that most of these technologies are future proof.

Does your church have a media archive room? Thinking back over many years of working in church video production, I am reminded of the miles upon miles of video tape we generated recording television programs, Sunday services, special events, and ministry support projects.

Many years ago, the church I served at provided us with a poorly equipped, awkward side room, near our production facility, where we literally stacked Betacam tapes by the dozens. We would scribble the service date on the cassette using a Sharpie, and stack the tape for posterity.

The process of uploading and curating a cloud service channel can become very costly.

For all I know, they're all still right where we left them.

While the medium of magnetic video tape has long since passed, we all still have thousands of hours of media archived on hard drives, optical media, network storage and cloud servers. The media lifecycle begins with much rehearsal and planning. Eventually, the production commences with a live stream or broadcast, hopefully viewed by many, and then it is set aside somewhere, on a real or virtual shelf, where it may never be viewed again.

As media professionals, I think we put out a great deal of energy and passion in the media preparation and execution process. The anticipation of delivering an exciting, thoughtful media presentation, live, drives us to achieve. Unfortunately, with some exception, we tend to toss used media aside, where it's difficult to access.

I know what you're thinking: Services like YouTube and Vimeo already do this.

What more do I need? True, however, even the process of uploading video and curating a cloud service channel can become very costly, even growing into a full-time project ain't nobody got time for that!

In addition, to do it right, these services need to be managed, and they're not always going to be there with service constantly changing and emerging. At a later date, we will cover the value of hosted streaming solutions, however, the intent of what will be covered here is to help you discover a practical, inexpensive, on-site solution that simplifies and optimizes video distribution and archival.

A media server is a piece of software that lives on a computer or server. Its job is to keep track of live and video on demand (VOD) streaming assets (files and streams). This means it will receive a stream from an encoder (the device that converts an HDMI or SDI video signal into a network protocol) where it can be recorded, distributed to players and devices, and even pushed to live content distribution networks (CDNs).

A media server can also integrate with content management systems, taking care of a very large archive of media files, in a searchable, cataloged, on-demand capacity where they can be enjoyed and used, repeatedly, for many years.

Here's an example what a church streaming workflow looks like when leveraging a media server technology:

The video encoder (i.e., Teradek VidiU) publishes a live stream to your media server, where the following takes place:

1. Transcoding: The live stream is transcoded, real time, into multiple bit rates, for adaptive playback across different devices and networks.
2. Recording: The stream is recorded and stored on the server, providing an archive in the perfect format for video on demand streaming (eliminating the need for long uploads).
3. CDN and Social Media Distribution: The live stream is simultaneously and automatically sent to Facebook Live, YouTube, and Periscope.
4. Local Delivery: The live stream is packaged into streaming formats and protocols for local consumption. This means that any display or device, on your WiFi network, can connect to the live stream without access the internet. This includes devices like Chromecast, AppleTV, and smartphones (iOS and Android). Imagine the possibilities.
5. Internet Delivery: The live stream can also be consumed by internet users to whatever extent your network connection can handle, saving distribution costs and achieving more ROI on your infrastructure needs.
6. Multi-site Support: Satellite campuses can connect directly to the media server, at any time, for IMAG broadcast at their location. DVR services can hold live video in time, providing solutions for staggered service times, adding flexibility for multi-campus workflows.

As a support to post-production and video archival tasks, pre-existing and new media projects can be copied, via local network, to the media server for review, used in presentations, or any other need for instant retrieval. You can even use a media server to host media for cloud services to connect to and consume, as needed, saving the expense of a large cloud-based storage solution.

From a hardware standpoint, a standard desktop PC or business class server will most likely handle your workload. An Intel i7, with 16GB of RAM, SSD or mechanical hard disks, 1 GB network capability, and running Windows or Linux is a good start. A bonus would be to add an NVIDIA or Intel IRIS Graphics GPU for improved transcoder performance.

Several on-site media server software and content management system (CMS) options are available, depending on your specific need and budget. Wowza Streaming Engine is a leading platform, specializing in live and VOD distribution, which can be integrated with free and paid content management solutions like WordPress, Drupal, and JW Player. As an integrated solution, MEDIAL provides a premium CMS, tightly integrated with Wowza Streaming Engine, with very rich, industry-leading playback and cataloging capabilities. Plex Media Server is also worth considering, with smart, automatic media curation and included playback solutions.

Recently, NewTek launched the MediaDS, an industrial class video server that can encode from multiple sources and provide many of the distribution capabilities we've discussed here. This remarkable solution, built on the legacy of the TriCaster production system, may be the most capable video capture and distribution system released to date.

Deploying a media server technology will immediately optimize your streaming workflows. You will find yourself spending more quality time on production and less managing the complexities of live and VOD distribution channels. Video will feel "at your fingertips" and you will enjoy a sense of control, clearly understanding exactly how and where your video "lives" now and for posterity. It's surprisingly easy and low cost to get started. Most of these technologies are future proof, protecting your initial time and resource investment, as updates and feature improvements are constantly made available.

You may even be able to archive that stack of beta tapes in your media archive room. Even for sentimentality, converting old media where it can be accessed expands your media reach, one person at a time.

I encourage you to take the time to explore various media server technologies and hope that you and your congregation will continue to benefit from the media produced in the past, present, and future.

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