Vidcheck Press Articles
The Press is buzzing about Telestream UK. Here are some recent articles that have appeared in journals.
Vidchecker Sweetens Honeycomb’s Tests
Honeycomb was established in mid-2015 with the goal of revolutionizing the market for TV advertising delivery services. They started offering our services in the summer of 2016 with a simple portal that allows our customers—typically post production companies and ad agencies—to select the required services, pay for the transaction and then deliver their ads to broadcasters in just a few minutes.
Behind the Honeycomb user interface are two Telestream products: Vidchecker Automated QC for checking file format compliance, and Vantage for transcoding and media processing workflows.
FLEXIBLE & ADJUSTABLE
The speed and adaptability of Vidchecker has been instrumental in making our service highly flexible and adaptable. There are a multitude of highly detailed delivery specifications unique to countries, regions, platforms or even to individual broadcasters. Each of these will define, in arcane detail, video and audio levels, color gamuts, video encoding parameters, audio structure, file format, metadata, subtitles, and the lineup of the video in the package. Just a few of the detailed specifications we have to comply with include DPP (for U.K. broadcasters), AS-10 (French), and ARD-ZDF-HDF10 (German). Then there are variants on these for SD and HD formats. And the list keeps on growing.
The Vidchecker platform identifies what type of format a video falls under.
It is incumbent on post houses to ensure that these files are created exactly as defined by the broadcaster. Incorrectly encoded files will be rejected and have to be re-encoded—a process that causes delays and significant added costs for the post houses.
Our Telestream Vantage media processing system already contains more than 200 different file format profiles. We are required to run automatic QC on every file delivered, and provide a certificate of compliance with the file, ensuring not only that the file is accepted by the broadcaster, but also that there is an audit trail to prove the tests were completed successfully.
The “Auto-Template” feature in Vidchecker allows Honeycomb to grow and adapt to changing customer requests. Rather than configuring or programing technical details for a test template, Auto-Template turns this into a 10 second procedure. If the customer provides one reference or “golden” file that meets the required specifications, Vidchecker will automatically analyze it and use the data to create a test template that can subsequently verify and document the technical compliance of other files submitted for that broadcaster.
I love the auto-correct functions in Vidchecker, which, as the name suggests, allows automatic correction of audio levels, video levels and color gamuts, video layout and even PSE flash patterns. When there is no time to “fix it in post,” auto-correct functions can save the day.
Automated Checking & Correction Tools For Broadcast Delivery Specifications
Back in the last millennium, when the finished product of a production company was delivered on video tape, quality control was focussed on technical parameters of the video and audio signal on tape – video levels, colour gamut, audio levels – and some tape quality checks such as drop-outs.
As long as the signal quality was acceptable, you could be sure that the tape would be accepted and would play in the broadcaster’s decks.
Now that programmes are delivered over IP as files, quality control has been simplified in some aspects, but made much more complex in others. You no longer need to worry about tape drop-outs and analogue artefacts, but you still need to check that video levels and colour gamuts are within legal limits, and that your programme does not trigger Photo-Sensitive Epilepsy (PSE). In the audio domain, you still need to check that levels are correct, but now they should comply with EBU rec R-128, which defines average and peak loudness levels.
With files, unlike with videotape, you could create beautiful programmes with perfectly compliant video and audio signals, but if the encoding parameters and video file structure are not as defined by the broadcaster, the programme will be rejected.
In the UK and Ireland, the Digital Production Partnership (DPP), publishes a highly detailed delivery specification for all programmes and commercials. This defines precisely the video and audio signal levels, timecodes, lineup of the asset, encoding structure, and the metadata to be contained in the file. Checking that your output meets this specification would be almost impossible without smart QC tools such as Vidchecker and Vidchecker-post.
Within Vidchecker products, there are a large number of pre-defined templates for automatic checks against defined specifications. DPP for UK broadcasters, AS-10 for France, ADR-ZDF-HDF for Germany, IMF for Netflix, iTunes for Apple… and many more. Checking and proving that your product complies with the specification can be as simple as dropping the file into a folder, then waiting for the test results (typically about the same time as the duration of the programme).
Assuming the file complies, you get a pdf report which can be sent to the customer to prove that the file complies with every technical aspect of the specification. While this all seems straightforward, there are a few aspects of automated QC which can cause confusion, and which Telestream Vidchecker aims to resolve.
• Making the Results Easy to Understand
Many QC products are derived from lab tools, so they provide a huge depth of detailed information, much of which may be unnecessary. Vidchecker products focus on checking that a file complies with defined industry specifications, and presenting these results in operator-friendly formats. Alerts can even be customised to use your preferred terminology or language for the condition detected.
• Manual Review Tools
Auto-QC will often raise some marginal or ambiguous errors alerts. For example, if black frames and silence are detected in the content, this could be an intended part of the programme. Telestream offers the VAMP media player, in which QC alerts are marked on the timeline, making it simple for an operator to review the content at the marked points and edit the QC report to indicate whether or not there is, in fact, an error.
• Adapting to New Requirements
Even though Vidchecker includes test templates for all of the major delivery specifications in use today, we know that new or custom specifications can appear, and customers cannot afford to wait until product manufacturers include these in the product templates. In Vidchecker, we have a unique auto-template function which allows the user to create a new test template in just two clicks, based on a reference file.
• False Positives
A common complaint against Auto-QC is that systems produce a long list of marginal or dubious flagged errors. In some cases they may be marginal excursions outside of legal limits, but in others they might be due to the interpretation of file formats (which are not always as tightly defined as you may think).
Telestream Vidchecker provides tools to reduce these “false positive” reports which can be huge waste of time. The user can define the tolerance levels for tests such as video and audio signal levels, thus removing the very marginal failures from future reports.
• Automatic Correction
QC systems will detect genuine errors that need to be corrected. If these are errors in the lineup or the signal levels, an editor would usually prefer to take the programme back into the edit suite or audio sweetening room to make changes. Unfortunately, there isn’t always the time or budget available to allow this.
Vidchecker correction options can automatically correct the most common errors that occur, such as luma levels, colour gamut errors, lineup and timecode errors, and can even mitigate luminance levels to comply with Ofcom regulations on PSE.
Vidchecker is designed to support broadcaster and telco workflows, allowing four concurrent tasks and unlimited CPU core usage. Vidchecker-post is designed and priced to suit the workflows and budgets of post-production and production companies, allowing a single task at a time and using eight CPU cores, at a much lower price.
Automated Quality Assurance : The FAQs
The transition from tape-based to fi le-based video and audio recording allowed a completely new approach to the business of checking that programmes and interstitials conform to broad-cast industry standards prior to transmission. The Telestream UK team designed the world’s first automated broadcast quality control product. We have been working on filebased content analysis and repair since 2003 and are probably the most experienced and innovative team active in this area. Our flagship solution is Vidchecker. The following short article addresses some of the questions most commonly fielded by potential customers.
Traditional test and measurement works fine. Why change from that?
Traditional test and measurement still has its place in the area of hardware integration and maintenance. Our focus is on the endless task of checking content by viewing programmes in full or in part during ingest, after postproduction and during playout. The human viewing process was, and in many organisations still is, often compromised by being selective rather than total: typically 30 seconds or so viewed at the start, another 30 in the middle and a fi nal short sequence near the closing credits. This patchy attempt at quality control can be replaced, or at very least augmented, by a much more effi cient process of quality assurance: automated inspection of file-based video and audio content. A further
benefit is that this process can also perform intelligent correction. Our approach to automated quality control eliminates the inherent limitations of random visual checks. Every frame of video is inspected, from start to finish, plus the entire sound track and even the metadata. Creatives are thus able to focus on editorial and production issues more appropriate to their human skills
What tests does Vidchecker perform?
Vidchecker checks all vital aspects of video and audio files. These include file syntax and basic parameters such as codec types and frame rates, video and audio levels, video blockiness, dropouts, audio clipping and the presence of elements such as colour bars and black sequences that should not (or in some cases should) be present. Vidchecker also searches for many file errors which are not actually visible but can be crucial. Examples include GOP structure, bit rate and video profile/level.
Having found issues,can Vidchecker repair them?
Yes. Vidchecker and Vidchecker-post have at their core the ability to detect and correct video
and audio levels. Additional fi x options that can be added: The Transcode option takes mezzanine file
formats and allows the user to define a common format based on one standard. It is possible to set the codec and wrapper as well as video bi-trate, frame size, aspect ratio, audio channel configuration, audio bitrate, bit depth and sample rate. This transcode also fi xes the file syntax which is a common problem in modern file delivery workflows.The Layout option allows templates to be configured that automatically add black and bars to predefined points within a file. This could be for commercial insertion etc. Our patented correction for photosensitive epilepsy luminance fl ashing (Ofcom/ITU1702) can be added. This is ideal for fast turnaround news content where speed is vital.
Can Vidchecker be set to conform to regional standards?
Yes, notably CALM/ATSC in the USA, EBU R128 in Europe, and specifi c national standards as they arise. Standards are subject to development. Development of our product range is there-fore ongoing with upgrades free to all Vidcheck licence holders.
What file formats are supported?
Essentially every fi le type and container currently in common use.
When Vidchecker performs correction, does it change the original file?
No. The original input fi le is always left in its original condition. If a corrected file is produced by Vidchecker this is a new fi le with a different file name. This is typically the original file-name plus ‘corr’ with the date and time, although other suffixes can be added.
What is distinctive about Vidcheck products?
The main differences with Vidchecker are:
Up to five times faster than competing products), without using GPUs. Un-like third-party products, Vidchecker does not require files to be copied locally.
Vidchecker can optionally correct the common video and audio problems and write out a fully corrected file, re-encoded if required.
Easier to use.
Vidchecker is designed for operation by people who are new to file-based QC, which is most users.
For example, some competing products show all instances of an error even if the same error occurs in most frames of a movie with 100,000 frames. You can see all the errors with Vid-checker if you wish but it is normally limited to show (for example) only the details of the first 10 instances of an error plus a count of how many more errors of the same type there are. Instead of a massive list, Vidchecker gives a report just 1/2 page long – and any other critical error is easily seen.
How do I install Telestream UK products on my system?
They are an easy click-through Windows installation. Vidchecker and Vidcheckerpost have a comprehensive, well documented API. Customers who have integrated Vidchecker have told us that the integration time is typically three times faster with our products than competing products. There are no special hardware requirements (no need for GPUs). Vidchecker can easily be moved to different servers or can by run in virtual environments such as Amazon Web Services.
Automated Quality Control
Automated quality control for file-based media has been available to broadcasters for over a decade. The Telestream UK team designed and produced the very first product in this area. We have been working on this type of software since 2003 and are probably the most experienced team anywhere in the world. Many existing users of other products have since adopted our solutions.
Like many other transitions, the one to tapeless workflows is taking longer than the hyperbole, largely due to the costs of transition and the confusion of the many different file types and formats that edit systems and broadcasters have been using. Consequently transfer to and from tape remained in wide use. A key date, at least in the UK, was the DPP requirement that all deliveries to major UK broadcasters from October 2014 2014 onward should be file-based and conform to the DPP specified file formats.
The ground covered by automated QC can be broadly divided into several areas. Firstly there are UK transmission requirements such as ensuring PSE and loudness compliance. Secondly there are typical UK broadcaster specifications including correct video levels and a DPP delivery certificate. Finally there is usually a long list of delivery requirements specific to the company receiving the content. These could be file formats, video and audio codecs, video resolution, frame rates, bit rates, aspect ratio, time codes, file duration, video levels, sample rate, bit rate and so on ad nauseam.
Leaving QC until just before transmission is too late because no time is left to correct problems. The DPP ‘Producer’s Guide to File Delivery’ recommends that QC starts during the production phase. It also advises that automatic QC be used to check and report key video and audio parameters at all stages though production, post-production and distribution before the files are even delivered to the broadcaster.
Automated error correction
The first QC software products only looked for problems. Second generation products like Vidchecker provide not only full QC testing but also perform automatic correction of key parameters. These include video black and chroma levels, colour gamut, audio levels and audio loudness. Also PSE (flashing) checks to ensure content conforms to OFCOM requirements. Vidchecker automatically re-encodes the corrected files, reducing the time and expense of putting material back through the edit process for manual correction and re-encode.
Our Vidfixer product provides additional auto correction of items such timecode, length of colour bars, and black sequences according to user specified requirements. If a corrected file is produced by Vidchecker/Vidfixer, it is a new file with a different filename (typically the original filename plus ‘corr’ with the date and time, although other suffixes can be added).
PSE regulations are specified in ITU-R BT 1702 which limits changes in brightness, moving patterns, and red images that can be present within video transmitted on UK television. These requirements are mandatory: if your video goes out contravening ITU-R BT 1702, the penalties can be expensive.
Automated QC is far more accurate than the manual approach, not least because the software stays alert from start to finish of a file, without distraction and ‘without blinking’. It doesn’t need a constant supply of coffee, take breaks or spend time discussing last night’s football with colleagues. The automated process also provides efficient and thorough logging of every incident that needed attention. For example, the PSE specification says that the limit is three flashes per second of ± 20 candelas/m² luminance but only when the screen luminance of the darker image is below 160 candelas/m², covering at least 25% of the screen area (20% when the ‘strict’ limit is applied). I am sure that all Kit-Plus readers can instantly spot when the luminance is below 160 candelas/m² and has changed by ± 20 candelas/m² within the given time. No? Nor me.
A single Vidchecker licence can process and correct four files simultaneously. We also offer a special low cost version, Vidchecker-post, specially for post-production houses with fewer files to process each day. Vidchecker-post has the entire QC, PSE checking and auto correction features of Vidchecker but processes one file at a time instead of four. It comes with templates for testing to DPP, Netflix and Apple iTunes delivery requirements, making the job of conformance testing and reporting straightforward and affordable. By the way, if you enjoy reading specifications, the delivery requirements are perhaps the most difficult to deal with as they are often in long documents. The ‘iTunes Video and Audio Asset Guide 5.0’ is 37 pages long; the NetFlix equivalent is 31 pages long with numerous options. Many others are as large and complex.
Our Vidchecker, Vidchecker-post and Vidfixer are Windows software applications to provide automatic quality control and optional correction of file-based media. Vidchecker and Vidchecker-post have identical test and correction features except that Vidchecker will QC and correct four files concurrently using a single license. Vidchecker-post will QC and correct one file at a time (and is roughly half the price of Vidchecker). Vidfixer does everything Vidchecker does plus more corrections, and transcode.The Vidfixer design mindset is ‘Where we find a problem, we will fix it if at all possible’.
- Thomas Dove developed the first product for auto QC of file-based content in 2003 and in 2010 founded Telestream UK which supplies auto QC solutions for file-based digital content to many of the world’s top broadcast media companies.
Not so flash
Broadcast Film and Video Magazine, October 2015
ITU-R BT 1702 is a specification that I am sure that many of you will be familiar with, albeit perhaps not with this nomenclature because it is often referred to as the OfCom PSE requirements.
These PSE requirements limit changes in brightness, moving patterns, and red images that can be present within video transmitted on UK television. These requirements are non-optional: if your video goes out contravening ITU-R BT 1702 then that is illegal and the penalties can be severe (= expensive).
News bulletins can get around the problem by issuing a ‘This report contains flashing images’ warning immediately before a suspect sequence but this is not feasible for most programmes.
PSE stands for photo-sensitive epilepsy: watching video with flashing images and patterns can trigger epilepsy in a small percentage of the population, hence the legal requirement for compliance. Japan has a similar legal requirement, particularly brought about by the prevalence of high contrast cartoon videos.
For those of us in the UK, ITU-R BT 1702 is clear in its definition of PSE triggers but ironically is hard to interpret as it does not necessarily correlate intuitively with video that looks ‘flashy’. Also there is no one-to-one correspondence with parameters that can be easily measured within the editing environment such as video levels.
For example, the specification says that the limit is 3 flashes per second of ± 20 candelas/m² luminance but only when the screen luminance of the darker image is below 160 candelas/m², covering at least 25% of the screen area (20% when the ‘strict’ limit is applied). I am sure that all you experienced editors out there will immediately be able to spot when the luminance is below 160 candelas/m² and has changed by ± 20 candelas/m² within the given time. No? Nor me.
These ‘flashes’ could be caused by rapid changes of lighting in a scene or by rapid cuts that cause the screen to flash.
A luminance measurement such as 20 candelas/m² is the amount of light emitted by the display device. So immediately there is a question: why not simply turn down the brightness of your display in the NLE edit bay so, there at least, you won’t go above the PSE threshold? Clearly this is not the solution and a ‘normal’ level of brightness must be assumed for the end–user viewing device.
The accompanying two sets of image sequences are a case in point: the first set shows a few frames from a video which does not comply, where there are repeated flashes as shown in the central image. The corrected video as shown in the second set of images, where the luminance of the flash images has been reduced fractionally, does then comply. (This may be very hard to see, particularly in the printed images.)
As well as luminance changes, ITU-R BT 1702 mandates checks for extended flashing over 5 seconds, saturated red frames, and potentially harmful regular patterns. The test for harmful regular patterns is particularly difficult as, in some cases, it can be very non-intuitive. For example there is a standard BBC test clip with a person on a train sitting in front of a window with the scenery flashing by in the background. Because of the speed of movement and the linear patterns generated, this has to be indicated as a PSE failure.
For all these reasons, standard software has been used to measure PSE compliance for many years. There are now three software devices approved for such measurements which will generate a PSE compliance certificate that meets the AS-11 DPP specification and the UK legal requirements, including the software from Telestream UK.
Once the video has been produced and the PSE testing software has generated a report saying what the issues are and when they occur, it is then normally a case of returning the video to the editor to correct the issues. Typically the editor will make a few small tweaks to try and bring the video into legality. The video must then be re-rendered and tested again for compliance. If it fails again, the process must be repeated until compliance is achieved.
Clearly this can be time-consuming and frustrating. Also, in our experience, what often happens after a few times around this correction loop is that the editor gives up trying to make the minimal changes and makes much larger changes than he or she would really like, just to get past this stage. Apart from all the time and expense of this, it means that the video can end up with more of an undesirable editorial/content change just to meet the PSE requirements.
In many cases, ‘flashing video’ is by far the most important compliance issue as it is the most common, particularly of course in news broadcasts but also in many other programmes. fExamples are muzzle flashes from guns, cars going through scenes of rapidly changing sunlight and shade, fast scene cuts, cartoon-like video, rotating fans, flickering neon signs and reflections off moving water.
What is really needed is software that will do the minimum changes necessary to bring the video into compliance, ideally fully automatically and without involving an editor at all.
PSE flashing auto-correction is included as standard in the Vidfixer auto QC software from Telestream UK. It is also now available as an option in the popular Vidchecker auto QC software.
The software intelligently tries various methods of correction of the flashing failures in the video to achieve a PSE pass, making the minimum changes necessary. As the correction methods are highly novel, a patent has been applied for by Telestream UK.
Accepting that this new software will not deal with 100% of PSE failure issues 100% of the time, it does cover the issue for the most part so is well worth having. Let’s face it, what software does 100% of what you want, 100% of the time?
Holidays In The Maldives Everyone?
It is well known that the volume of video being produced and distributed is increasing at an almost exponential rate.
So everyone producing content must be rather wealthy by now – after all you’re probably making 10x the volume of content than you were 10 years ago so you must be getting paid 10x more to do this?
What, this is not the case?
Coming back to reality, in most cases your company is probably paid roughly the same amount to produce/process all the SD, HD, iPad, Android, web etc. variants as it was paid for the HDCAM SR tape of 10 years ago – or perhaps paid less.
Of course, much of the explosion in media volumes is user-generated content so not really relevant to the professional broadcast industry.
Formats and PCs on the up; income down
But considering only the professional broadcast industry, the volume, formats and types of content have gone up enormously and continue to go up exponentially. Compared with 10 or 15 years ago, when the HDCAM SR tape was ‘it’, you are now possibly/probably producing an SD and HD version, versions for iPhone, iPad, Android, streaming, website, VOD, regionalised versions (sometimes with modified content and with different language tracks)… and so on, for at least some of your content.
Plus, desktop computing power has got so powerful that the post-production requirements of the vast majority of content (excluding really heavy VFX and major movies) can be dealt with on a relatively inexpensive computer, so that someone working out of their bedroom can bid for most of this work at a much lower price. It is not the case that such a person won’t do a good job but this is a whole new set of competitors to the larger, more established post-production companies.
It is pretty obvious that these trends are only going one way, so the larger more established companies in the broadcast sector have to do everything possible to streamline workflows and increase throughput to continually bring costs down.
Differentiation in a crowded market
I would argue that the greatest differentiator the more established post-production companies have is the breadth and depth of their creative skill and experience and perhaps the greater scale/throughput for the larger post-production companies.
This would suggest that you should be doing everything possible to give your people freedom to create, taking away from people any mundane task that can be automated and/or done reasonably by a computer rather than a person. And of course the creative aspects that are likely to be a lot more interesting and enjoyable than the technical minutiae.
Obvious things, such as changing how you do rendering. Rather than manually selecting each format in turn that you want to render out of your favourite NLE, instead just render out a master ‘mezzanine’ file. This goes into watch folders that have previously been set up with the batch version of the encoder that comes with the NLE, so that the different versions you need are all produced automatically.
For simply making different formats this works fine, but the problem is that the various formats you have to deliver often have more variation than can be covered in the simple batch encoder. For example you may need to add in colour bars and black sequences for some deliveries, and remove them for others. Or change the audio track formats, or audio levels. Trying to deal with these variations in a manual way is not only time-consuming, it is likely to lead to errors (which will take yet more time).
For this you are better off using a dedicated transcoder which can take your mezzanine file and correctly produce all the different versions, with these wrinkles duly processed. Yes, it will cost money to get this sort of transcoder but this should save you doing all this manual work.
QC – a game of two halves
After the content has been produced the next logical part to deal with is the QC. Normally there will be two parts to this: firstly, dealing with the technical delivery specifications. Things such as frame rates, resolutions, bit rates, video and audio levels, time codes, video and audio codec details, metadata, dropouts in the video or audio, or problems in the video quality (e.g. blockiness). I could go on but frankly this is really boring for a person to have to deal with.
The second part is content checking. Is this for pre-9pm transmission? Is it going to a region where the content should have been edited in some way? Content checking will need to be done by a person for the foreseeable future but it can usually be a faster-than real-time quick scan through the file.
The problem comes with trying to do the first part, i.e. all the technical QC in a manual way, using old tools like waveform monitors or open source software like MediaInfo to look at technical parameters. Doing this misses out a lot of the necessary technical checks, plus it is tedious as the person must do it completely correctly. Worse than this, it is expensive and slow to do manually.
And remember, if you are doing the technical QC in this way, you will need to have a person looking at not only the input master mezzanine but also the 10 output variants of the same content.
If it is boring doing the technical checks once, you lose the will to live after doing the same thing more than 10 times over on the same content. And even if you like boredom, doing this is just too expensive and slow.
There is a better way
As with the transcoding, we would argue that is far better and more efficient to use automated QC software for this part of the process.
For real efficiency, the obvious thing to do is set up watch folders so that the outputs of the transcoder automatically go to input watch folders of the automated QC.
With good auto QC software such as Vidchecker, you only need to do the checking-for-content manually. This is the fastest step, saving enormously on time. Yes, it will cost initially to invest in the auto QC software, but the savings in the medium term are substantial. Vitally, it leaves the people to do the creative things that really add value.
For larger, more established organisations, it provides a chance to gain back some or all of the low-cost ground that is lost to the one-man band. Plus, it is a great differentiator to be able to provide an official QC certificate, such as required by some UK broadcasters for AS-11 DPP deliveries.
Even if you automate your workflows as far as possible in the way described above, realistically it probably means that your wished-for hammock in The Maldives will still remain empty a while longer. But at least your business will be more secure, interesting and enjoyable for the future.
Putting The Fun Back Into QC
OK, let’s face it, no one enjoys doing QC. You spent all this time making a great looking and sounding program and now you’ve got to make sure it meets the various delivery requirements, writes Tom Dove, Telestream UK.
You’ve done all the checks on the content itself ensuring that it is good for pre-9pm transmission, fuzzed out the faces that should be obscured etc. and rendered out your video. The next step: QC.
QC can be broadly divided into several areas. Firstly there are UK transmission requirements such as ensuring PSE and loudness compliance. Secondly typical UK broadcaster specifications including correct video levels and a DPP delivery certificate. Finally there is usually a long list of delivery requirements specific to the company receiving the content. These could be file formats, video and audio codecs, video resolution, frame rates, bit rates, aspect ratio, time codes, file duration, video levels, sample rate, bit rate and so on ad nauseam.
So many specifications, so little time and so little money
These delivery requirements are perhaps the most difficult to deal with as they are often in long documents. The “iTunes Video and Audio Asset Guide 5.0” is 37 pages long; the NetFlix equivalent is 31 pages long with numerous options. Many others are as large and complex.
Much content is still delivered on tape and in other file formats however the situation has been greatly alleviated in the UK by the advent of the DPP specification. Of course everyone wants their content to be available on as many platforms as possible and this requires looking at many different specifications. Ensuring content is packaged correctly for use on iPhone, Android, VOD, terrestrial transmission etc. requires looking at many different specifications. And for most people, this is where the fun really goes out of QC.
Plus there is typically not a lot more money available for dealing with all these different formats: and it is simply too expensive to manually look at all the resulting output formats yet the end consumer will expect the content to play correctly.
Let the computer be your geek
Computers are good at technical things like counting and measuring, precisely and repeatedly.
Editors may have looked at a timeline in an NLE where the current time indicator is on 00:30:00 and asked themselves, “does this mean that the media length is exactly 30 seconds or is it 30 seconds + 1 frame?” or looked at the RGB parade display to work out if the levels can be tweaked up a bit without going over-range. Checking these and the dozens of other technical parameters manually, for example using MediaInfo to peek inside the file, is enough to give most people brain ache particularly as it may have to be done on multiple files.
Using an expensive edit bay and personnel for something which a computer can do for you typically faster, better, more accurately and reliably is not a good use of your facilities and people. It does not take a huge number of hours saved in the edit bay to pay for auto QC software. In our experience with our auto QC software the ROI is normally three months or less even if you have a relatively low volume of media.
So let the computer do all these checks: it is the right tool for the task.
Specific test templates for the different requirements
The easiest way to deal with these different requirements is to have test templates which match and check the parameters as needed. Our own products Vidchecker and Vidfixer come with a number of standard test templates to cover DPP requirements, Netflix, iTunes which can be edited for specific deliveries.
There are many more different delivery requirements than you can shake a stick at, so how would you deal with something where there is not already a standard template provided? You can copy and modify an existing test template. Or if there is no reasonable starting point, use the “auto template” feature in Vidchecker and Vidfixer, which automatically generates a test template from known good media and takes less than 1 minute to do so.
We can’t speak for other QC vendors, but if it is a delivery specification for a large content distributor then we would work with you to create a test template using the content distributor’s specification, or help you with the test template as part of the support we provide.
Taking it further – avoid going loopy
Excellent – you have taken the big step of using auto QC software for doing all the technical checks on your media saving you time and cost.
However if you are using a great tool to do the checking you may have a problem when the software actually finds something wrong with your beautiful content! After you have finished gnashing your teeth and questioning the competence of the engineers who wrote the QC software, and accepted that there really is something that needs to be corrected then you have to decide what to do about it.
Certainly, doing the QC checking automatically saves a lot of time and effort. But with auto QC software that only does checking you have to put the media back in the edit bay for edit and re-render, or perhaps through the transcoder again.
If the media goes back into the edit bay e.g. because there is a single black frame where the edit point of 2 clips on the timeline don’t quite meet, then as well as fixing this issue it is often tempting to do a few ‘tweaks’ at the same time, such as “let’s make the graphics a little bit punchier here”.
Now you re-render the file and as it is a new file you have to repeat the auto QC.
Disaster! That “little bit punchier” now means you have illegal video levels.
You trudge back to the edit bay again, muttering about the joys of HDCam SR tape, put the graphics levels back to where they were before and re–render the file yet again.
Finally, third time through the auto QC, and your media passes.
All joking aside, this is not an uncommon situation and one that we have seen many times over the past 12 years that Telestream UK personnel have been supplying auto QC software.
Just **** fix it!
Computers are good at technical things, so why not let the computer do the technical fixes as well as doing the checking?
We would argue that that is the optimal solution as it gives the fastest, most repeatable and lowest cost workflow, as illustrated on the right. Our Vidchecker product will not only check the many parameters that you may need to check, but will also auto correct the 2 most common areas of errors: video levels, including black level, chroma levels and RGB gamut; and audio loudness and levels, including the various EBU I-, S- and M- modes. And, vitally, Vidchecker will make you a complete new file in the correct format, the same as you input to the QC process.
If you have media with other issues, e.g. where you commonly have PSE flashing failures, or have media which requires a particular layout of colour bars then black then program then our Vidfixer product does these corrections and many more, as well as everything that Vidchecker does.
Fun once more
So if you take the approach of letting the computer do everything it can for you then QC can be a relatively painless process – perhaps not quite fun, but not so bad either.
Quality Is Never An Accident
Broadcast Film and Video Magazine, Graham Pitman – May 2014
There is an apocryphal tale of a motorist from London getting impossibly lost on rural West Country lanes.
Seeing an elderly man repairing a dry stone wall, he asks for directions. The man straightens up slowly, rubs his forehead with a dirty calloused hand, sucks air through his teeth and replies with a shake of his head, “If I wuz going there, I wouldn’a start from ‘ere”.
This feeling of arriving in an unhelpful place is one that many experience when investing in new technology. Confident assurances made by a supplier regarding ‘future proof’ scalability sometimes prove to be overly optimistic, if not downright false, when the time comes to actually expand operations. Expensive expansion ports not specified on the original order suddenly become necessary, or new expansion options aren’t compatible with the hardware/software you bought less than a year ago. Worst of all is when you want to grow your business only to find that your technology supplier no longer provides support for the core product upon which your business depends.
That’s not just poor support, it’s poor quality.
However, there is a West Country company that believes quality should embrace everything it does. Quality is, in fact, Vidcheck’s core business. It produces software that doesn’t just perform automated QC and media file correction, it provides support as solid and long-lasting as a dry stone wall – and is imminently more scalable. Telestream UK customers on product maintenance contracts always have the latest product. Users will never discover after the fact that the new software they just bought is incompatible with a previously purchased version.
Moreover, users that have Vidchecker-post or Vidfixer-post software that QC’s and corrects one file at a time, but new business requirements necessitate expanded capacity, they can simply upgrade for the net price difference to a full Vidchecker or Vidfixer licence. This quadruples capacity without any need for retraining, and the investment of time in creating templates and integrating Telestream UK into the workflow remain valid. In other words, your existing product may have been depreciated on your balance sheet, but it retains its full value on trade in. If only that held true with our cars.
And here is where we come to the extent of Vidcheck scalability. Ifcontinued success warrants even greater capacity a Vidcheck Grid configuration using either Vidchecker or Vidfixer as nodes adds simultaneous QC processing of a further four files for each additional node. Vidcheck Grid installations provide huge capacity and can conduct QC on thousands of hours of material daily. An expansion of this size makes full use of existing software. i.e., none of the existing investment in equipment, training, template creation or previous integration has been wasted.
Aberdeen Broadcast did just that, and illustrates my point. They started with Vidchecker and upgraded to Vidfixer for the price difference. Aberdeen Broadcast’s CEO, Mat Cook, told me: “We use Vidfixer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for hundreds of thousands of files, for hundreds of clients. Couldn’t live without it.”
So if you are making a concerted effort to improve quality and need a file QC solution or need to expand an existing Vidcheck system, you can get there easily without getting accidentally and impossibly lost.
In other words, Vidcheck will never stonewall your expansion.
Vidchecker and Vidfixer deployed with ROOT6 Technology’s ContentAgent
Broadcast Film and Video Magazine, May 2015, Root6
With more than 200 Vidchecker licences sold, root6 is the leading re-seller for this popular automated quality control (AQC) and correction system for file-based deliverables. The widespread adoption of the AS-11 UK DPP standard last October has spurred even greater interest in AQC and, for many broadcasters and post houses, Vidchecker and Vidfixer have become the AQC systems of choice. Additionally, Vidchecker may be integrated within ROOT6 Technology’s ‘ContentAgent’, a file-based workflow management and automation system. As both systems have achieved AMWA certification for the new submissions standard, the combination of these technologies is proving a highly attractive and practical solution for file-based deliverables.
Using ContentAgent’s Workflow Designer tool, the Vidchecker application is dropped into the relevant workflow where it sits as a node ready to receive material for checking. Depending on the chosen application, files may be passed, quarantined for human intervention or auto-corrected, if possible.
This simplicity of operation has great appeal for users as Tony Tedford, Post Production Supervisor at Cartoon Network in Los Angeles explains. “We have QC software from other vendors but Vidchecker is our system of choice. It’s a little friendlier and easier to set up. With so much international content going through, issues like photosensitive epilepsy must be addressed and we find Vidchecker a good way to alert us to potential hazards. The AQC operation sits in ContentAgent’s Workflow Designer and the whole process is automated with status updates and alerts.”
With 70 edit suites across two main sites and other locations, Gorilla is the largest post production facility in Wales, with a brand new purpose-built flagship facility in the centre of the Cardiff Bay waterfront district. As part of a facility-wide upgrade Gorilla is deploying two ROOT6 ContentAgents; one devoted exclusively to AQC as, according to Technical Director Rhodri James, “With the new delivery format the onus on delivering QC’d material is firmly with the post house. We’ve opted for Vidchecker, which also provides useful auto-correction facilities.”
Alongside many post production facilities, the ContentAgent/Vidcheck combination has also proved popular with broadcasters including BBC Sport, Channel 5, S4C and ITV. In MediaCity, Manchester, ITV’s production arm 3sixtymedia opted for Vidchecker and put it to the test to AQC what is believed to be the first file-based programme to benefit from ContentAgent’s new time-saving ‘Insert Edit’ feature. The show ‘Rita & Me’ was transmitted on New Year’s Eve 2014.
“While Vidchecker and Vidfixer are important components of our ContentAgent offering, we supply many licences for applications in post, content distribution, broadcast and archiving,” said Owen Walker, Head of Product Management at ROOT6 Technology. “In addition to broadcast deliverables, Vidcheck provides automatic testing criteria for a range of formats including iTunes and Netflix, ATSC, CALM and EBU R128 loudness. As the explosion of channels and content continues unabated with the repurposing of media for multi-platform delivery, it’s important to perform AQC accurately and efficiently to save time and money. In our experience, Vidchecker and Vidfixer more than meet these criteria and, judging from customer feedback, the technology is easily understood by operators – an important but often-overlooked factor.”
QC for Post-Production
Broadcast Film and Video Magazine, April 2015, by Simon Begent, Telestream UK
With the advent of file-based media, large and small post-production houses face the challenge of receiving large numbers of files from production, cameras, studio and archive with the need to process them for distribution within tight timescales and budgets. As well as editing the video and audio, and adding titles and effects, the output content has to meet the client specifications and broadcast standards.
The complexity is compounded by the number of different file formats used for master ‘mezzanine’ files, and different delivery specifications for local and international delivery. ATSC, SMPTE, CALM, ITU, EBU, Ofcom, DPP, AMWA, iTunes, Netflix as well a host of other standards are called for in the increasingly complex world of ensuring delivery across many different platforms.
The need for quality control (QC) to ensure that the delivered files meet the technical specifications is indisputable. Having your carefully produced and edited program files rejected by the distributor or broadcaster is simply not an option. Even assuming that time is available, the cost of re-editing, re-rendering and re-sending files can turn a potentially profitable project into a loss. The challenge is to cost effectively apply QC in a busy post-production environment.
Previously this required rendering out to tape, using waveform monitors, PPM meters and manually ‘eyes and ears’ checking every frame to try to spot errors. No easy task when a small glitch can be missed in the blink of an eye. The cost and time involved often meant that only the beginning, middle and end was checked and the rest left to chance. The file-based world presents additional challenges of checking file formats, metadata contained within the file header as well as structural and encoding errors, each of which require specialist compliance tools.
Two types of product are now available for QC in post-production: Plugins used during the edit, and auto QC software tools for checking files after they have been rendered out, but before delivery.
NLE plugins such as Vidcheck’s Vidapps-video and Vidapps-audio can be applied to the timeline to allow video levels (luma, chroma, color gamut), audio levels (peak and loudness) to be not only checked during the edit but also automatically corrected if they are outside ATSC/EBU broadcast standards. Vidapps-PSE allows video to be checked for luminance flashing and harmful patterns; a process which previously required expensive external testing.
Auto QC tools for file-based media have been available for some years, but were previously complex to use and affordable only for large workflows and large network broadcasters. Recent products such as Vidchecker-post are specifically for post production and at a price that even the smallest company can afford. The rendered files are simply dropped from the edit desk into a watch-folder to be tested to the template of file, video and audio tests. Templates can be automatically created from known good files, or selected from the list of supplied standard templates. The Digital Production Partnership (DPP) initiative requires that all files are delivered to broadcasters with an AQC test report from an AMWA/DPP certified compliance checker, and we are proud to say that Vidchecker is precisely that.
Telestream UK to Launch Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro Vidapps at NAB 2015
Broadcast Beat Magazine, February 2015
Video processed with Adobe After Effects or Premiere Pro will soon be able to take advantage of Telestream UK’s intelligent “Vidapps-Video” plug-in to correct RGB gamut and YUV levels within the NLE.
Uk-based Telestream UK, which makes automated quality control software with patented intelligent video and audio correction, will be at NAB this year showing the latest version of its Vidchecker and Vidfixer product suites. These have been extended to include a range of video applications (Vidapps) for Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro, enabling users to check and automatically correct video and audio errors without leaving the Adobe environment.
This means that users of Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro can correct illegal video levels to broadcast safe parameters using Vidcheck’s patented algorithms which correct the video without clamping it. (Clamping being an antiquated means of achieving broadcast safe content that can cause undesirable degradations of the resulting picture).
Vidcheck’s Vidapps-Video provides checking and correction as part of the edit process and is designed to be used as the last stage of post production, immediately before the media is rendered. This approach means the user can be confident that the rendered media will fully comply with the specified requirements before it leaves the Adobe environment.
As part of using Vidapps, an XML report can be generated and saved as a record that QC corrections were done and, if required, be forwarded to the client for the media file. The report can also be ‘skinned’ with the logo and colors of the post house/video editor to make it highly specific and identifiable to them.
Additional Vidapps plug-ins are currently available for audio and photosensitive epilepsy (PSE) checking, and others are in development for introduction later in 2015.
Vidcheck’s core Vidchecker and Vidfixer AQC products are scalable from low-cost versions for post production to sophisticated Vidchecker/Vidfixer Grid systems suitable for larger enterprises. In addition to watch folder automation, Vidcheck’s API has been integrated into many MAM and workflow engine solutions across the industry for seamless addition of complex AQC into any workflow.
A stitch in time
Thomas Dove, CEO, February 2015, TV-Bay
“A stitch in time saves nine” is an old saying: essentially it is saying fix a small problem now and it will save fixing a much bigger problem later. This applies in many areas – including broadcast. Kicking the error can down the road costs a lot more to fix the problem, particularly for audio and video files – but it doesn’t have to.
In the electronic engineering world, of which I am a native son, it’s a generally accepted rule of thumb that any error introduced at an early stage is compounded, in terms of noticeability and costs to repair, by a factor of 10 each step of the way. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that those errors can be crippling and time consuming in pretty short order.
Basically, the principle is that at every successive stage that you find and fix an error, it costs you 10X more to repair it than it would have done at a previous stage. For example, let’s say you’re designing a disc drive and you find and fix a problem in the design stage by slightly altering the design. That’ll cost you, for simplicity’s sake, a tenner. If you miss that error and later find that you have to alter your production process to accommodate the error, it may cost you £100 to make that change. If you miss the error in the production process and the drives go out for distribution to arrive on stock room floors and high street shelves, and start getting sent back for repair, you can count on £1000. Even worse, if you’re proudly installing one of your drives at a customer site and it fails because of some pesky little glitch introduced at the factory, well, it’s hard to put a price on the damage to your reputation and, by default, future sales.
A parallel to this scenario can be drawn in acquiring and handling video and audio content. There’s a price, sometimes a steep one, for not catching errors at acquisition and ingest, so the earlier you can find and fix a problem the better.
Suppose you’re doing an edit and the audio levels are too high. If you’re correcting it in the original edit by doing a quick level check to normalise the audio, fair enough. You’re done. But if you’ve rendered out the finished product and sent the content from post production company to broadcaster with levels that were too high, traditional manual fixes are going to cost you a lot more because now you have to transcode it, and the broadcaster has to ingest to their editor so someone can spend painstaking hours finding and fixing the error – or errors – as well as making sure that other errors haven’t crept in during the repair process, which manual processing at latter stages often does.
If the content has made its way to a video server, and you realise at that stage that there’s a problem, then it has to be bounced right back to the beginning again for further aggravating, and costly, checks and remedies.
Those costs add up quickly. The bottom line is that the longer those errors are left to fester and, in some cases, multiply, the more it costs to fix them. Stopping the bleeding is the best reason for fixing files early. Fortunately, there’s a way to automatically put the brakes on error, and cash, haemorrhage.
Vidchecker, with its patented auto-correction process, is now used by nine out of 10 organisations delivering content in the UK to automatically fix file errors before they are sent out by the post house or by the content receiver at ingest, which means that those errors no longer propagate through the subsequent production and transmission chain, saving those multiples of 10 costs that can so easily escalate.
OK, maybe only five percent of your files will have problems, but that five percent will require 80 percent of your time to fix – if you do it manually. It’s a bit “pay it now or pay it later” but paying to automatically fix that five percent of errors early on costs a lot less than fixing them later, which has an interest rate similar on the error prone file loan you’ve just taken out that’s going to take 80 percent of your time to sort out.
Vidcheck - Getting it Right from the Start
Thomas Dove, CEO, January 2015
With the increasingly diverse array of media formats required for delivery to multiple platforms controlling content quality for all of these is a time-consuming and costly pain. There are quality control (QC) systems that perform tests automatically, but still require subsequent manual editing to repair the problems it finds, which has the knock-on effect of requiring a repeat of the QC processes to ensure that problems have been fixed. Add in the fact that manual intervention to repair QC issues can often introduce new problems, causing further repeats of the QC process, and it rapidly becomes a lengthy and, therefore, expensive problem.
Moreover, the further down the production line the problems are detected, the more difficult and expensive they are to correct, which heightens the need to detect – and correct – them early. For example, if you’re a post-production house sending out broadcast ready material that is already corrected, it much better than having to correct material that is already sitting on a broadcaster’s server ready to go out.
If you’re in the business of digital content distribution where you have a mezzanine file from which lots of different versions are made for an increasing array of delivery platforms, you need to check your master before you make all those versions. A company like this may make 40 different versions of, for example, a movie, and if you check and, importantly, automatically check and automatically correct the mezzanine master before you make those versions, it comes in at a much lower cost than if you had to recall, check and correct all 40 that have already gone out.
The most common areas to be checked and corrected are audio and video levels, which can be checked and corrected automatically. Photo-Sensitive Epilepsy (PSE) correction in the UK is also vital and a prime example of the need to ensure that content falls within legal limits. Failing to check that content does not contain incidents that are out of the acceptable parameters for those prone to PSE can leave you vulnerable to hefty, five figure fines, not dissimilar to audio that is too loud for commercials. Those are only two examples, but should be ample evidence that getting your audio and video files right before they ever leave your facility, and certainly before it gets anywhere near transmission, is the right thing to do.
If you’re a broadcaster and you get something in that’s wrong, you have to bring it into your own editor, make sure it’s edited correctly, check the video’s been done correctly, QC it again afterwards and, then, all too often, repeat the process as other errors are found, or introduced in the process you’ve just been through.
What we have therefore developed is something that post-production editors genuinely need, i.e., a software technology that does all the required checks –automatically – to ensure that rendered files meet all the technical delivery requirements. This is what automated QC offers. I emphasise ‘automated’ because, as I’ve already mentioned, although there are many QC products and processes on the market, most require some degree of manual intervention, which is time-consuming and expensive. Our approach is different in that it’s designed from the outset to make the process as simple as possible. If there are issues with a file, Vidchecker resolves the issue by performing not only fully automated QC and but also automated correction that intelligently checks and corrects video – including HEVC/H.265 format – plus audio parameters that people typically get wrong when preparing and exchanging file-based media between post production, distribution and broadcast.
Our Vidfixer product (the ‘big brother’ to Vidchecker) even takes care of PSE issues by providing fully automated correction of PSE luminance flashing as well as all the other automated corrections. This is particularly relevant to post-production houses that put out files for external PSE test, who can now instead use the low cost Vidfixer-post to take the guesswork out of this correction, for a lower cost than a modest number of external PSE test runs.
So, if you want – no, need – to get your quality right, get it right from the start, and do it automatically, thereby saving the expense that you might later have to explain to the boss, or your client.
Check, Mate: Automated QC In The Post-DPP Market
January 2015 – The BIG Interview – Broadcast Film & Video
Vidcheck provides a range of software tools that conduct Automated Quality Control (Auto QC) and Intelligent Automated Correction of errors on file based video and audio media. It has been an eventful year for UK video, not least with the DPP file delivery changes that came into effect on 1 October. BFV caught up with Graham Pitman, Executive Chairman at Vidcheck.
BFV: Can you briefly sum up your product portfolio and the range of services offered?
GP: Our product portfolio includes VidApps, which are plug ins for third party editing systems, Vidchecker Post and Vidfixer Post which, as their names imply, are configured to meet the needs of the Post Production market. Importantly, these are not merely ‘lite’ versions with a reduced feature set but share all the functionality of their more powerful brethren.
Vidchecker and Vidfixer are the core products and have significantly greater processing capability. For larger installations these last two products can be configured as a ‘grid’ creating a powerful node based Auto QC and Automated Correction ‘farm’. Finally,
there is a cloud based solution that offers a scalable demand based service to those customers who have very significant peaks and troughs in their Auto QC
Vidchecker products are sold with a Software Support Contract. Typically, support contracts cover for support and behind the ‘dot’ product releases and bug fixes. When a company announces their ‘super new product’ the previous generation product drops out of support, and ultimately you have to buy ‘super new product’. Vidcheck doesn’t think this is fair to users, particularly those who may have unknowingly purchased late in the product lifecycle.
So, Vidcheck do not announce major improvements as a new product – your Vidcheck product is ‘evergreen’. If you had version 1 and took out and kept upyour Software Support Contract, then you can now have Version 6 and enjoy all of the new features of the latest product.
BFV: Quality control is one thing, but automated checking and correction is another. Do you feel this puts you far ahead of your competitors, or is automated correction now becoming more commonplace?
GP:The need to deliver DPP compliant content has made Automated Quality Control an essential workflow component. There is, quite simply, no other cost effective solution. Automated Correction is newer and as a consequence is not yet so commonplace. A creative will inevitably have reservations about allowing a software algorithm to intervene and make changes to his or her finely crafted content. However, the accuracy and cost efficiency of Automated Correction is un-arguable; its use removes the tedious process of correcting errors, which doesn’t add any creative value.
It also avoids the need to run the additional QC process that becomes necessary if manual edits are made and, the ever present risk, that manual edits introduce more errors and the whole sorry process has to be repeated yet again. The Vidcheck correction technology covers the vast majority of problems with file based media that are likely to be met both in Post Production and by the Broadcaster. Our experience is: once people try it they never go back. So, yes, we are not only confident that the functional capability and quality of our Intelligent Automated Correction puts us far ahead of our competitors but that the adoption curve that we have experienced with Automated QC will apply to Automated Correction and it too will soon become essential.
BFV:How do VidCheck’s products differ from others available on the market? What is the company philosophy?
GP: Let’s start with our company philosophy as it all flows from that. Our aim is to be the the best in our chosen segment. This means excelling at understanding customer needs, using the best available technologies, giving outstanding service and support, ensuring that our products are reliable and that they are good value for money. Also, it means that on those, fortunately rare, occasions that we get it wrong, because absolutely no one gets it right all of the time, being responsive and open in putting it right and being humble enough to properly apologise.
So, how does that make Vidcheck products differ in the market place? Well, they are quicker and simpler to deploy, easier to use as the GUI is cleaner and more intuitive and the error reports are easier to understand. Vidcheck products process more files more quickly than competitive products and we don’t penalise our customers should they choose to run our software on faster processors.
Vidcheck products are completely scalable – that means there is no need to ‘write off’ earlier investments as your requirements expand. From simple plug-ins for third party systems, through low cost solutions for Post Production, to ‘grid’ systems for high volume situation, it is a seamless solution with a common user interface that minimises training. In addition, the API is exceptionally robust and extensive; it has to be as we use it for our own GUI, so Vidcheck products can be readily integrated with other components that occur in the same workflow.
BFV: What was the company’s reaction to the DPP filebased delivery move on 1 October this year? Do you agree with its voluntary status or do you think specific regulation should be introduced?
GP: We really welcomed the DPP initiative and have participated in the project from the very beginning. You only have to look at the interest that the work of the DPP has created internationally to realise what an important step it has been for the UK content creation and distribution market. There can be no doubt that it is only a matter of time before other countries follow the DPP lead and introduce similar policies. There is a time for regulation and a time for collaborative agreements. I think the DPP was very wise to pursue a collaborative path. It greatly facilitated speed of agreement and implementation and there is an adequate efficiency incentive for everyone to take part. I suspect that the DPP may have opened minds to greater use of collaborative agreements; it certainly triggered an interesting keynote at the 2014 IABM conference.
BFV: Can you tell us about the collaboration with Snell that was announced after IBC this year?
GP: Snell have a workflow and MAM automation solution called Momentum. Vidchecker can be selected as a component in a Momentum workflow, enabling Auto QC on files that are being processed by Momentum. The benefit of this type of integration for end users is that they can be sure that the integrated Auto QC is best of breed and is also likely to be the tool that is used elsewhere in their file based workflow. Secondly, it means operators of the application – in this case Momentum – don’t need to drop out of one application and enter another to conduct Auto QC. Finally, one of the greatest concerns customers have is whether systems from different vendors will work together seamlessly. The degree of integration we have established with many of our partners eliminates that fear.
So, with this integration Snell have joined many other vendors – Root6, Telestream, Amberfin, Digital Rapids
(Imagine), Sony, NOA, IPV, Wohler, to name just a few – who have partnered with Vidcheck and applied our
technology. This means that not only is Vidcheck software the most widely adopted Auto QC Solution by end users in the UK; it is also the most widely adopted Auto QC Solution by third party vendors.
BFV: Finally, what do you expect 2015 will hold for VidCheck, and the industry at large?
GP: For some years now the market research conducted by the IABM and Devoncroft has had ‘Implementation of file based workflows’ as top of mind for broadcasters and content creators alike. Similarly high on the agenda has been a focus on projects that can either increase efficiency or increase revenue. There is no doubt that Auto QC and Automated Correction can deliver substantial efficiencies and the ROI can be measured in weeks rather than years.
So, in 2015 Vidcheck will undoubtedly see a wider adoption of Auto QC and Automated Correction. Not simply more customers, but an increased application of Auto QC and correction tools throughout the workflow. For the wider media industry, I think we will see more businesses focussing upon their core competence and outsourcing those parts of their business that are not core. I don’t expect cloud solutions to become the norm any time soon, but I think 2015 will mark a greater willingness to explore cloud services. I think the most positive message for 2015 is that the reduction of the total broadcast market that occurred during the recession is past and the market is growing overall.
Margins are ever tighter and expectations are ever higher, but good businesses who supply good products can prosper. We are both positive and confident.
Sound Monitoring Moves
Learn more about audio monitoring and how Vidchecker can help in January’s 2015 edition of In Broadcast:
Howard Twine, senior sales manager, explains how Vidchecker can automatically check and correct loudness to different broadcast standards.
Thumbs Up for Vidcheck!
Simon Begent – November 2014
Vidcheck has announced that more than 70 companies in the UK are now using and giving the thumbs up to Vidchecker Automatic Quality Control (AQC) for file-based media in their broadcast workflows. This includes production companies, post-production from small edit houses to larger media processing and distribution companies, and use by small and large broadcasters.
The catalyst for this adoption has been the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) requirement that from 1st October this year all new content delivered to major UK broadcasters must be file-based and conform to the DPP specified file format. The DPP is funded by ITV, BBC and Channel 4 with representation from Channel 5, Sky, S4/C, UKTV, BT Sport and the independent sector on its working groups.
Goodbye tapes – all new content has to be delivered as AVC-I class 100 files in MXF conforming to the AS-11 with the DPP defined ‘shim’ and metadata. Compliance to the standard means quality control checking of the correctness of the structural integrity of the encoded file, and that the metadata describing the content, programme title, synopsis, originator, copyright, track layout, audio loudness and PSE test result is present and wrapped in the MXF file header. This is all in addition to the normal checks of start timecodes, video levels, RGB gamut, audio levels, audio loudness to EBU R128, and PSE flashing tests to Ofcom requirements.
When the DPP requirements and start date were announced there were many worried faces around the production and post production communities in our major cities. The DPP and the BBC Academy have been running a series of presentations and workshops around the country. The DPP’s ‘Producer’s Guide to File Delivery’ recommends a combination of ‘eyes and ears’ QC during the production phase, and that automatic AQC is used to check the files and the contained video and audio parameters at all stages though production, post-production and distribution before and after the files are delivered to the broadcaster.
Vidchecker is an easy to install and use software package for use on standard PC servers. It is scalable from one file at a time to enterprise requirements of 100s of file a day. Vidchecker-post version is affordable to even the smallest edit house and post-production company. It comes with templates for the DPP test requirements (also Netflix, and iTunes tests) produces reports certifying the tests done and the results. Editors can concentrate on creating good content without the worry of having to ensure that the file meets all the technical delivery requirements. If there are any issues, Vidchecker shows the timecodes where the problems are, with a description of the problem in language that an editor can understand.
Vidchecker also includes intelligent automated correction. If the video levels (luma, chroma and colour gamut) are outside broadcasts specification, or the audio peak or loudness not to EBU requirements, it can automatically correct and produce new files without the need for manual correction and re-rendering.
Blink and You’ll Miss It
Thomas Dove – October 2014
All television content intended for broadcast in the UK is required to comply with a range of quality and delivery specifications: some of these are legal requirements and there are considerable financial consequences for failing to ensure that content falls within the required parameters prior to air.
However, the due to the level of detail required to QC file-based media formats to ensure they meet delivery specifications, it’s not surprising that errors do slip through unless a full automatic QC is done. An editor’s job is stressful enough without having to drill down to the exacting detail of every frame, and therein lies the problem. Errors can escape notice in the blink of an eye… “in a flash”, as it were.
And it’s flashes in file-based media that can cause serious problems. Photosensitive epilepsy (PSE) is a type of epilepsy in which seizures are provoked by flashing or patterned images. OfCOM requires that all video be tested for potentially harmful flashing/pattern images before it is broadcast, with a warning explicitly transmitted if not. If it fails PSE tests it must be corrected, or include an appropriate warning. Not doing this can incur serious penalties.
You may think it’s easy to work out if a video sequence contravenes the legal PSE requirements and correct such anomalies. It’s not. Moreover, irrespective of whether certain errors, including flashing and/or patterns, are identified by some automated software technologies that do the required checks, they still require manual intervention to fix them using costly editors working in edit bays, where the editor does an adjustment then tests the result again to see if it now passes (often multiple times). This trial and error approach is time-consuming, repetitive and, therefore, expensive. The manual process has the further downsides of often applying more change to the video than is really required, and can also introduce new problems, and only one mistake can cost a broadcaster more than the technology we’ve developed to fix it, which is called “Vidfixer”.
Vidcheck products are currently in use with most major broadcasters content distributors, archive organisations and post production companies, and focus on checking the parameters and settings that people typically get wrong in the preparation and exchange of file-based media. Our approach is to make the QC process as simple and painless as possible by fully automating not just the checking, but also the correction. This is particularly important with the addition to Vidfixer of our patent-pending process for correcting file-based media for PSE flashing. We take advantage of ultra-fast processors that apply self-correcting heuristic algorithms to modify original content by the minimum amount needed to ensure compliance. The algorithms we have developed and deployed are unique to Vidcheck and are not available in any other product or software range. The result is that correcting PSE flashing can now be done quickly, fully automatically and accurately.
If you couple those developments with the automated video level correction that we’ve already patented and included in our QC products, you have a system that enables creatives to be creative without having their professional lives “flash before their eyes”.
Learning from File Based QC with Vidcheck
Howard Twine – September 2014
With the proliferation of second screen and other media formats and the need to push content to different platforms with rapid turn around, not everyone has the luxury of getting all the technical aspects of this content right during the production process. Problems in the content caused by the very transcode process to these delivery formats, cannot in some cases even be spotted by the human eye or ear. Also the cost of dedicated equipment and personnel can in some cases be prohibitive.
Having an Automatic Quality Control (AQC) solution that not only identifies these errors but also corrects them can save a significant amount of time and revenue. This is because users are not reliant on ‘bouncing’ the content back up the production chain to be corrected. Vidchecker and Vidfixer can provide the confidence that video and audio levels are within specification with its patented intelligent auto correction features. This non destructive process creates a new file with the corrected video and audio in the same format as the original. Users have the flexibility to assign these auto correction tools on a template by template basis, providing better workflow flexibility. As well as being able to correct RGB gamut errors, chroma and black levels and numerous types of audio loudness including the infamous R128 ITU 1770 integrated loudness.
That’s a very hands off approach and for some people a more manual approach is desirable. If this is the case Vidchecker can still be used to perform the QC as normal but most importantly it can lead the operator to where the problems exist in a final report. There is more though because Vidchecker can access the content under test and with the aid of a built in player actually show the user the exact location of the problem. One of the key attractions of Vidcheck products is the easy to understand reports. Not only do these provide the type and location of an error but also quantifies it. In the case of photo sensitive epilepsy flashing tests for example, Vidchecker provides the results in terms of the Ofcom specification, for the number of flashes per second, the brightness of the flashes and how much of the picture is affected.
This approach means the user can make a decision about how to fix the problem. If the number of flashes is only just over the specification threshold then perhaps slowing that particular shot down may work. One emerging trend for this kind of approach is to set up a watch folder only for PSE testing, that editors can access in the edit suite.
This means that users make broader use of Vidchecker and get a greater return on the initial investment. The editors gain a better understanding of the real life implications of broadcast specifications without extensive off the job training. So now the traditional QC tool has been deployed inside the production process as well as at the end, and it has also become a teaching tool.
Viva Vidcheck! Long Live the Revolution!
Simon Begent – August 2014
Quality Control of video before it is sent to the broadcaster is not new. Eyeballing and listening to at least the start, middle and end, checking a waveform monitor and perhaps running it through a flash analyser before bagging the tape ready for the courier to collect has been the norm. This is the last stage before delivery so more often than not there is little time before the delivery deadline. A hastily completed paper form attached to the tape box describes the contents, and that the video and audio are ok. If there is a problem then hopefully the broadcaster will fix it and not send it back.
However, a revolution is in progress. Revolutions are great if you are on the winning side but worrying if you are not. They mean adapting to change. The change to file-base delivery may not be good for motorbike couriers but is good for ease and speed of delivery and storage.
The revolution here in the UK is that the major broadcasters have combined together as the DPP to specify a single closely defined file-based format, with mandatory requirements for delivery. This is good news for the broadcasters as they push back to the post-production companies and content providers the responsibility for delivery quality checking and getting it right. DPP is some good news for post-production as it removes the previous maze of different file formats and different delivery requirements, but it also presents significant new challenges in QC checking before delivery to the broadcaster.
The information that was previously supplied on a paper form with the tape – about the video, the programme title, synopsis, originator, copyright, track layout, if it has been PSE flash tested, audio loudness compliant, etc. – now has to be digitally wrapped as DPP metadata within the file itself. The presence and completeness of this metadata has to be checked. The file encoded format has to be AVC-I, the bitrate and audio layout has to be correct, it has to comply with AS-11 which gives the structural format of the file and the MXF wrapper. This is all in addition to the normal checks of start timecodes, video levels, RGB gamut, audio levels, EBU R128 loudness, and PSE Ofcom testing. No wonder there are many worried looks around the post production communities in our major cities.
Fortunately where there is a need there is also an answer. Auto QC systems for file-based video have been around for over 10 years but their high price and complexity has limited their use to all but the largest broadcasters. But the revolution has now reached auto QC. A second generation system Vidchecker is now available, and a Vidchecker-post version which is affordable to even the smallest edit house and post-production company. It is easy to use, comes complete with templates for the DPP test requirements and produces reports certifying the tests done and the results. And did I mention that it not only checks but can also automatically correct out of spec video and audio including loudness? Give the team at Vidcheck a call.
I'm an editor, not a tech codec geek - just check it for me !
Thomas Dove – July 2014
Many video and audio editors don’t understand all the ins and outs of file-based media formats, broadcast technical delivery specs such as the DPP specification – and why should they? Their job is to make a good, creative, interesting commercial / program / film in an efficient manner and the skills needed to do this are completely different from the ‘geekdom’ needed to make sure the right codecs are used, the right GOP structure, the right bit-rates, the right metadata, video & audio levels etc. etc.
Of course, the broadcaster / film studio / advertising agency wants the video and audio to be memorable, interesting, eye-catching (for all the right reasons) but there is also the need to meet the relevant broadcast / distribution delivery specifications. Most of these are many pages long; they often list interrelated options (e.g. the Netflix specifications list over 20 different combinations of video/audio of acceptable HD formats); many such specification documents are not entirely specific, containing ‘guidelines’ rather than hard limits; and often many technical parameters are implied. One simple example of implied technical parameters: MPEG-2 PAL ‘long GOP’ should have a GOP structure of 12 whereas NTSC should be 15. But on many NLEs when rendering the video files the editor can pick a wide range of GOP lengths.
The UK DPP specification is excellent in that it is relatively short, is specific and has one format for HD and one for SD – so far so good. It lists for HD the requirement for AVC-I (Intra-only AVC video frames), but that the AVC video must meet the ‘SMPTE2027’ specification. I imagine that most editors don’t know too much of SMPTE2027 and nor that a number of NLEs did not produce video to the SMPTE2027 specification even if it said ‘AVC-Intra’ on render out (and nor that the Panasonic version of AVC-I is not the same as SMPTE-2027 and does not meet the DPP specification).
It is not surprising that someone who is good at and likes to understand all the technical engineering issues (yes there are sad people like that, me included) is likely to be a different person than the person who is good at creative editing.
Essentially what post-production editors need is something that will do the checks required – ideally automatically – and ensure that the rendered file does meet all the technical delivery requirements: this is what auto QC offers (at least from Vidcheck). And if there are any issues with a file, simply show the timecodes where the problems are, with a description of the problem in language that an editor can understand.
What is needed is a prepared set of Templates, for the various delivery specs where files are checked automatically and it is easy to see which files are “good to go” and which need some technical corrections work.
The point here is not to take away any of the creativity that the editor brings to the task, but instead to remove the pain of having to understand all the details of technical delivery specifications (DPP included) – this is what Vidcheck’s software offers.
The Industrialisation of Broadcast
Graham Pitman – May 2014
I can still picture the scene, the TV engineer carrying in the “colour television”. Colourisation, as it was known, was sweeping the UK and my parents had decided to buy one of the new sets for Christmas. The set was installed and switched on and… “blank screen”. The engineer sighed, opened his tool bag and removed the back of the set. Two hours later, the smell of solder pervaded our sitting room and the back of the set was being re-fitted. Joy of joys, it worked…
The result of this sequence of events has become a legend. Someone forgot to tell Sony that it was cheaper not to do QC at the end of the production line. So, Sony delivered sets that worked out of the box, customers flocked to buy Sony Trinitron sets and the UK TV manufacturing industry vanished, almost overnight.
Those of us who are old enough, and that includes me, can see how this pattern was repeated across the industrial and commercial landscape. The truth of the matter, when the value chain was properly analysed, it never was cheaper to let quality be an issue for the next process in line. Research illustrated it could be up to 10 times more expensive to correct an error at the next process stage. And, if the faulty workmanship was passed back to its source for correction, it caused a costly disruption and delay to current work.
So, we saw a new industrial revolution and a new language associated with this new approach. Total Quality Management, Statistical Process Control, Just in Time, Quality Circles, Lean Manufacturing, Zero Defects, Six Sigma, etc. All of which led to a smooth automated workflow, a workflow that was “totally intolerant of poor quality from the prior process”.
I can hear you saying, this is a nice history lesson, but what is the relevance of this article to this journal? For a long time the Broadcast Industry remained a craft process, people with pony tails and sandals did creative and arcane things with video and walked the corridors carrying their creative output, not in stone, or on canvas, but on video tape. However, it is changed; Digital Video has enabled the Industrialisation of Broadcast and with it has swept away the previous commercial landscape. Broadcasters no longer make Analogue Dollars, but Digital Dimes; they have to automate their processes to survive. So, the very same transition that happened at the TV or car factory is occurring in Broadcast and a workflow that is “totally intolerant of poor quality from the prior process” is rapidly developing and unsurprisingly Broadcasters are engaging consultants in lean process techniques from industry.
The choice for the suppliers to this industry is as stark is it was for the suppliers of parts to Toyota, Nissan, and BMW. Supply us with “zero defects” or you will be out of business. There is no point in fighting the change, the winners will be those that embrace it, and there really is only one solution Automated QC – the ROI can be as high as 3 fold in a year, so give the guys at Vidcheck a call it is not merely affordable – it is unaffordable not too.
Affordable Auto QC
Simon Begent – April 2014
Automatic Quality Control for file-based media has been available for broadcasters for over 10 years. The initial products in the early days were expensive and affordable only by larger broadcasters to check files at ingest and just before play-out. The transition to tapeless workflows has taken longer than expected, largely due to the costs of transition and the confusion of the many different file types and formats that edit systems and broadcasters have been using. Transfer to and from tape is still widely used. However, the age of tapeless workflow is now almost upon us with the DPP requirement that by 1st October this year all deliveries to major UK broadcasters should be file-based and conform to the DPP specified file formats.
Leaving QC until just before broadcast is too late. There is no time left to correct problems by manually changing levels, re-editing and re-encoding. The DPP’s recently published ‘Producer’s Guide to File Delivery’ recommends that QC starts during the production phase, and automatic QC is used to check and report key video and audio parameters at all stages though production, post-production and distribution before the files are even delivered to the broadcaster. The responsibility for QC and getting it right is being pushed back much earlier in the supply chain. QC is now required during production and at the interchange points when files are delivered from post-production to distribution, for distribution to the broadcaster and for material coming out of archive.
As these workflow changes are gathering momentum, auto QC products have been changing. The first generation of QC software products which only did checking have now been replaced by second generation products like Vidchecker which provide not only full QC test, but also PSE (flashing) checking to OFCOM requirements and crucially also automatic correction of the video and audio. Automatic correction of key parameters like video black and chroma levels, colour gamut, audio levels and audio loudness including automatically re-encoding the corrected files significantly reduces the time and expense of putting material back through the edit process for manual correction and re-encode. The Vidfixer product provides additional auto correction of items such timecode, length of colour bars, and black sequences according to user specified requirements.
This increase in functionality does not come at increased cost. In fact auto QC software is now cheaper than it has been before, and affordable for the smaller independent producer and post production house. For example a single Vidchecker licence can process and correct 4 files simultaneously, and a special low cost version Vidchecker-post is available which as the name suggests is especially for post-production houses with fewer files to process each day. Vidchecker-post has the entire QC, PSE checking and auto correction features of Vidchecker but processes one file at a time instead of four. It comes with templates for testing to DPP, iTunes and Netflix delivery requirements making the job of conformance testing and reporting straightforward and affordable.