Episode 23: The tape shortage crisis and what it means

Terence and Philip start discussing the tape shortage crisis – particularly HDCAM SR – caused by the situation in Japan: is tape dead, or will it merely lead to a resurgence of D5? Who’s accepting file-based delivery, is that even practical, and who gets to drive the need for tape delivery?

Remember, “No-one ever voluntarily changes their workflow”!

Considerations of tape shortage leads to discussion on archiving non-tape sources, and the issues surrounding that. What do we do in a world with tape shortage and ever increasing costs of hard drives?

Many thanks toΒ Isai Espinoza for editing the show again and making us sound smart.

20 thoughts on “Episode 23: The tape shortage crisis and what it means

  1. If Sony was smart they would either quickly license manufacturing of SR to other companies or come up with an entirely new solution to this problem. The Hollywood Reporter mentioned that LTO manufacturing was also affected by the earthquake and tsunami. We’ll have to see how this plays out.

    I really see the big questions as what are we going to deliver and how are we going to archive. There are enough formats from enough companies that acquisition shouldn’t be a problem unless producers are being stubborn. But SR has very quickly dominated the industry for delivery due to its superior quality and ability to record 12 tracks of audio. (No more DA-88!)

    Personally, I wouldn’t want to see a nearly dead format like D5 make a resurgence. Machines are likely harder to come by these days. I think Sony should seize this opportunity and blow us away with a new mastering and archiving solution.

    1. Trouble is, even with the absolute best intentions and unlimited capital, unless a new mastering and archiving solution is already well in development, it won’t happen within 2 years. That’s about the minimum dev time in a big company like Sony. Likewise licensing to another manufacturer would still take months to ramp up production of a new format – new tape formulation, new QA processes.

      But we do need a better archive solution and that’s definitely something I’ll be looking for at NAB.

  2. I would hope a company like Sony is already looking far into the future and a new solution wouldn’t mean they’re starting from scratch.

    As you guys mentioned, there may already be another facility to handle SR manufacturing. If so, hopefully it wouldn’t take much (or long) to get it up and running.

    1. No argument that film separations are absolutely the best archive. However, budget reasons make it impractical for almost everyone but the very elite. We’re looking for a “low cost” archive solution for the small facility 1-10 people. Large plants already have solutions.

      1. Hah! Have you looked around? With all the downsizing and budget cutting going on, it won’t be too long before the 1-10 people shop are the elite!

        But for near term archiving, what about SDHC cards? Prices for those per Gig are nearing or beating parity for tape. Robust, no moving parts, random access, and small enough to fit your tape library in a filing cabinet?

  3. I agree that properly stored film is the best archiving format that we have at this point in time.

    You can still view a film from 100 years ago. Better yet, you can hold it up to light and see the image. Try to read any of the Videotape/LTO/Disc/Hard Drive/ etc. solutions that are being used now.

  4. The tech Terence was thinking of with regard to LTO-5 acting like any other external drive is LTFS. It is a free software that Quantum and IBM and maybe some other vendors in the LTO-5 alliance distribute for free (obviously they want you to buy the LTO-5 drive to go with it). I haven’t had a chance to play with it myself, but you can get a single SAS LTO-5 drive for a few grand and the tapes are currently around $75 each for 1.5TB. That tape stock price will fall over time too- the LTO-4s that were that expensive a couple years ago are now roughly $25 each. Is that not an affordable archive solution for small shops? How cheap does it need to be? The HDCAM-SR decks cost $80K, so at 95% less the desktop LTO-5 drive is a steal. Plus, you can put over 16 hours of ProRes HQ 1080 on a single $75 LTO-5. How much are HDCAM tapes selling for now? πŸ˜‰

  5. Andrew, to be fair, how easily can you play out to air from that LTO tape? That is what you would have to compare to with an HDCAMSR deck.

    A better comparison is to hard drives. I can purchase a 2TB bare hard drive for 75. very easily. If I need to recover a shot from that drive, I can do it in moments. If I need to do that at someone else’s computer, I can use a $20 SATA to USB or Firewire connector. No Need for a $2,000 tape reader at every computer I might ever use.

    For long term archive, tape is certainly safer than mechanical drives. But it still isn’t a great answer for archive. I haven’t seen that solution yet.

    1. Who plays tape to air anymore? Maybe small-market local news, but they aren’t rolling HDCAM-SR…

      I’m just saying that you can create your local deep archive on LTO and that is perfectly affordable compared to keeping a dozen SR masters. Shipping drives is totally practical for file-based delivery to a customer. They still cost less than SR stock even if you by redundant HDDs like you mentioned in the show. It still blows my mind that the big networks have resisted file-based masters this long. It is far more flexible and you don’t need a rack full of $80K VTRs to deal with them.

      So you need to go portable with data stored on your LTO? Just pop in the LTO tape and copy the file to an external HDD and go. No different than if you have footage on your RAID that you need to move. It might take a minute or two more for the LTO drive to spool to your file before it copies it, but is that so bad?

      I guess my main argument is that there is no technical reason to involve videotape in the production pipeline at all. The only thing keeping videotape relevant for new productions is the inertia at the big networks insisting on videotape delivery. And as you pointed out, they may be forced to modernize if there is just no more videotape to go around for a while.

  6. You are missing a few things in this file based delivery universe.

    One, how do you QC a file? With tape and a scope it is easy.

    Two, client decides after delivery they want to change on shot in your two hour show. Now you have to do the entire file output and delivery again, as opposed to punching in the shot on a tape master.

  7. Three, consistency. If you have an SR deck, you can play back an SR tape. If you have a hard drive with a file on it, you better have the proper codec, even if it is some arcane proprietary one that some company just made up.

    When you look at a product like Content Agent which allows you to go to all kinds of file formats, it gets increasingly more expensive as you add various file formats. This is a licensing issue which can get you up into the 20K realm pretty fast.

    1. Why can’t you play a file out through your scope like you do with tape? There is at least as much opportunity for technical error in setting up a high-end VTR for mastering from an NLE as there is in setting up a Kona or DeckLink card to deliver baseband HD-SDI. IMHO, a workflow that goes from an NLE to videotape that will just be ingested back to a file wherever it is going is like printing out a Word doc and faxing it to someone so they can scan it, OCR it, and convert it back into a Word doc. Why not just send the file?

      There are just as many mastering tape formats as there are master-quality codecs. The difference is that SR, D5, D6, et al. decks aren’t given away for free like ProRes and Avid’s codecs are. Tools like ContentAgent and Cerify are there for automating the format flip and QC, but the NLEs you have today are perfectly capable of creating these master files and serving as the platform for QC by hand (and eye).

      And how is it easier to do an insert edit on a delivered tape than it is to run a new file export and send again? Only if you haven’t shipped the tape already, and even then it is a wash for ease of use. And if it is file vs tape on cost, I bet the money that buys an SR mastering VTR will buy a lot of codec licensing and transcoding equipment.

      I certainly can’t argue that file-based delivery is a utopia, and there are plenty of hassles associated with wrangling the workflow and coordinating with clients. If everyone uses SR universally, then that does make it easy. Almost as easy as if everyone just used ProRes. There are always challenges to overcome in any workflow, but I won’t miss videotape when it’s gone.

      I hope I don’t come across as crass, I love debating this topic. πŸ™‚

  8. LTO is a very good short and long-term archiving solution but it is still tape, and as such vulnerable to failure. As a consequence, for true deep storage archiving, one needs to have redundancy in the system.

  9. When you play out a file to a scope, you are seeing what the acrd is sending out. Not what is in the file or how it will play on another system. The file based universe is so far from standardized at this point, it is very dangerous. Don’t believe me? Take a nonstandard Qt and run it through FCP and look at what comes out on the scope, then send that sequence to Color and look what comes out on the same scope. Then do an adjustment in Color and look what comes out on the same scope. Then render and send back to FCP and look what you get. 3 to 4 different sets of levels and gamma handling.

    Check out Oliver Peter’s postings on just trying to get 5D files to look the same way in different applications.

    When you say there are just as many mastering tape formats as master quality codecs, you must be thinking someone came up with only a few codecs. Unfortunately codecs are like opinions, it seems almost everyone has one. DnxHD, ProRes, H.264, AVC, AVCPRO, EX or XDCAM, MPEG2, Sorenson 3, VP6 and the variants, FFv1, Lagarith, FFmpeg, X264, WMV, MS-MPEG-4v3, JPEG2000, etc.

    With one HDCAMSR deck I can play HDCAMSR, HDCAM, and Digibeta. One more deck for DVCPROHD, and maybe an HDV deck and you are done.

    As for doing an insert edit, I can do that in less than 5 minutes including setting up the deck.

    How long does it take to export a 1 hour show to a file? How long to include the conversion to the delivery file format? What system are you tying up all that time? While you are thinking about that, I am already done. πŸ˜‰

    1. All fair points, though I’m not sure I would consider any of “H.264, AVC, AVCPRO, EX or XDCAM, MPEG2, Sorenson 3, VP6 and the variants, FFv1, Lagarith, FFmpeg, X264, WMV, MS-MPEG-4v3, JPEG2000, etc.” to be a “mastering codec”, but that’s semantics. If we had anything even approaching a de facto standard, we wouldn’t be arguing semantics.

      I’d also prefer to differentiate “archival” from “delivery” formats. Delivery formats truly are the wild west, no doubt. But we have a much shorter list of codecs that are ideal to derive all those deliverables from; uncompressed, ProRes, and DNxHD. Would you argue those codecs do not deliver consistent and trustworthy playback across devices and software? I submit for approval a new rule of thumb; if you wouldn’t want to edit with it, you probably shouldn’t archive with it.

      We are facing a challenge the print and photo guys have long since settled for themselves, more or less. PDF is the de facto standard for passing around digital pre-press (or never-press). TIFF and JPEG are the de facto still-image standards. File-based end-to-end video production and distribution is still very much in its infancy, but I think we can see some coalescing going on, particularly around ProRes for editing and mastering and H.264 in some form or another for delivery (be it downloadable or streaming). Alas, I don’t think we’ll ever see an end to the confounding diversity of proprietary acquisition formats… Long live the KiPro and the Ninja!

      Oh, and I could build a very fast, automated transcoding cluster for the $125K+ you spent on those decks… πŸ˜‰

  10. I see in the NAB preview issue of TV Technology that Sony will be showing disc and flash memory-based HDCAM-SR “solutions” this year. Perhaps they already have the replacement for HDCAM-SR tape in mind…

    1. As long as it isn’t SxS cards – they were (exclusively) made in the same factory as the SR tapes. Otherwise we’re all heading for Ninja’s, KiPros et al.

      EDIT: No soon had I posted than this was in my Facebook feed: “Today we were at a private Sony event. You are looking at a $8000 1TB flash card able to record continuos 4K resolution without dropping a single bit.”

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