Originally published in Broadcast Film & Video (Volume 20: Issue 10)
A leading supplier of technology and services to the broadcast and postproduction community, root6 has also enjoyed considerable success in the academic sector. Co-founder and Sales Director Rupert Watson goes under the BFV spotlight to highlight how the sector is responding to current challenges.
Q. What are the main changes you’ve experienced in the technology supplied to the academic sector since you started trading?
In a way the changes go right back to when I was a student at Goldsmiths. Back then we were working with broadcasters’ cast-off kit – we were on analogue U-matic while Betacam and 1” was used by the professionals. The biggest change is that now we are installing state of the art equipment in Universities. Students at Goldsmiths and Ravensbourne are now operating more up-to -date Avid equipment than some of our commercial customers. That makes me smile, in a good way.
From a practical point of view it means that students are more familiar with current technology but the puck has moved. The current challenge the sector faces is one of workflow and figuring out how to deal with the tsunami of data and metadata resulting from digital camera acquisition; no one turns the camera off anymore!
Q. How quickly does the sector react to step changes in technology?
The really smart academic customers are the ones who are able to work out how to assemble the technology in such a way as to ensure the students can really get stuff done. It’s no good having an ARRIRAW camera or similar that creates big data if the workflow doesn’t go smoothly throughout the post pipeline that has been built. You have to match the technology to the teaching aims and what the students are going to be doing and the time that they have in which to complete it.
It is not really about reacting to technology change; it’s about how the technology is used. That’s an area that needs more attention, I think. I would love to see students doing real-world research into the problems of arranging and post producing shows that are swimming in lakes of data. It’s a cliché, I know, but it really is all about the workflow these days.
Q. Can you describe some of the particular technical challenges encountered?
In an odd way some of the technical challenges are borne out of the leaching away of fundamental knowledge of ‘old-fashioned’ broadcast technology. In a milieu in which everything is software and file- based it’s easy to forget that when video and audio reach the outside world there are some technical issues. It helps to have a bit of honest-to-goodness broadcast engineering knowledge. Interlaced video, balanced audio, gamma, video levels, calibrating monitors for grading video synchronisation and common earths in television facilities – all this stuff still needs to be got right. Not all the institutions we deal with are spending enough time teaching this sort of stuff.
In some teaching labs extreme peaks of use are required when many students are required to access the same clip simultaneously. We encountered this at The University of York and provided a solution based on IBM’s GPFS high performance clustered file system. Hardware agnostic, the solution also integrated seamlessly with the IT domain – another important provision.
Q. How well does the academic sector provide students with the practical issues involved in commercial practice?
Ravensbourne approached us to see if we could provide their students with some insight into the recent move to AS-11 delivery in the UK. We were delighted to send our chief engineer, Phil Crawley, and our ContentAgent pre-sales specialist, Bill Baker, to provide some workshops on that and also on other areas of interest such as PSE and colour gamut in television. We expect to repeat the exercise but this time it is likely to cover High Dynamic Range as well as the new file-based standards that are taking hold in Europe.
Q. How important is the provision of SI & technical support?
root6 is unique as a reseller as we have profound expertise from pre-sales through systems integration and support to training. When Universities work with us we are able to offer as much or as little of it as they need or want. The nice thing about working with academic institutions is that it is a continuum and the process of engagement takes place over a long period of time. Short-term apparent value for money can prove very expensive over time.
Q. What emerging technologies do you think will be especially significant in the sector?
Post IBC there is no doubt that High Dynamic Range has arrived and is here to stay. There is a lot to learn (and unlearn) as we move into a world of Rec. 2020 colour space and 4000 nits displays.
VR is no doubt important but I think the smart money is on Augmented Reality (AR) which is the other shoe that is waiting to drop. I think the Universities need to be the place where the synthesis of old linear TV thinking and these new, exciting, technologies occurs.
root6 has provided and supported installations at many of the UK’s leading academic institutions including:
Goldsmiths, University of London, Ravensbourne, NFTS and the Universities of Edinburgh (Napier), Essex, Middlesex, Northumbria and York