BBC R&D on saving the archive
[Editor's note: This piece first appeared in Ariel last week.]
For 15 years a dedicated cadre of engineers and managers from R&D has been working to develop tools which will preserve the BBC's vast archive into the future.
The latest product of their efforts is the ASTOR demonstrator - (aka 'the world's heaviest laptop') which is currently being tested by the archive and network media research engineers.
It's big, runs pretty hot, weighs close to half a ton, and can store dozens of hours of HD content, but perhaps most amazingly is that in its brief few months of existence, it's clocked up more than 10,000 miles. That's because in April, Rajitha Weerakkody and I took the prototype box along to NAB (the world's largest broadcast technology conference and exhibition) in Las Vegas.
The story began three years ago, when R&D started looking at the best ways to store large amounts of AV content in digital form. We produced a huge amount of data as well as recommendations and proposals, but it was clear that the digital storage industry couldn't match the needs of our archive, nor the needs of the thousands of other broadcasters who faced the same challenge.
Led by the technologist Richard Wright, R&D joined forces with academic researchers and industry experts to develop a new system which could manage the vast volumes of digital data. This became known as the 'Avatar-M' research project, and we revealed the first technical prototypes at the NAB. We're hoping to thoroughly test the kit at Kingswood over the summer, before enhancing the platform and possibly incorporating elements of the Dirac video codec (also produced in R&D).
In September the kit, plus its trusty band of demonstrators, will take to the road once more - this time to Amsterdam for the European forum for broadcast tech, IBC.
Ant Miller is Senior Research Manager, BBC Research and Development.
- Find out more about the Avatar project at the project site