April 13, 2002

Linux and broadcasting: Video servers, set-top boxes, and rendering farms

- By Matt Butcher -

The annual National Association of Broadcasters' show in Las Vegas is one of the
broadcasting industry's premier showcases for technology. From studio equipment to online channel guides, NAB brings together all aspects of the broadcasting industry. During the convention this past week, Tux was there.
Linux is a visible player in the broadcasting industry's
efforts to transition from analog technologies to digital. From set-top box software to servers to content creation, Open Source software is providing tools for the new generation of broadcasting technology.

Nowhere is Linux more dominant in this industry than in the digital set-top box (STB). Well over 80% of the STBs at the show were running some variant of Linux. Companies like Kreatel, Tivella, EnReach and Tuxia promoted STB software based on Linux and other Open Source components such as Mozilla. Advanced video-on-demand, broadband gaming and Web browsing were among the crowd-catching demos
exhibited during the course of the show.

When asked why his company chose Linux, Chad Gibbons, senior v.p. and
general manager of Tuxia Americas, said: "It's about standards. With Linux, HTML 4, Java, and MHP at its core, the TASTE iTV platform from Tuxia enables set-top OEMs, operators and broadband service providers to benefit from the flexibility and
economics of open-standards software while addressing the growing
demands for new applications and interactive content from consumers."

It was no surprise, either, to see Linux take its place amongst SGI and Sun as a server platform for media services. Kasenna's video streaming server is available for Linux, as is Orca Interactive's media content management server. Demos from Tivella and The Paddle Krumland Group relied upon the free source Darwin Streaming Server from Apple to stream MPEG-2 content from Linux servers to Linux STBs.

At Hewlett-Packard's booth, hundreds of foam Tux penguins were passed out to promote the company's server and workstation Linux products, and IBM displayed Linux and Gnome on its systems.

The greatest surprise came in the area of content creation and special effects technologies. From high-powered-number crunching clusters used for generating special effects to desktop animation and 3D imaging programs, Linux was mentioned over and over as a behind-the-scenes player.

Alias|Wavefront, a long-standing force in high-end digital content creation, demonstrated its cutting-edge Maya 3D applications (known for the spectacular effects in Star Wars, Episode I) on HP workstations powered by Red Hat Linux.

DreamWorks SKG demonstrated its in-house animation and rendering tools on the same HP workstations, and discussed its 1,000 processor Linux rendering farm. A representative of DreamWorks was quick to state: "We are not Linux zealots. We just needed a platform that was reliable, ran on commodity hardware, and provided good desktop performance."

He added that DreamWorks had evaluated SGI, Mac OSX (which was not complete at the time) and Windows, but that it became clear that Linux was the solution for the movie studio.

On the "strictly Linux" side, Linux Media Arts and Linux Media Labs co-hosted a booth demonstrating Linux-based digital video editing and production. Linux Media Arts unveiled its forthcoming Cinterra media production systems fully loaded with dual processors (AMD or Intel), two gigs of DDR, up to 200 gigs of hard drive space, and custom digital encoding hardware and software. Linux Media Labs showcased its more modest video CD authoring technologies.

Kreatel: http://www.kreatel.com
Tivella: http://www.tivella.com
EnReach: http://www.enreach.com
Tuxia: http://www.tuxia.com
Paddle Krumland: http://www.paddlekrumland.com
SGI: http://www.sgi.com
Sun: http://www.sun.com
Kasenna: http://www.kasenna.com
Orca Interactive: http://www.orcainteractive.com
Apple: http://www.apple.com
HP: http://www.hp.com
IBM: http://www.ibm.com
DreamWorks: http://www.dreamworks.com
Red Hat: http://www.redhat.com
Linux Media Arts: http://www.linuxmediaarts.com
Linux Media Labs: http://www.linuxmedialabs.com

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