Volicon Delivers Observer Multichannel Video Monitoring and Logging System


Company Contact:
Julius Perl
Volicon, Inc.
111 South Bedford Street
Burlington, MA 01803
Tel: 781-221-7400 x126
Fax: 781-221-7407
Email: julius@volicon.com

Volicon Delivers Observer Multichannel Video Monitoring and Logging System
New Technology Provides Efficient Recording, Archiving and Streaming of Digital Video

Burlington, Mass — January 31, 2005: Volicon, Inc., a provider of advanced solutions for efficient recording, archiving and streaming of digital video, announces the Observer multichannel real-time video monitoring and logging system. Observer uses Volicon’s proprietary video processing technology to allow a large number of users to simultaneously access multiple channels of live and archived content on local networks and the Internet. The Observer is the first in a family of Volicon products, tailored to the video retrieval and search needs of Broadcasters, Media Monitoring Services and Government Agencies.

Observer allows broadcasters to efficiently log their own and their competitors’ broadcasts, move to an actual or relative time stamp for any or all monitored channels, retrieve and analyze video clips including metadata and view content locally or remotely. The ability to store and retrieve metadata, combined with a powerful video search engine developed by Volicon, provides Observer users with significant advantages. For example, Observer users can find and select clips based on a search for words and phrases. Another use of the metadata is the ability to overlay ratings information in real-time during playback of stored clips.

Volicon has devoted significant resources to developing an intuitive user interface for Observer. This interface is designed to work with Microsoft’s® Internet Explorer® web browser running on a standard PC – no special software is required. Familiar “VCR-style” controls are combined with color cues to clearly indicate which channel(s) are being displayed, whether they are live or recorded, and which channel is providing the audio feed. Users can add or subtract channels from their display on the fly and switch between windowed, split and full-screen display with a simple mouse click.

The typical Observer configuration is housed in a 3U rack-mounted chassis and utilizes RAID controller hard drives for enhanced system reliability. The system is scaleable to record any number of channels and any recording duration by simply adding additional system and storage units. Volicon’s video encoding and streaming technologies provide high quality, real-time results at a competitive price.

According to Eli Warsawski, President and CEO of Volicon, “the Observer is the most comprehensive, next generation tool available today for broadcasters to log, archive, monitor, and analyze multiple video channels. Our initial users experienced tremendous improvements in their productivity as soon as their Observer systems went online.”

Volicon will showcase Observer at NAB 2005, scheduled for April 18-21, 2005 in Las Vegas. Systems are currently available for delivery within 30 days after receipt of order. For more information on Volicon or Observer, call 781-221-7400 or visit www.volicon.com.

EDITORS: Screen shots and online demonstrations are available. Please contact Sheldon Liebman at L&S Marketing with your image requirements or to arrange a demonstration. Julius Perl is also available for interviews.


About Volicon, Inc.
Volicon was incorporated in January, 2004 as a privately held company with principal offices in the greater Boston area. The company develops and markets turnkey digital video archiving & streaming solutions for the television broadcast industry, including the Observer multichannel video monitoring and logging system. Volicon’s proprietary video processing system, comprised of a video encoder and streaming engine, enables a large number of users to simultaneously access multiple channels of video content over a network.

Microsoft and Internet Explorer are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.

SIGGRAPH Showcases Small World of Computer Graphics

Magazine: Content Creation Europe
September 1999
by Sheldon Liebman

For anyone who has ever been to a SIGGRAPH show, this year’s affaire, held from August 10-12 in Los Angeles, CA, recaptured some of the energy that seemed to be missing in recent years. Although final attendance figures were not available at press time, the show seemed to have a higher attendance and the people who attended appeared more eager to learn and to buy. On the other hand, the number of exhibitors was clearly lower, while the actual space occupied by those companies may have actually been higher than last year’s exhibition.

Mergers played some part in this trend, as Discreet Logic and Kinetix shared a booth, Transoft was part of the Hewlett-Packard exhibit, Play was combined with Electric Image, and many other companies appeared under new names. Another factor in this trend is clearly the size increase of individual booths. Just a few years ago, the largest exhibit at SIGGRAPH was probably only 15 meters square, but the largest booth at this year’s show was occupied by Intel and measured over 20 meters (70 feet) in each direction. In fact, it is quite possible that the largest 15 exhibits occupied more total space than the entire SIGGRAPH show of 10 years ago.

With fewer exhibits to see, the show seemed more manageable than in past years, but it was also more difficult for smaller companies to get noticed. In many cases, they appeared on the periphery of the exhibition area or on aisles that didn’t connect from the front to the back of the hall due to the monster booths around them.

Rather than trying to cover all the companies and products that were presented, we’ll focus here on some of the more pronounced trends from the show. Over the next few months, we’ll fill you in on more of the news from the show.

Motion Capture Creates a Commotion
At the NAB show earlier this year, it seemed that everywhere you turned, you ran into a company offering virtual sets or video servers. At SIGGRAPH, that feeling could be related to motion capture products. There are a number of different technologies to capture motion including wired sensors, optical sensors and metal appliances. In every aisle, at least one of these technologies was on display and in some cases, more than one. The two big vendors of optical systems were Santa Rosa, CA-based Motion Analysis and Tustin, CA-based Vicon Motion Systems. The advantage of these systems is that the actor being captured only has to wear very light sensors that are picked up by infrared cameras. This means the motion of the subjects is not restricted and they are free to move about however they want.

On the other hand, specialized staging is required to ensure that the cameras have an unobstructed view of the actors being captured. This staging is not required with wired and wireless systems provided by companies like Ascension Technology (Burlington, VT), Puppet Works (Ontario, Canada), and X-IST Realtime Technologies GmbH (Huerth, Germany).

All of these products interface with the most popular animation programs so that captured data can easily be applied to 3D models.

Building Models is a Blast
If motion capture systems make is easier to move objects around, laser scanning offers a similar leap forward when it comes to building those models. Every 3D animation system incorporates a modeling function (even, finally, Play’s ElectricImage), but most people don’t need to worry about how to model objects any more. From small hand-held products to cameras that can be pointed at large buildings, the process of generating realistic 3D models has never been easier, all thanks to lasers. Minolta (Ramsey, NJ) offers a portable system that not only captures the 3D data, but also includes the colour information so that a texture map is automatically built with the model. Polhemus (Colchester, VT) has a hand-held model that allows you to freely move around an object to capture it completely. The camera used in the Cyra Technologies (Oakland, CA) system isn’t small or light, but it can capture the data for an entire building just by sitting it across the street.

If you don’t want to use a laser system, you can purchase models from a number of companies, including industry-leader Viewpoint Digital (Orem, Utah), who was recently purchased by Computer Associates. Other products, like Microscribe 3D from Immersion Corporation (San Jose, CA), let you effectively “trace” a real-world object to turn it into a 3D model.

After seeing all the ways you could create a 3D model automatically, traditional polygonal and nurbs-based modelers didn’t seem nearly as impressive.

The Best Things in Life Are Free
One thing that was impressive was the ability to get powerful 2D and 3D software completely free. On the 2D side, Linker Systems (Irvine, CA) shocked the industry by creating a lower resolution version of their Animation Stand product that is completely free as a download from their web site at http://www.animationstand.com. The new product, called Animation Stand Personal Edition, is only available for the Macintosh and is limited to an output resolution of 256×192, so it isn’t suitable for broadcast animation. However, schools, web developers and professionals who want to try before they buy will find it very useful.

The free 3D software is called Blender and is available from Not a Number, based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. In the free version, some of the more advanced features, like radiosity, have been removed. However, the company played a very impressive demo reel, which they promised was done with the free version. Even if you want the full version, you’re likely going to be able to afford it. A site license, which includes versions for SGI, Sun, Linux, Windows and BeOS, is priced at only $100US.

It’s a Small World After All
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the SIGGRAPH show was that a large percentage of the exhibitors were not based in the United States. Companies from the UK, France, Germany and Spain were there, as were companies from Sweden and the Netherlands. At least one company was based in Australia and two others were from Belgium. As expected, there were a lot of Japanese companies, but there was also a company from Singapore, REVIVAL digital, who demonstrated a very impressive system for cleaning up noise and other artifacts present in video archives.

In every booth, at least some of the people spoke English, but not every company had an office in the United States. This is definitely a departure from previous years, where companies worked very hard to open a U.S. office in order to appear “real.” Perhaps the growth of the Internet and the development of the “global economy” have eliminated this requirement.

Let’s Party!
Since SIGGRAPH was held in Los Angeles this year, it’s easy to attribute much of the success to the show’s proximity to Hollywood and the film and television industries. It will be interesting to see if next year’s show, scheduled for July 23-28, 2000 in New Orleans, matches the energy of the show that just ended. If it turns out that LA is the key to success, we’ll only have to wait another year for the energy to return – SIGGRAPH 2001 is scheduled for August 12-17 back in Los Angeles.

Editing Software is Easy as AB

Magazine: Government Video
September 1999
By Sheldon Liebman

As computer-based tools continue to evolve, it’s often helpful to evaluate them in the context of the process they replace. For example, comparing a paint package with the process of taking brush to canvas instead of comparing it with other paint programs. This month, we’re going to look at software packages designed for non-linear editing compared with the process of using a traditional A/B Roll editing system.

Getting to the Source
When you set up an A/B Roll system, it isn’t a requirement that you shot the footage yourself. You just need to have a system capable of playing it back. Obviously, you can’t play a Betacam tape on a U-Matic machine, but if you get the source in a format you can use, then you can work with it. For the purpose of this story, we’re going to assume that you can get source material as digital files in a popular format such as an Apple QuickTime file or a Microsoft AVI file. We’re going to further assume that the ultimate deliverable you want to create is a similar digital file.

By making these assumptions, we don’t have to worry about capturing video onto a computer or creating a tape once our project is completed. If you need to start with tape or end up on tape, there are two options. The first is to purchase a hardware/software NLE system from a company like Accom, Avid or Media 100. These turnkey systems include the components necessary to import and export videotaped material. You can also build your own system by purchasing products from companies like Fast, Matrox or Pinnacle, just to name a few.

Ignoring the input/output issue, we can concentrate on the software only solutions. Packages in this area include Adobe Premiere, Apple’s Final Cut, EditDV from Digital Origin, in-sync’s Speed Razor and Ulead MediaStudioPro. These products just keep adding features and the latest versions were on display at the recent SIGGRAPH trade show in Los Angeles. One of the reasons they keep getting better so quickly is that most now support the use of “plug-in” technology. With plug-ins, you can add new capabilities without needing to purchase another version of the software. Dozens of companies exist today just to supply these plug-ins. Traditional editing systems just don’t have anything to compete with that.

The Editing Console
In a standard A/B Roll setup, the input and output machines are connected to an editing console, which is also connected to a video monitor. The console is designed to control all your machines and to let you specify the locations and order of the material you wish to put onto the finished tape. In a software-based editing environment, the computer, keyboard, and mouse replace the editing console and the computer display replaces the video monitor.

Work It
Now that we’ve looked at the physical setup, we can delve into the actual process of working with the source material and creating the program. This is the point where software-based editing and traditional editing go in completely different directions. The differences are based on two very unique aspects of computer-based editing compared to traditional methods.

The first is that you can have all the material available to you all the time. Instead of having a box (or shelf) full of videotapes that need to be shuffled around constantly, non-linear editing systems can utilize as many files as you need to access the source material. If you need material from Tape #1 in the beginning and the end of the project, you don’t have to load it twice.

The second big difference is that using editing software doesn’t limit you to two tracks of video. When this type of software was first introduced, it closely followed the concept of using only two “layers” of video. Today, most editing software allows dozens, or even hundreds of tracks of video that can be used for editing as well as compositing.

Since it’s all done in software, you can create a project today that uses two layers and a project tomorrow with ten. No additional hardware is required and you don’t have to change any wires. You also have access to more than just “cuts-only” editing. All non-linear editing software packages provide dozens of transitions and effects that can be used for simple effects like wipes and dissolves to complex effects like page turns, mosaics and more.

Bin There, Spun That
The key to using NLE software effectively is the concept of bins. In most systems, virtually everything is organized into bins. Usually, bins are displayed on the upper left side of the computer screen and can provide a lot of information. If you click on a bin that has video, it can tell you the name, date and size of the file, but it might also offer a description of the contents, the video format it’s in and the starting time code.

Bins are also used to show libraries of transition effects. Many packages actually provide very small previews of the effects when this bin is open using the letters “A” and “B” to easily convey how the transition is applied to the foreground and background video channels. Since all of the previews typically have additional settings, this information can usually be accessed and adjusted by clicking on the effect. For example, you might specify how quickly a page turn occurs or how many times the video spins as it travels in or out of the frame.

When you want to add a video clip or an effect to your project, you can usually just select it with the mouse and drag it down to the spot on your timeline in which you want it to occur.

Timing is Everything
The timeline mentioned above is another key area of editing software and virtually all packages place this in the lower half of the display screen. Early packages had five “channels” in the timeline representing Video A, Video B, Transition, Audio A and Audio B.

Time starts at 0:00:00 at the left edge of the screen and progresses toward the right. In most packages, you can zoom in or out to adjust exactly how much time is displayed across your screen. This is crucial when it’s necessary to adjust the timing of events to a single frame.

Audio and video items are added to the timeline by selecting them from the bins and dragging them onto one of the available channels. When an item is positioned in this way, it’s automatically set up to start at the beginning and continue for its entire length. Placing another item on the same channel creates a cut from the end of one to the start of the next. When items are placed on different channels, transitions can be specified to occur between them, usually corresponding to the time period in which they overlap. As with video and audio, transition effects are usually selected from a bin and dragged onto the transition channel.

The Ins and Outs of Software Editing
If you only wanted to use complete clips, this might be enough to finish your project. However, it’s rarely that easy. Instead, you need the ability to set your in and out points to the exact frame you need. With editing software, this can usually be done either visually or from the keyboard. Visually, you can move your mouse to the start or end of a clip and just drag it in or out. Numerically, you can bring up the details for a clip and type in the time code for the in and out points to whatever you need.

In some packages, you may even find an option to compress or expand the time of a clip so that you can pick the footage you want and fit it exactly into the time frame you need. You can also slide clips around so that they occur earlier or later in your project.

Looking Good
As we’ve been describing the layout of editing software screens, we’ve covered the bins and the timeline, but we haven’t mentioned anything about the video and audio themselves. That’s usually located in upper right hand portion of the screen. This area can be used to play a low-resolution version of the video project as it stands, either in full or in part. Playing part of the project simply involves setting in and out points for the preview (instead of in and out points for specific clips).

When it’s time to actually generate the final video, all of these packages have a “Record” or “Publish” function that automatically creates every frame of the project, video and audio, with appropriate transition effects, and saves it to one of the digital file formats supported by the product. At that point, you can just stick it on a disk and deliver it to your client.

But Wait, There’s More
One of the nice things about using software is that it can offer more capabilities than traditional hardware editing systems. For instance, many of these packages have expanded beyond just editing and provide compositing functions as well. In this mode, you can create as many “channels” of video as you want and each new channel is placed on top of the ones before. If all the channels are displayed on the full screen, you only see the top layer. But, by keying out backgrounds or using 3D-style effects, you can actually view many layers of video at once and produce amazingly complex projects.

With all these layers and special effects, your simple software-based non-linear system can appear to be a multi-channel compositing and digital effects system. It can also be used to combine still images or graphics with video for other applications like titling. In fact, at least one of the software companies indicated that a titling module is under development for a future release. There really is no limit to what these systems can do as long as programmers keep improving them and third parties continue to develop plug-ins. If you’re ready to move into software editing, you’ll never want to do A/B Roll again.

An Apple for the Teacher

Magazine: Videography
November 1993
by Sheldon Liebman

This month, Sesame Street begins its 25th season as the leading television show for children.  This teaching show has educated and entertained countless numbers of children and adults, and continues to fascinate everyone who watches it.  Over the years, many of us have grown up with Sesame Street.  This season, Sesame Street does some growing of its own.

On-screen, the set has more than doubled in size and now extends around the corner.  Off-screen, production moved to a whole new neighborhood.  In the Art Department, approximately 80% of the graphics will be created on an Apple Macintosh.

In May, the Sesame Street offices moved into the Kaufman-Astoria Studios in Queens.  The sets and equipment began their move in July.  And the new season started shooting during the third week of August.  There’s a lot more space in the new facility, and the Art Department will be doubling their computer graphics capabilities to help fill some of it.  Not bad for a group that didn’t even have a computer until 3 seasons ago.

Victor DiNapoli is the Production Designer for Sesame Street and has been with the show for 22 of its 25 years.  He was the one who started the process of computerizing the Art Department 3 years ago.  “I was an IBM diehard frustrated by the lack of good graphics,” explains DiNapoli.  “Then I spent some time in Florida working on a Muppets special with the people at Disney.  While I was there, I was exposed to a Mac for the first time, and I got addicted.  It did all the graphics I’d been trying to do at home with my IBM, and PhotoShop really turned me on.”

The system DiNapoli saw was a Macintosh II FX with Adobe PhotoShop, and he set out to duplicate it.  When the first phase of the installation was completed three years ago, the equipment list looked like this:


                Apple Macintosh II FX with 8MB RAM
                Maxtor 325MB Fixed Disk Drive
                SuperMac Spectrum PDQ Display Adapter
                SuperMac STD9790 19″ Color Monitor
                Microtek 300ZS 300dpi Color Scanner
                Wacom SD312 12″x18″ Data Tablet
                Apple Personal LaserWriter II NT


                Adobe PhotoShop

With this list of equipment, the Art Department became computerized.  They weren’t tied into the Edit  Room at that point, but that followed soon enough.  Within a year, DiNapoli upgraded the system to include the following:


                TrueVision NuVista+ 4MB
                Ikegami TM14-19R Broadcast Monitor
                Bernoulli 90 Removable Disk Drive
                Utah Scientific ICS-2000 Router
                HP Deskwriter C Color Inkjet Printer
                RAM Upgrade to 20MB for the Macintosh II FX


                Broderbund TypeStyler
                Fractal Design Painter

More recent upgrades added a NuDesign 128MB Floptical disk drive and a Canon BJC820 color bubble jet printer.

At this point, the Art Department created a two way link to the edit room.  Every camera, every tape machine, the Ultimatte, the Chyron, and the line feed can all be sent to the NuVista+ through the router.  And the signal from the NuVista+ can be punched up in the edit room, just as if it were another camera.  There is also local tape capability in the Art Department, so a variety of tape formats can be fed into the NuVista+ or recorded directly from it.

Mike Pantuso has been the Graphic Designer on Sesame Street for the past 7 seasons.  Before that, he worked mostly for advertising agencies and magazines.  The Mac system has given him “the freedom to experiment and try 75 variations if necessary.  It’s amazing how this helps us out.”  Pantuso offers the following example.  “We do a lot of hard props for the show here.  Magazines, books, signs.  In the olden days, you had to send it out for typesetting or rub on the letters, and you’d just live with it if it wasn’t exactly right.  You might take a week creating a prop.  With this system, I can do the same thing in 30 minutes or a few hours.”  Although he still creates the original illustration as line art, Pantuso now scans the artwork into the system.  Using PhotoShop, the final image is created, and then it can be output to one of the color printers or fed directly to the edit room if necessary.

Since they are working exclusively in video, incredible detail in the graphics is not necessary.  Pantuso uses PhotoShop with a setting of only 72 dpi when he is creating background props for the show.  He does all his typesetting with TypeStyler.  And he prints mostly on the HP or Canon color printers.  Their low resolution can’t be detected when the videotape rolls.  When props are created for the foreground, for close-up, or for long-term use, they send a Bernoulli disk to a local printer who creates a gloss or matte print from an IRIS Graphics high resolution printer.

Although it seems incredible that they only use two programs, both DiNapoli and Pantuso agree that for now, it’s the best way.  Pantuso has “started to use a lot of programs, but I find them archaic compared to PhotoShop.  I just keep coming back to it.”

Pete Ortiz is a Graphic Artist in his first full year on Sesame Street.  For the past few years, he has worked as a free-lancer for the show.  He and Mike Pantuso started together in the advertising industry and are happy to be working together again in this environment.  Ortiz used a Mac in advertising, but says “it was very different.  Here, you have the freedom to put out really good work.  The Mac not only saves time, but the quality of the work is a lot nicer in the end.”

Bob Phillips, Art Director for Sesame Street, has also noticed how much the Mac helps with the show’s graphics, and hopes to get the same advantage in areas like set design.  “The Mac has vastly increased the amount of richness and detail we can have in props.”

DiNapoli agrees, but is also quick to point out how much time and money they save with the system as well.  “Since we are public broadcasting, we have to be somewhat frugal.  By sending finished product over the wire, we have eliminated a cost factor as well as a time factor.  And we can even get a better look.  The Mac gives us the same look as kids are seeing everywhere else, and that’s important.  If we want to hold a child’s attention, we can’t look old compared to other programs.”

DiNapoli is continuing to be careful as he prepares to bring in the second Mac system for his department.  “When we bought the system, we got it from a reliable vendor who supports us.”  That same vendor is now replacing his own demonstration Macintosh II FX, and DiNapoli will be taking delivery of the system.  “It’s virtually identical to the system we already have, with 20 MB of RAM and a SuperMac display adapter.  This one won’t have a direct video link, but we’ll network it to our existing system.”

With a second system installed, they’ll be able to do even more of the work in-house.  Although they’re already doing a lot of work for a wide variety of uses.  Three recent projects really show the freedom and flexibility the Mac has given this four man department.  Or is it five?  Victor DiNapoli thinks of the Mac “as the fifth person in the department.  I can start a job and then go do other things.”

Like coordinating with the California company that created the 75′ wide by 25′ high painted backdrop for the park in the new neighborhood.  A backdrop that DiNapoli originally created on the Mac.  “I took a few panoramic pictures of Central Park with my 35mm camera, scanned them into the Mac, and went to work in PhotoShop.  I cleaned up the sky, removed the people, and added foliage to the trees.  The finished image was printed at 1/2″ per foot on an Iris printer and sent to California.  The finished painting looks just like my PhotoShop image.”

Another project recently started by the group is a catalog of the sets that are used on Sesame Street.  According to DiNapoli, “we use the NuVista+ to grab frames as the sets are being used.  Then we print them to make a catalog of all the sets.”

Perhaps the most exciting use of the system also happens to be the one that can save the most time and money compared with the traditional way things were done in the past.  Sesame Street shoots 100 new shows a year, each of which can have 20-25 minutes of new material.  That translates into a lot of props and sets.  Or not.  One of the most recent pieces created for the show is a Muppet music video, Polly Darton’s “Save Your Energy For Me.”  The shoot involved 12 different backgrounds and camera angles, but virtually nothing exists outside the computer except the Muppets and other actors.  The whole video was shot over blue, and Victor DiNapoli did the rest.  As he explains, “I got a 3/4″ tape with the Ultimatte videos, and grabbed a frame from each of the 12 scenes into the NuVista+.  Using PhotoShop, I created 12 different backgrounds matched to the scale and perspective of the original footage.  I sent each background over the wire, and they composited everything together for the final piece.  We saved a lot of time, a lot of money, and we ended up with a better look.”

With two systems, the Art Department will be able to do even more than the amazing amount they already create.  Is there anything they’d like to add beyond what they have?  DiNapoli is “very interested in the new Quadra 840 and its video aspects, but as yet we have not had the opportunity to experience or experiment with it.”  Both Ortiz and Pantuso are trying to find the time to learn some other programs, particularly Macromind Director and Fractal Design Painter.  Ortiz “wants to touch on the animation” in the future, and Pantuso finds “more tools specifically for painting in Fractal.”  Phillips wants to start using the Mac for CAD.  “I can draw an original faster than you can do it with a CAD program,” he says, “but once it’s in there, you can cut, paste, and resize very easily.”

Whether they are using the computer or doing things “the old way,” everyone agrees there is no better place to work than on Sesame Street.  Bob Phillips sums it up best when he says, “At the end of the day, I feel like I really contributed something by working on this show.”  The same can be said for the Macintosh.