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Avid Everywhere Helps Halo To Shine

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Halo Post Production is one of London's busiest broadcast post houses – and still growing. With multiple sites and the need to deliver finished jobs as files, it relies on a powerful, flexible and dynamic content management platform.

As well as three sites of its own in central London, Halo also provides contract facilities for the BBC from two more facilities. Clients turn to the company for a full range of programming, from documentaries like David Attenborough's Alive 3D (BBC) and Human Universe (BBC1) to drama and comedy such as The Missing (BBC/Starz) and Mrs Brown's Boys (Hat Trick), and feature films including Paddington, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and the forthcoming Suffragette.

All of this means a large amount of content to be stored and protected. Clients need to be assured that their own material is secure and, for efficient operation, editors and artists need to be able to access projects quickly and simply. In addition, with multiple sites, Halo needs the flexibility to be able to allocate any project to any facility at any time.

With a rapidly growing business, Halo recently undertook a major overhaul of its infrastructure. The facility has embraced the Avid Everywhere vision to unify its entire workflow centred on the Avid MediaCentral Platform, with the Interplay | Production Facility package and over half a petabyte of ISIS | 5500 online storage.

"The rationale for the installation was entirely client driven," explains Kate Robson, director of operations at Halo. "A lot of our high end clients are moving from shooting the occasional scene at native 4k to shooting whole series ready for Ultra HD. However, they still have to meet broadcast timescales, and they expect to do the job in a broadcast workflow – they don't want the expense of a digital intermediate post. We have to have an infrastructure that can handle huge amounts of data and meet the pressures of a fast turnaround."

Three key challenges
When looking at its new infrastructure, Halo faced three challenges: format independence, cloud connectivity for remote working, and sharing for collaborative workflows.

As a business driven by its clients, the first was the flexibility to handle any format in any resolution. "There is no system in terms of ingest that fits so well with our workflow and can handle as many formats as Avid," says Robson. "Our technical team is expert at trouble-shooting any issues coming off set and gives our clients the confidence that whatever they are shooting we can ingest and make available to editors extremely quickly."

Halo is also seeing a growing trend for clients to do their own offline in-house. With higher resolutions, and certainly with factual entertainment shows reaching shooting ratios as high as 150:1 or 200:1, remote offline needs a lot of storage.

Avid Media Composer | Cloud allows Halo to provide the edit systems at the production house without the need to worry about storage. The content remains in Halo’s ISIS servers in Soho, with fast network connectivity giving the producers responsive performance for the offline.

"This means that the early stages of the edit can be performed wherever the production teams are. Again, this plays to tight broadcast timelines, especially where the production teams are working across multiple episodes at the same time," says Robson. "Media Central | UX also provides additional services in the remote package by allowing the rest of the production team to see the raw media and the rough cut, so everyone contributes by viewing, logging and even simple assembling of content."

The third challenge was to allow jobs to be shared between sites while minimising data movements. Halo chief engineer Daniel Napier explains: "We previously ran standalone storage for offline, online, nearline and audio, but moving elements of a job from one location to another over the network was a big draw on network resources."

The solution lay in more than half a petabyte of centralised ISIS storage. All the assets are in one place, and can be shared across all of Halo's departments, regardless of which building they are in. "Rather than multiple copies of data clogging up storage, all our teams can work from a single central store," says Napier. "This allows us far greater throughput on the network and greater efficiency in our use of storage."

File-based delivery
Since October 2014, all British broadcasters have expected content to be delivered as a file, to the common DPP (Digital Production Partnership) format. Halo's production company clients look to the facility to make this happen, which means swift and seamless data transfers.

"What we need from our architecture is the ability to review the final online, then once signed off get it into the DPP encoder instantly," says Napier. "Add automated QC, and we can get the finished file off to the broadcaster immediately."

Speed of sound
Halo also took the opportunity of this substantial upgrade to boost the flexibility and speed of its sound mixing operation. Each audio suite is now equipped with Pro Tools 11 and Pro Tools | HDX cards, which provide up to five times more dedicated signal processing power for complex realtime mixes. (Halo's track-laying suites run Pro Tools 11 HD Native PCI-e systems).

"The ability to increase track counts, power, and I/O using Pro Tools | HDX allows us to take on the largest projects," says Richard Addis, Halo's head of audio operations. "But being part of the bigger infrastructure also makes us more flexible. We can move the data for big projects in and out quickly, so we can schedule our rooms better."

Exceeding expectations
The new Avid infrastructure has delivered on every aspect of Halo’s requirements. "With increasing amounts of content coming through the facility, our Avid workflow ensures that we can comfortably operate at capacity," concludes director of operations Kate Robson. "We are delivering better, more creative results in ever-tightening timescales, and we are exceeding our clients' expectations. It's already made a major difference to the way we work, and has given us an important edge in a tough, competitive environment."

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