JULY 28, 2023

 A history of Avid broadcast video servers

Avid Video Servers history

In the early 1990s, long before broadcast video servers were commonplace, waiting for an incoming video feed to finish was a very common thing for me, a TV news reporter, to do. Standing beside the tape machine, anxiously looking at the clock and hoping that it would end soon so you could grab the tape out of the machine, run through to the edit suite, wait the seven seconds it took to load the tape, then frantically tell the editor the timecode of the bit you wanted to use.

The editor then did their part to get it down onto tape, shuttle it back to the clock, eject out the tape, throw it to me to then run down the corridor to hand it to the playout operator in the corner of the control room who then threw it into another tape machine, wait another seven seconds for the tape to lace up, then tell the director the story was good to go. (if you haven’t seen it, check out the tape scene in the film Broadcast News and you will get the picture...)

In the days before the advent of digital workflows (and bear in mind this was a major step forward from film), this was an everyday occurrence in the world of TV news, repeated in hundreds of newsrooms across the world. Then came a revolution, and in that revolution, Avid has always played a leading role, not just for the innovation around digital non-linear editing with Avid Media Composer and shared storage, but also in the realm of ingest and playout devices.

Avid has a long history in this space, going back to the days of Avid Airplay and Avid Airspace – revolutionary in their day with the ability not just to record clips in and transfer the media to shared storage so that editors could actually edit WHILE the feed was coming in – but also with the ability to play out the video, too. Plus, on the ingest and playout side they could also be linked with automation services, truly a workflow revolution.

Let’s take a little walk back down memory lane to see who remembers these beauties, before we look at what the future holds.

Airspace was the first Avid ingest and playout server I experienced, though Avid Airplay preceded that. We are talking about the late 1990s/early 2000s here so think of where you were to count down to the start of a new Millenium, the threat of Y2K (yeah, whatever happened to that?) and the start of the careers of Britney, Destiny’s Child and NSYNC.

For news workflows, controlled by Avid iNEWS and Controlair for automated studio playout, gone were the days of waiting for the recording to tape to finish before you could start editing. As for playout, “play while transfer” meant you could play out a file while it was still transferring into the playout server ending the days of running down the corridor to throw the tape at the playout op! SD and 4:3 – it might sound basic, but it really was an amazing step forward. Even more so when the single channel HD model came out! SD was still very much in vogue though, as we entered a period where both resolutions were in demand.


Moving on from Airspace came AirSpeed – later referred to as AirSpeedAirSpeed, when newer versions with greater capabilities came out. The jog/shuttle wheel on the front, with the visual display of the channel on some of the models brought back memories of the playout op sitting in front of their bank of VTRS! With SD and HD models, the demand for high definition was driving not just the broadcast market, but also TV manufacturers, keen to get us all to upgrade from our old 4/3 sets and benefit from crystal clear pictures which HD provided. That was, of course, if your TV provider could support HD transmission! Launched around 2003, remember kids, the iPhone was just a glimmer in the eyes of Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive at this point, it came out as Concorde made its final flight, a young Portuguese football player called Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Manchester United and Harley-Davidson motorcycles celebrated their 100th year in production.

Airspeed Classic

While Airspace sat in the studio playout space, MediaStream 8000 was a server which came to Avid through the acquisition of Pinnacle Systems, designed for resilience and multi-channel station playout workflows.

Thunder was another Pinnacle acquisition, which provided capability for playing video clips as well as integrating graphics and channel branding in a single solution.

Avid Thunder

In 2009, if you thought you had issues with technology, NASA finally fixed the problems with the multi-billion dollar Hubble Space Telescope, Barack Obama took over in the White House and Lady Gaga strode onto the music scene. All the while, new ingest and playout developments kept on coming.

With AirSpeed Multistream, channel counts began to grow. Previous boxes were perhaps limited to one or two channels of ingest or playout, with Multistream four channels came into play and each channel could be configured as required for the workflow.

Avid Airspeed

Moving on from Multistream there was then the real workhorse of Avid video servers - AirSpeed 5000 and AirspeedAirSpeedfour, fully flexible channels, either SD or HD – with thousands deployed worldwide and many later models still in operation today, reliably delivering news programs to viewers worldwide.

The first AirSpeed 5000 models rolled off production lines and into TV studios in 2014. Clearly inspiring Pharrell Williams to release his classic hit “Happy” 😊, Ellen took THAT selfie at the Oscars, and Kim and Kanye tied the knot. They were followed by the next generation, the AirSpeed 5500, with updated hardware.

airspeed 5000

AirSpeed 5000

AirSpeed 5500

AirSpeed 5500

We previously mentioned MediaStream 8000 and Thunder, which Avid gained through acquisition. As Avid evolved, so did our offerings in the broadcast video server market and following the acquisition of Orad, then came PlayMaker, designed for sports with its dedicated controller for fast turnaround highlights and the Maestro Media Engine.

Avid PlayMaker

In 2019, The FastServe family of broadcast video servers again marked another milestone, with more channels and greater than HD resolutions, plus the first capabilities to move into the world of video over IP, with support for the emerging standards. You could now have up to eight channels of HD or two channels of UHD, with FastServe | Ingest or FastServe| Playout. FastServe | IO brought you eight flexible channels where you can choose your in and out combination.

As it came out, “Game of Thrones” came to an end, Mariah Carey showed the benefits of longevity as her 1994 hit, “All I Want for Christmas,” finally hit number one in the UK and there was no shifting Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus from the top spot in the USA as “Old Town Road” stayed at number one for an incredible nineteen weeks!!

Fastserve Family of Video Servers

IP of course is not just about uncompressed streams. Compressed stream formats such as SRT and RTMP (among others) are also growing in prominence, plus a desire within the industry to move away from proprietary hardware and to software solutions available through subscription, along with increasing interest in cloud and hybrid cloud workflows. This resulted in the release of MediaCentral | Stream a software-based solution, deployable on-prem but also in a cloud instance, with separate devices for ingest and playout.

MediaCentral | Stream was launched in 2020 – the year which changed the world forever, but the less said about COVID, the better, so as we worked from home, we could continue to operate through a simple web-user platform.

Avid _ Stream IO

And that brings us to the latest Avid innovation – Avid | Stream IO – a solution which combines SDI, compressed IP streams and uncompressed IP streams, with ingest and playout capabilities altogether as one. Coming out in 2023, who knows what major events of this year are still to come? So far, Taylor Swift and Beyonce have been slaying it on tour to huge audiences, Ethan Hunt and Indiana Jones are back in the cinema, and Barbie seems to be turning everything pink.

From the days of The Matrix and the Powerpuff Girls to the days of the Marvel Universe, Ted Lasso, and Succession, Avid’s broadcast video server line-up has developed and adapted to the ever-changing media landscape. One thing is certain, that rate of change is definitely not slowing down. Unlike, me. Today, running that tape down that corridor would likely take a little longer than it did back in the 1990s.

Avid _ Stream IO

Avid | Stream IO supports the most popular codecs and resolutions plus a software architecture that enables rapid development and the delivery of more workflow capabilities. Software only, available through subscription and on COTS hardware – specifications provided by Avid – Avid | Stream IO provides the ultimate flexibility and slots ideally into many workflow scenarios from news to sports and studio production.

Today’s innovation is all a very far cry from the days of waiting for the tape to eject from the machine!! Why not make your process more efficient?

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  • Craig Wilson headshot

    Craig Wilson is a newsroom specialist with over thirty years of experience in the broadcast industry. Craig has held various roles with Avid and is now the Global Media and Cloud Product Evangelist and host of the Making the Media podcast.

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