How you manage your digital assets in large part determines how much money and time you lose over finding the right image, audio or video clip for a job. That’s the reason why DAM systems came about, but not all DAM (Digital Asset Management) systems are created equal. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of DAM: systems that are designed mainly to find, use and archive assets, and systems that also optimise the production process. CatDV belongs to the second kind.
Square Box’s CatDV is a British DAM solution optimised for video production and post-production. I tested the Enterprise Server solution, which has four components: the CatDV Server, the Web Client, the CatDV Worker Node and in my case the CatDV Pegasus Client. Except for its magnificent splash screen, the Pegasus Client supports Avid workflows and industry-strength archival features. Square Box also offers ‘lighter’ versions of the CatDV sys-tem, including a Workgroup Server and clients that are suited for small work-groups and individuals.
True DAM systems — the ones that can be deployed on an enterprise scale — should enable granular access control so that specific users and user groups can be assigned specific tasks. The CatDV Enterprise Server offers an enterprise-level control over database access using the common access levels known as roles, groups and users.
Especially in production DAM systems it is essential that some actions on assets are reserved to specific types of users. For example, removing video clips from the database should be disallowed to the person ingesting the clips in the database. To that effect, you can create a group in CatDV Server that disallows deleting clips to a whole Production Group. Within the group, you
can have a role for in-house users and freelancers whereby the latter have less access and editing capabilities than the former.
Finally, the actual people who are going to use the system will always be as-signed to a group and a role, automatically inheriting the access rights from the group/role combination. For completeness sake, it’s perhaps good to say the group rights in CatDV Enterprise Server trickle down to the role per-missions in the negative — i.e. when the group allows capability A but the role forbids it, it’s forbidden. When the group disallows capability A but the role allows it, it’s still forbidden. This helps keep the server as secure as it can possibly get.
In some DAM systems, roles have the same permissions across groups, which doesn’t allow for much flexibility in setting up the access rights for users. However, the CatDV Server allows a role to have different permissions depending on the Production Group it belongs to. For example, if you define a Freelance role in the Ingest Production Group you just created, you can nevertheless use the Freelance role again — with totally different permissions — in the Rough Edit Production Group you create next.
I tested the access rights with three Production Groups, three Roles and four users set up. I was particularly impressed with the user-friendliness of the CatDV Server. To create the roles, groups and users, you need to log in as an admin. With most DAM systems, administration isn’t particularly simple. In many cases, you need to have programming skills or at the very least accom-modate to the system’s usually arcane controls. The CatDV Server adminis-tration functionality looked a lot like how you manage a Mac OS X Server. It took me about five minutes to set up the access rights for my four users — without reading an admin guide.
Ease-of-use is one of the most important features of CatDV throughout. Even the — highly scalable — Enterprise Server doesn’t require programming or scripting skills at any level of use. In addition and besides allowing access to
its catalogues, it offers several production orientated features such as permis-sion indicators (Read, Write, Delete), a production blog supporting written instructions and to-do lists, an audit log, tape library management, shared clip lists (which is a sort of playlist), shared smart folders (basically these are saved database queries), etc. All of these features can be accessed either through dialogue panels, pop-up/drop-down menus, and the tree view in the sidebar of the main window.
Scalability is no issue either as the server database runs on MySQL, Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server.
One of the most interesting components of the CatDV system must be the Worker Node, which is an automated version of the media processing engine you also find in the CatDV Pro and Pegasus applications. The Worker Node is a component that you can set up to watch folders or server queries and then automatically perform actions such as moving a videoclip to a defined folder, creating a CatDV preview movie from the media, converting clips to another format, etc.
Here as well, ease-of-use prevails. I have tested similar components of DAM and publishing systems in the past and most of them required the operator to enter commands using a proprietary language. You could write entire scripts with these apps but none of them could be operated by selecting options, clicking buttons and optionally entering commands.
With the CatDV Worker Node you can configure the Worker to do almost anything without ever writing one line of commands. I set up a watch folder and the most difficult part of it was remembering the server’s IP-address. That isn’t to say the Worker Node isn’t powerful enough to automate quite complex processes. Take for example the conversion of a clip from one format into another. CatDV supports native conversion via QuickTime and plug-ins
(which you do have to install separately as they are third-party products) such as Xuggle.
However, if you wanted to automate the conversion of clips to mezzanine formats that are unknown to QuickTime or Xuggle, you’d be stuck if it wer-en’t for the various “Execute Command” fields in the Worker Node. The field I was after was the one where I could enter a Telestream Episode command that would convert my test clips from ProRes to x.264 (which is supported by Xuggle, but this was a test...).
Lazy as I am, I found a similar command as the one that I needed to enter for this job on the Square Box tutorials webpage. All I needed to do to make it work for my particular need was find the exact parameters in the Episode user guide and replace the ones from the webpage with these. It worked like a charm and with no effort on my part!
The Worker Node can speed up ingestion of clips, as it is allowed to imme-diately publish clips to the server database. You can’t do that when working with the Client. However, there’s a good reason why you can’t and the Worker can.
The Worker Node is a robot and it cannot work on a clip immediately after ingestion. A human operator can. In order to prevent the database from be-coming corrupted with users simultaneously processing a clip, the clip you ingest is ingested to your local catalogue first. If you want that clip to become available to everyone on the system, you need to publish it.
Once it’s been published, you can change it — check it in, in traditional DAM and publishing jargon — and then publish your changes as soon as you’re fin-ished. CatDV circumvents the complicated check-in/check-out system you’ll find in many DAM systems by taking a slightly different approach that avoids the concept and terminology altogether. That is a good thing, as many people get confused by the check-in/check-out system, as many publishing system support engineers will tell you. However, the alternative should ensure that conflicting edits do not result in a corrupted database nevertheless.
CatDV succeeds in keeping the database healthy by adopting a different workflow. When two users are making changes to the same clip (or
logue), both have a local “copy” of the clip open in their desktop CatDV appli-cation. The first user who publishes her changes to the remote database has priority in CatDV’s conflict solving concept. The second person who tries to publish changes will receive a conflict warning and his remote window will refresh. However, all non-conflicting changes will be saved, while clips that couldn’t be saved at all are listed in a separate window.
In order to apply those changes, the second user will have to re-apply them on the clip explicitly. An added benefit is that it gives him the opportunity to decide whether they are still needed, as the first user could have implement-ed them before him.
A user who has the necessary permissions can still force his changes to a catalogue by re-publishing. This action will overwrite the entire remote cat-alogue. It shows how important it is to carefully plan permissions, roles and group membership. The last thing you want is a freelance camera operator to re-publish and destroy your carefully maintained catalogue.
The CatDV Pegasus Client is wonderful to work with. The interface has a lovely design. All features, clip properties, metadata, etc, are all easily ac-cessed and changed at the push of an on-screen button. Even better, you can create your own metadata panels using an editing interface that largely works with selections and value lists. The tailored screens can be organised as
de-sired, with check boxes, radio buttons, text fields, etc, etc. All without the need to pro-gram or script one line of code.
Supported video clips run in the main window in CatDV’s own player and allows access to markers, I/O points to be set and even voice-overs. Rough edits are possible whereby you create simple sequences out of multiple clips. Such rough edits, includ-ing all markers, can be exported to new
media but also to for example a Final Cut Pro X XML file. I tested this capa-bility because I have had other apps that churned out XML not 100% FCP X “certified”. I can assure you CatDV’s is, though.
CatDV Pegasus supports direct ex-port to Avid’s AAF files, Archive and Archive Library options, the MXF option, reading metadata from .R3D files and creating RED Meta-clips, the ability to configure and print out a clip using a custom label layout and server-side plug-ins. In addition, CatDV Pegasus supports moving clips from a SAN to the archive all the whilst keeping your proxies online.
Both CatDV Pro and the Pegasus Client also allow you to ingest all types of files, including for example spreadsheets with scene descriptions. Images are also supported (RAW as well as JPEG, PNG...) but I found CatDV lacking IPTC built-in metadata panels and fields. If you want to use CatDV for imag-es only or mainly, you’ll have to create those fields yourself.
When I reviewed the Extensis Portfolio DAM a couple of years ago found that a daunting task. In CatDV it will be much work and long hours before you have all possible fields covered.
Last but not least, the CatDV Web Client allows you to offer users an identi-cally looking interface to the CatDV Client app. The Web Client also allows you to customise the web representation of catalogues and clips in that you can, for example, change the logo.
I didn’t thoroughly test-drive the Web Client because its basic functionality corresponds to the desktop Client. It’s only the tabs that are displayed based on the Production Group and some details that can be changed.
Having said that, I found the Web Client to correspond almost one-on-one to the desktop Client in terms of design and capabilities. That opens the
ity to offer freelance or traveling users the same user experience as your in-house team.
CatDV Pegasus Client and Enterprise Server is a highly scalable DAM sys-tem. It’s not a traditional DAM, however. It’s much more user-friendly, easier to configure and more flexible. Despite its ease-of-use and ease-of-adminis-tration, it has all of the functionality a large production house expects from a production DAM.
In addition, there is a CatDV API that makes it possible to integrate the Cat-DV DAM system with other systems, such as distribution tools (FTP, As-pera, File Catalyst), spoken dialogue search (Nexidia), storage (Facilis, SGL, BRU/DAX, SNS...), archival (Sony Optical Disk Archive, Archiware, Xendata, Quantum Stornext, Cache-A, ...) and transcoding solutions (Compressor, Ep-isode, Vantage, Redline, Digital Rapids...).
I would say CatDV supports the successful monetisation of B-Roll produc-tion as well as repurposing of video and audio content. With the server being capable of running off a Mac Mini, the deployment of this DAM shouldn’t even be all that expensive.