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Ots Labs

Ots Media™ professional file format

The Ots Media™ file format was designed, commencing in 1997, from the ground up especially for playout systems. Rather than directly play streaming formats such as MPEG, MP3, etc, which were never designed nor intended by their designers for efficient direct play within a trivial file container—effectively a truncation of a continuous stream—Ots Labs choose to build an industrial-strength, intelligent, flexible, extensible and robust file container format that would serve the needs of Ots Labs applications and their dedicated users long into the future.

Ots files can easily be created from other file types, with no transcoding or loss of quality whatsoever, but with plenty of benefits. The Ots Media™ file format is the foundation that underpins a significant number of innovations, features and capabilities found within Ots Labs playout applications. It is also responsible for or has a direct bearing on the speed, performance, efficiency, reliability and predictability of Ots applications. Format incompatibilities or unofficial extensions, codec issues, "DLL hell", and system descrepancies affecting the output quality and/or timing are examples of the ugly and common issues plaguing other systems—issues which are nowhere to be found within a pure Ots environment!

Ots Labs customers using Ots playout systems with Ots Media™ files enjoy the following benefits:

  • Instant opening and seeking no matter what type the file (source) is or how large it is in size or duration. With Ots, it just works and works fast! While it's possible to play streaming format files directly, doing so is never as efficient (consumes more system resources) and in some cases or with some files can cause noticeable system delays or lockups, or even not work at all—as regularly seen in other non-Ots applications. It all depends on how compliant the file is with the standard it "belongs to", seemingly trivial attributes like whether it's VBR or CBR, and unfortunately in many cases simply how large it is—this is all because computer code (known as a file parser) must read through the file in order to reach the relevant section. In many cases there is no way to jump instantly to the desired section because the underlying format does not natively support this operation nor store the required information. The industrial-strength Ots Media™ format—having been built specifically for playout purposes—is natively architected to efficiently store all relevant information in order to make any desired runtime action both possible and efficient.

  • 100% repeatable, consistent and reliable results, completely independent of DLLs, codecs, DirectX drivers or other things which may or may not be installed on a given system. This is important at the best of times, but becomes absolutely vital when doing precise mixing, automated beat mixing or tasks which demand a professional, consistent, predictable and of course stable output.

  • Storage of more than just a single item/song per file. Ots Media™ files allow storage of an entire album or collection—in fact, up to 65 thousand items per file can theoretically be stored! Of course you can also store album cover graphics, copyright information and other relevant data or meta data. Ots Labs customers regularly use a single Ots Media™ file to store and represent a physical disc, such as a CD or DVD, with all tracks/items stored and intact and in the same ordering as on the disc—all of these items instantly searchable and playable at either the item or album-level from within the playout system.

  • Flexible chunk-based architecture allows storage of practically unlimited data types and meta information all in a manner that preserves compatibility with earlier applications or those which are not "interested" or aware of a given chunk type. Case in point, even though the Ots Media™ format has evolved considerably since the initial public release in 1999, all files from that era will play perfectly in modern versions of Ots playout systems. Conversely, new Ots files created today (even those containing video or karaoke CD+G data chunks which are both features which didn't appear publically until 2006) will play fine in Ots applications from 1999 (sans the video, of course). There are some exceptions to this forwards/backwards compatibility but they are based on design decisions rather than any limitation of the underlying architecture of the Ots Media™ format.

  • Conversion to/from Ots Media™ files does not result in any quality loss whatsoever (ie. is a completely lossless operation) when directly supported stream types (eg. MPEG 1, Layer 3—MP3) are used.

  • Intelligent and efficient object architecture. Chunks which are used/referenced more than once—like when an "artist" or "copyright" tag is the same for multiple songs within the one album—only need to be stored once, saving space while still preserving the full logical layout.

  • Non-destructive editing. Many Ots innovations and capabilities result in a base media stream (typically audio or video) being interpreted in a modified/manipulated manner (cropping, fading, aspect ratio conversion, etc). All of this behaviour, although potentially drastically modifying the output of a logical item, does not require any changes, edits, re-rendering, or anything that could cause a loss of quality or permanent truncation (loss in part) of the underlying media stream. This means you can make changes a) instantly as no pre-conversion of the stream is taking place, and b) with full confidence that you have not destroyed your original and can always "go back". Although you could with any playout software, fix up a given song's ending, or create an edit, etc, by running it through a waveform editor, making appropriate changes and then saving back the edited version, the fact is this is a time-consuming process and also destructive (you have to keep the original version if you think you'll want to refer to it again), and it also involves quality loss since the file was decoded and re-encoded after editing. Consequently, many users of these other apps don't bother making adjustments to files unless they are critical—it's far too much hassle. Ots users don't exhibit this attitude! Making a tweak here or there takes only a few clicks and a second or two, and you've sacrificed nothing in terms of quality nor have you been subjected to the additional burden to have to version-manage your files.

  • IntelliFade™ mixing and normalised audio levels. All source files converted to Ots files (or freshly created Ots files) automatically inherit an ACI chunk which is responsible for guiding the IntelliFade™ mixing that all Ots Labs playout applications support. You also benefit from automatic RMS normalisation of the audio item, facilitating matched audio levels among disparate items. Similar benefits occur with video-based items and the automatically-created VCI chunk—see IntelliARC™. And as per above point all of this is performed non-destructively without any modification, irreversibility or potential quality loss to the source media chunks.

  • Due to the discrete, chunk-based nature of data stored within Ots Media™ files, freely mixing and matching, or manipulation of one chunk without affecting the others is natively possible. Unlike other formats where audio and video are stored interleaved (inextricably linked) in the one physical stream, within the Ots format architecture even fundamental data types such as audio and video are always stored in a discrete (separate) manner. Consider the benefits afforded by this architecture, as illustrated by these common examples:

    • You have a music video, but the audio quality is particularly poor. You also have a CD version of the same song and wish to use the audio from that version matched with the video from the music video version. With Ots, this is basically a drag and drop operation. No demuxing, decoding, editing and re-encoding and muxing—as would be required with a "regular" file. Simply import the audio chunk from the Ots file containing the CD version into the music video Ots Media™ file and drag it to the correct item! Perfect, you now have the pristine audio quality from the CD version while still retaining the full music video and it literally took just a few seconds to accomplish!
    • Building on the above example, let's say that the video version was slightly slower than the CD audio version (quite common in real-world commercial music due to the varying mastering techniques and equipment used in the production of different formats). When you put them together, the audio/video sync is out by the end of the song! With other file formats you'd have to demux, decode, etc, then run the video (or audio) through a process in some kind of audio or video editor to speed up/slow down by the correct amount such that when recombined the two versions would now run at the exact same speed! A lot of work! With Ots Media™ files, you'd simply go into the VCI chunk handler—which controls the presentation of video within the playout system—and tweak the playback frame rate such that the video will perfectly match the new audio chunk you've provided from the CD version. It's literally just changing one value and thereafter the Ots Media™-based playout system will respect the new frame rate of the video, keeping it in perfect sync with the audio, providing of course you used the correct value! Because of the floating-point accuracy of Ots Labs playout systems and the necessary support built into the Ots Media™ file format, even a seemingly minor adjustment such as speeding up a 25 frames-per-second video to say, 25.017 fps is honoured—with full accuracy—by the playout system. And if you do the math or try it, you'll see that the above example will result in a difference of over 5 frames (10 fields) at the end of a 5 minute video—equivalent to more than 200 ms of audio/video alignment error (or correction!)
    • A very common use of the convenient nature of Ots Media™ files is making edit versions of items/songs. Let's say you have a song in your collection that is commonly played without its long intro or outro (if you're a radio DJ there are many that will come to mind!). Rather than mess around decoding, editing within a waveform editor and re-encoding, with Ots you literally just perform a few mouse clicks in the ACI chunk handler. Job done. But wait! What if you still want to maybe occasionally play the full unedited version? Easy! Simply clone the item in Ots Studio (this will logically duplicate the item within the same file without actually creating any new chunks), separate/unlink the ACI chunk which makes it independent of the original item while still keeping all other chunks linked to the original. Now you can edit the ACI of the new (clone) item to create the desired shorter version of the song and the edit will not affect the original. Better still, both versions will exist within the same Ots Media™ file (full-length original and radio edit) and both will be using the audio data (and video data, if a video item) from the original which means the overall filesize of the Ots file will not increase even though you now have another whole logical song in it which you can play at will!
  • As a format designed specifically for playout systems catering to the needs of DJs and music-centric applications, Ots Media™ files allow presentation-guiding meta data to be conveniently stored within the same package as the primary audio/video data. Examples include IntelliFade™ mixing data, BeatMorph™ beat mixing data, video control info data and many others. By bundling this data conveniently within the one file, portability and an extra degree of robustness is gained. A common setup among our customers is to run a central server of some description upon which they store their master copies of Ots Media™ files. These files are properly created, edited and maintained as necessary—perhaps including adding, for example, beat mixing data—on the server. They then synchronize from this central server to their client installation machines, or DJ systems, or wherever they are running playout systems. Having most important data contained within the Ots files and being able to simply mirror them to other machines is a big time saver and provides positive reassurance that these target systems will work identically or as planned and expected. This contrasts to other playout systems which typically require complicated setup procedures on a per-machine basis in order to gain pre-determined or centrally-managed behaviours. In most cases it's not even possible or provided for by these other apps to store the kind of presentation data discussed above.

Ots Labs has demonstrated its commitment to the Ots Media™ file format—and its many users—with over 12 years of continuous research & development, careful and intricate design work, and the constant striving to meet the needs of our valued customers.

More than a decade after initial public release and with hundreds of thousands, likely millions, of Ots file users collectively creating billions of Ots files it's fair to say that the Ots Media™ file format has been a tremendous accomplishment and a large influencing factor behind the success and longevity of Ots Labs!

Ots Labs Ots Media™ file format technology can be found in all Ots Labs file-playing playout products. See OtsAV DJ, OtsAV Radio, OtsAV TV, OtsTurntables. Also see Ots Studio regarding the creation, conversion and editing of Ots Media™ files.

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