What is a media server?
I was first introduced to the media server back in 2002 following a chance demonstration. I knew nothing about video, yet was captivated by the seemingly endless creative possibilities it offered to manipulate images in real time, in a way which I had not seen previously. 10 years later it’s almost impossible to imagine a time when this technology did not exist. Today they are in many control areas of theatres, tv studios and concert touring productions.
For the purposes of event technology, a media server is a playback mechanism for video content, sometimes incorporating audio and live video as well, with the unique ability to manipulate this imagery with a graphics engine in real time. Such manipulation could extend to scale, rotation and aspect, whilst combining Photoshop-style effects to create masks or alter the colour, shape and form. It will have the ability to blend multiple images to composite a totally bespoke output. There are many competing products available to hire and purchase today, and each will have its own characteristics and abilities, but broadly speaking the media server comprises of a high specification of computer hardware with ingenious custom software.
Many of the media servers have been designed by companies manufacturing film lighting products. There are of course exceptions, but this has created a real crossover between lighting and video departments. They are easily controlled by lighting protocols such as dmx and ArtNet, although much work equally well as standalone products, or can be controlled by other methods such as midi or smpte timecode.