BY ANISHA GAKHAR
The IP technology has been raved about within the M&E industry and has been under the radar of broadcasters and consumers alike, since quite some time now. Technologies come and go, but a few manage to stay and for good. The constant augmentations and enhancements have continued to add value to the existing IP know-how, making it far more diversely applicable as compared to its history. We live in an era of digital disruption, which has led to the metamorphosis of the way content is consumed. IP spells accessibility, less friction, more options; targeting consumption and segmentation. Alexander Stoyanov, sales director, PBT EU said, “This results in a trend of unseen proportions compared to previous technological eras - now everybody can be a self-proclaimed entertainer with almost unlimited access to their audience, thus, putting an end to the monopoly of media mastodons.”
IP for broadcasting and media revolves around the theme of transition. It constitutes migration to unconventional platforms, with efficient management. Grass Valley recently conducted research among nearly 750 media professionals, to gauge the progress of the industry’s migration to IP. It confirmed a strong industry desire to migrate to IP, as nearly 70% of respondents indicated that they expect to have IP projects underway by mid 2019. The Devoncroft’s Big Broadcast Survey of 2018, which garnered responses from over 8000 broadcasters globally, had posed a question - when were they expecting at least 50% of their infrastructure to convert to IP? 22% of broadcasters stated that they had already migrated to IP, while 39% were planning the transition over the next 5 years; which means over 61% of the worldwide play-out facilities would have made the big jump to IP in the sub-sequent 5 years.
IP will continue to be deployed for both, contribution/distribution and internal networking, to allow broadcasters to build next-generation studios. This will allow for remote live productions to be delivered entirely over IP.”
— Ray Thompson, director - Broadcast and Media Solutions Marketing, Avid
Steve Reynolds, president - Playout & Networking, Imagine Communications, explained, “It is important to remember that IP is not a goal in itself. It is an enabling technology which leads us to the real goal: the productivity, scalability, and flexibility benefits of software-defined platforms. High performance software systems are where the real action is. The key advance is the establishment of clear, practical, open standards. The SMPTE ST 2110 family of standards is the primary achievement here, which gives a clear framework for interoperability of software applications for media professionals, communicating in real time over IP networks. ”
“We’re seeing major broadcasters, OB companies and service providers forging ahead with adopting IP – or making concrete plans to do so within the coming months. This has been a significant step in a short time, and provides some strong indicators about what’s to come in for the rest of the year and beyond,” said Gaurav Sethi, regional director, Grass Valley.
"The move to IP will, without doubt, completely transform the media industry, delivering cost efficiencies, productivity boosts and business agility.”
— Steve Reynolds, president, Playout & Networking, Imagine Communications
IP enables shifting from dedicated boxes performing a single function, to a microservices architecture, in which a software control layer calls the software services needed to perform a specific task at a specific time, running in standard hardware which can be reconfigured instantly. “A microservice is defined as the minimum embodiment of technology which provides performance and valuable service. It delivers a specific sub-task which can be combined with other microservices to create the functionality you need,” added Reynolds. Microservices provide a straight-forward approach to add functionalities, create additional workflows, and to scale the operation as per requirement and budget. They can run as well in the machine room, in the data centre, or in the cloud as in hybrid mode.
According to Reto Brader, CEO, Barix AG, bandwidth has always been and continues to be the key, in IP. “New technologies improve the throughput over WiFi, making it a viable technology for some applications. Throughput is also growing in public networks, and bandwidth is now widely available - making IP transport of audio a reliable platform. Augmenting it with redundancy technologies like the Barix Redundix solution makes it even more usable for transport-critical audio applications,” commented Brader.
“The fact that IP allows up-scaling in a manner second to none compared to the costs involved, speaks clearly of great potential. The major enhancement in protocols, routing, networking and switching as a result of tremendous R&D efforts, overcame the hurdles early adopters faced and often bypassed,” said Stoyanov.
Another updation - cellular bonding technology is being used extensively by broadcasters and production houses by rendering unique customisations pertaining to suit specific requirements. This has helped them to gain a competitive edge by using uniquely produced live content. “In the broadcast space, the adoption of HEVC encoding in cellular bonding technology, which is inherently IP-based – has led to significant expansion in its use. This applies to beyond mobile newsgathering, providing high-quality video with half the bandwidth compared with H.264 technology,” said Ranjit Bhatti, director – South Asia, LiveU.
Outdoor live streaming has gained increasing momentum over the past few years, owing to a steep rise in the number of consumers for live feeds, especially of sports championships, events and concerts. This has helped benefit many a musician, podcaster, and comedian, amongst others, who make use of live video to curate ngrossing experiences, accessible to remote locations in the palm of one’s hand.
“In today´s dynamic world, speed trumps everything. Literally the one who gets to the audience first has the best chances of winning their attention, as
well as keeping it for longer.”
— Alexander Stoyanov, sales director, PBT EU
“The development of open standards has been central to IP’s evolution. Interoperability is critical to ensuring that all components within an IP infrastructure integrate seamlessly. There is now a wide range of available products amongst vendors that offer native IP connectivity – from cameras to production switchers, processing to multiviewers, routers and video servers,” said Sethi.
NewTek’s TriCaster, a live production system, facilitates low-latency video over standard Ethernet networks, thus enhancing the workflow with new capabilities. A few other solutions that facilitate an end-to-end IP experience include, NewTek Connect Spark, NewTek Connect NC1, NewTek NDI Camera, NewTek IP SeriesStudio Expansion Module, NewTek TalkShow, and NewTek NDI Telestrator amongst others.
TSL Products is currently working with its systems integrator partners on a few opportunities for the PAM-IP audio monitoring range.
Virtually, most of the broadcasting technology in actual comprises of software solutions running on a standardised hardware platform. They are marketed as software-only products to be installed on Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware.
“During the transition period, some of those individual units may be connected using SDI; others using IP. But the technology is the same; adding new functionality today into any broadcast system is taking advantage of IP-centric system. We see IP-connected solutions delivering real value for our customers today, in content creation, management and delivery. IP connectivity enables systems to be more closely integrated, delivering more functionality in a more intelligent, automated environment,” asserted Reynolds.
TSL’s PAM-IP range infrastructure aims at aims at supporting ST-2022-6 and/or ST-2110, providing technical agility without requiring ‘fork-lift’ infrastructure changes.
Software systems achieve unrivalled density, injecting more capability and efficiency into operations. Italian systems integrator Chromaline, for example, developed an outside broadcast unit for Global Production: by using software solutions that made use of IP connectivity. It facilitated the building of technical and operational space for 30 camera-native 4K ultra-HD productions in a road-capable truck.
“We can call IP ‘the cable of 1000 connections’ and exactly because of that, IP will replace most means of transport for signals used today. I believe that even cars will see IP streams replacing over the air modulation for radio distribution.”
— Reto Brader, CEO, Barix AG
Broadcasters have long relied on IP not only as a backup audio transport strategy, but also as the primary link for contribution and distribution. “This is especially true for studio-to-transmitter (STL) links in radio broadcast systems. Customers bring in the audio broadcast using IP audio encoders, and are now even using SIP signaling to ‘dial’ the link. It is growing far more sophisticated and reliable with each year,” explained Brader.
Some broadcasters tread the IP path with extreme caution, though. Others go in with a big stride, and in the middle is the population, which chooses evolution over revolution or the status-quo, according to Stoyanov. According to Sethi, adding IP to an existing SDI infrastructure for a step-by-step transition could be a better option. “This coupled with a realistic budget scope and the desire to re-deploy existing SDI equipment has led 67% of media professionals to favour a hybrid approach – at least in the short term,” he added. A few factors that might affect the decision includes the company culture, flexibility, adaptability, market statistics and strategic projection towards the future.
COSTS AND EXECUTION
Cost is still undeniably a vital consideration when considering a switch to IP, with 32% of media professionals ranking it as the most important factor to take into account. For a company starting fresh, it becomes imperative to configure an end end-to-end IP infrastructure. “It’s not the same case if you have invested heavily over the years and now, you are forced to disqualify a great deal of legacy equipment and go out of your comfort zone. The amount of IP projects that end in ‘no decision’ due to some form of nostalgia of the good old days is ridiculous,” stated Stoyanov.
IP is a key enabler in the shift to software-defined networks, and holds the ability to transform the economical graph of a company. Using the COTS software significantly reduces the cost of the equipment, whilst focussing the investment on functionality.
In the 1990’s, standard definition video was at 270 Mbit/s, owing to the fact that IP systems could pass only 1 to 10 Mbit/s. Systems today, can handle uncompressed digital video, and 10 Gbit/s, 25 Gbit/s, and even 100 Gbit/s nodes in standard switches.can be bought economically.
“It also means you can move from a capital expenditure financial model – where you have to invest in each piece of equipment and subsequently amortise that CapEx over a period of years – to an operational expenditure basis, where costs can be directly attributed to the services they provide. That is particularly the case as applications become virtualised, so you can see how much processor time and compute power they require to run,” explained Reynolds.
In the case of a sports broadcaster who undertakes large, multi-camera live productions – especially in 4K UHD, migrating to IP s a seemingly logcal move.
Creating a unified and open, interoperable IP environment is key to making quality, high-speed and agile live event sports production over an IP network. The notion that IP does not provide the same level of reliability as traditional legacy systems is just a myth. IP has advanced to instigate the remote handling of lot of core functionalities. “It is all about making smart infrastructure choices and ensuring that your management layer is up to the task. Fortunately, using IP technologies for contribution, distribution and internal networking is a hybrid approach that can be implemented as soon as possible,” said Ray Thompson, director - Broadcast and Media Solutions Marketing at Avid.
According to him, sending live feeds over IP through the cloud to studio talent, remote live production can be made easier, allowing production teams to deliver commentary on events happening anywhere in the world while lowering production costs and enabling broader scalability and distribution.
The shift in consumer pattern in terms of availability and accessibility, calls for the accommodation of IP. Having an IP-based back end for production and transmission, depletes the requirement of multiple layers of conversion.
Talking about the radio; as bandwidth becomes available locally at homes, listening to radio over IP networks will become the standard way to consume radio content. “Recent developments like Amazon’s Alexa and Google home have accelerated this trend when it comes to in-home consumption,” said Brader.
“Unification along the supply chain always means shorter a cycle of delivery, less barriers to overcome and better consumer access. In today´s dynamic world, speed trumps everything. Literally the one who gets to the audience first has the best chances of winning their attention, as well as keeping it for longer. It’s a well-known fact that attention is the easiest asset to monetise in entertainment,” explained Stoyanov.
THE IFS AND BUTS
The infrastructural foundations for IP technology are subjective to a company’s requirements. The human factor largely affects the execution, with well-trained agile specialists being a necessity. With new standards emerging every day, the ambiguity surrounding the subject is intense.
Training professionals to implement and manage IP is an acknowledged gap in the market. According to Sethi, 36% of European media professionals believe they have the right skills to manage an IP migration, and a further 55% believe that they partially have the required skills.
IP networks are usually designed with loss of information in mind. An IP network eases things if it has a high bandwidth and advanced technologies such as redundancy path selection and combination, for example, the Barix Redundix solution. “Efficient encoding also adds to improved quality. Technologies such as AAC on the low bandwidth end or Opus for contribution, make better use of the network bandwidth,” explained Brader.
Interoperability is of vital importance. A universally recognised, open professional standards works better than any other. Imagine Communications believes that the way to achieve this goal is to take an active role, both in the creation of the standards and their advocacy throughout the industry. Imagine is an active participant in SMPTE, having played leading roles in defining ST 2022, ST 2059, and ST 2110.
“Faster frame rates in IP, which contribute to a higher-quality, immersive viewing experience, eat up additional bandwidth. As consumers have come to expect exceptional quality across all of their screens—especially when it comes to their sports—technology is racing to keep pace, moving beyond issues by taking different approaches,” commented Jonathan Solomon, strategic initiative engineer – Streaming, IBM Aspera.
“Bonding multiple signals comes in handy to avoid congestions, allowing forconsistency in bandwidth even when one source becomes unstable. LiveU has developed the Reliable Transport protocol (LRT™), which enables reliable, low delay live video streaming over non-guaranteed IP networks and ensures reliable transport over the most unreliable of networks, including cellular networks,” shared Bhatti.
Looking ahead, IP is going to carry on growing at a fast pace, providing the freedom and mobility necessary for creating engaging live content across multiple sectors.”
— Ranjit Bhatti, director – South Asia, LiveU
“Avid offers professional services to help design a multi-phased approach to moving to an all-IP and/or hybrid workflow that enables a software-defined strategy that leverages COTs hardware and op-ex cloud deployments to maximise efficiency and lower costs,” said Thompson.
According to him, consumers expect more than what is possible in restrained budgets. Enter, IP. Avid is helping broadcasters manage technical and economic challenges by providing a flexible platform called MediaCentral, while offering creative enterprise agreements for fixed costs. Avid’s MediaCentral l Cloud UX platform offers ways to leverage auto-indexing using facial, scene, and speech-to-text tools for rich metadata, enabling faster and even automated search and edit creation capabilities.
PBT EU’s DVB subtitling technology was mainly ASI based, in the past. As the ASI faded out and the industry demand boomed, the shift PBT EU needed to make was imminent.
On similar lines, Barix’s Instreamer ICE, an AAC encoder and Icecast Server in a box that serves up to 200 simultaneous listeners for internet radio, addresses two problems: efficient encoding (using AAC+) and simple to setup distribution (Integrated Icecast server).
As a manufacturer that delivers all-IP communication between a camera and base station, Grass Valley has broken new ground with the ability to deliver uncompressed 4K UHD camera signals as far as 20,000 km.
At last year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, hundreds of LiveU’s HEVC transmission units were used by broadcasters (ESPN India being one of them), to capture the happenings and stream them live. Sky News used LiveU’s HEVC technology to provide high-quality UHD/4K live coverage of the Royal Wedding last year. Covering the mountain bike stage race Absa Cape Epic in South Africa’s Western Cape was made possible by LiveU’s HEVC units, which were used on electric bikes connected to GoPro cameras, helicopters along the route.
All Mobile Video (AMV) group in the USA has been using TSL’s audio products over the years, with its fleet now featuring seven IP-equipped, large-format trucks to capture high-profile events on TV.
Another example is Vice News in New York, which had Imagine Communications start from scratch, to implement standards-based IP production system in the spring of 2017. This was one of the world’s first news organisations to have a pure IP-based infrastructure.
By integrating IBM’s Aspera FASPStream into its existing workflows, Switzerland-based Sportradar, was able to utilise bandwidth glitch-free and with negligible latency, without having to worry about distances or network conditions. The solution delivered multiple encrypted and error-free, high-bitrate streams simultaneously over the 14-day event.
IP most certainly will continue on its path to dominance, in the coming years. Stoyanov rendered IP technology the blood-flow of the M&E domain. Brader echoed the same sentiment, “We can call IP ‘the cable of 1000 connections’ and exactly because of that, IP will replace most means of transport for signals used today. I believe that even cars will see IP streams replacing over the air modulation for radio distribution.”
The production budget crunch will accelerate the deployment of remote production solutions. From a control perspective, IP is here to stay, especially in scenarios where there is a financial constraint, or the need to have the engineering and production teams seated remotely.
“The logic of moving to IP is proven and inevitable, for two reasons. First, the industry will struggle if we do not move from specialist hardware and networks towards software services running on COTS hardware. This standardised IT hardware inherently communicates over IP. Second, the services we offer are increasingly delivered over IP. Streaming and content delivered to mobiles, broadcast distribution, from production to studio centres to transmitters and head ends, increasingly uses IP. With the advent of next generation broadcasting platforms like ATSC 3.0, even delivery to the consumer’s living room becomes IP based,” asserted Reynolds.
IP will facilitate the building of next-generation studios, in turn encouraging more remote live productions to be delivered entirely over IP. It will also help lower the number of resources needed onsite, to deliver a story or live event with utmost flexibility, mobility and speed. Hail IP.