The increasing speed and ubiquity of IP networking is such that broadcasters are preparing to transition to IP-based live video and audio transport and away from traditional dedicated Serial Digital Interface (SDI or HD-SDI) links. The move is not being made without caution, but we have been here before with IT.
There is no question that IT technology has slowly taken a strong foothold in broadcast plants over the past decade. Previous to this, it was considered only for financial and administrative tools – certainly not for on-air operations, much less studio and production work. Both nonlinear editors and video servers were radical shifts for broadcasters to not only grasp, but also trust since they use IT technology.
The mere thought of IT happening in any broadcast chain was petrifying and typically exacerbated by last week’s email crash that took a full day to recover from. Today, many plants have experienced tremendous growth in channel counts, demanding as much hands-free operation as possible. Video servers connected with automation systems are the norm, and clearly these technologies have leveraged both IT know-how and price points to be successful for broadcast use.
Cheaper, simpler, faster
Since file-based workflows depend on IP transport to work, the natural progression is to ask why not have 100% IT and go beyond file-based to video over IP? The introduction of new IP-related production technologies is slowly happening and equally we see the evolution of new content distribution platforms through which people can access rich content. Not only would using internet technologies be cheaper, simpler and allow for faster and more flexible ways of working, it could also support metadata and new types of production data, as well as a wider range of devices.
Yet when we talk video over IP, there is considerable and understandable resistance among broadcasters. They are asking ‘how confident can I be that if I put multiple video at full bandwidth on the same piece of wire that it will reliably get from A to B every single time without exception?’
As an industry, our job is to service our customers with the tools and technologies that allow them to prepare their media for any particular distribution channel at the right cost level. In very general terms, IP technology offers point-to-point connectivity; it securely transports video signals to one or more receivers in the network from a single interface without having to dig trenches, move cables or add encoders or decoders at the network edge. You can set up or add connections or take them down on demand – quickly and easily. This makes for a flexible and versatile network set-up.
Change in the mindset
What Harris Broadcast has done with the Platinum IP3 router, introduced to IBC visitors for the first time, is take the effort to understand what a plant will look like that is all IP. The first step in that process is ensuring that operators can work comfortably in your IP plant and yet have all the functionality they have today in a mindset with which they are familiar.
The result is a change to the control system on the Platinum IP3 to accommodate forward-looking control in a 100% IP environment. The seamless integration of systems and making their operation transparent to the operator are crucial to pave the way toward a 100% IP infrastructure of the future. Ultimately the Platinum IP3 and its controller are your gateway to getting your operators confident of working in an entirely IP workflow.
To save bandwidth, IP networks are typically over-provisioned, which means that the same bandwidth is planned for use by different applications and excessive traffic is dropped on a random basis. For data applications like email and file transfer, this isn’t a problem, as lost IP packets will simply be retransmitted without the end user noticing any delay or drop in file quality.
For live video streams, however, this kind of overprovisioning is completely unacceptable. To overcome this issue, IP networks maintain quality by differentiating between packet requirements. The goal is to be able to provide constant, guaranteed bandwidth to live services like video streams, while giving less priority to services that aren’t time critical (such as email).
This requires new expertise from systems integrators and training of house operators to understand what constitutes higher and lower priority traffic, and to adjust the network accordingly. Broadcasters need to understand how their needs fit with established IP service parameters and translate those needs into concrete SLAs. This will ensure that file integrity and image quality are maintained throughout the contribution video transport process.
Move to IT and IP
As we move inevitably toward IT and IP infrastructure, compression becomes a critical point. You don’t want to be tied to one system but run multiple formats back to back so you can playout in one codec and seamlessly switch to another algorithm (JPEG2000, HEVC and so on) when a change in clip is required. The benefit of all Harris Broadcast server products, including the Versio channel-in-a-box Versio, is that they were designed with software codecs from the ground up and will be a real plus in assisting your transition to IP.
Thanks to recent technology and tool advancements and the revenue potential of transporting video and other media content in real time within the same network, the long held distrust of IP for contribution-level broadcasting is slowly but surely being eroded. It is equally clear that a 100% IP infrastructure is still some way off.
To make IP routing viable, interfaces and networking kits need to be low cost and need to ride on the high volume curves of the IT industry. If you take, for instance, a 60x60 router, you would need to see 1Gbps ports shipments virtually disappear on computer servers and be taken over by 10Gbps – the minimum required to route within a plant. By 2017, 10Gbps may be viable for production islands and greenfield sites. The projected mainstream adoption of 40 GigE-capable switching equipment again points toward the 2017 date when 100GigE starts to enter the mainstream market.
Just like hybrid analogue/digital systems existed for many years and hybrid SD/HD systems exist today, systems employing both IP and baseband architectures will exist for quite some time.