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From micro “flypacks” to monster mega-systems: Over two years of UHD HDR ST 2110 live production.

In 2018, Imagine was called upon to provide routing and processing for two bleeding-edge UHD+HDR SMPTE ST 2110 IP systems: 24/7 broadcaster QVC Japan and the tpc Switzerland live production truck. Each system would comprise hundreds of UHD streams and thousands of audio streams and would provide live media content for home audiences.

At the time, these projects were groundbreaking. But it wasn’t innovation for innovation’s sake that drove the massive design criteria ― it was technical practicality and good business sense.

Giant-sized Video Production?

For years, many sporting events have utilized a single UHD camera acting as a wide shot of the playing field, to allow for high-quality detail zooms in replay. Now, sports production teams may be working with a complete UHD system ― every camera, every production switcher.

This UHD video, which is four times the size of 1080p HD, must move and switch in the same fashion operators are accustomed to with HD video. 8k video, another four times larger than 4k UHD, is also emerging. High frame rate, used to create great-looking slow-motion replays, is yet another multiplier. Unfortunately, SDI can be limiting for both the size and physical distance of these ultra-high-quality systems.

One of the major motivators in the broadcast industry’s move to IP has been the need for vertical and horizontal scale. With the introduction of UHD and 4k, infrastructure needs could suddenly quadruple, requiring hundreds of pounds of additional gear and SDI copper. We needed a way to handle 12G signals without racks full of big-iron routers, tie-lines, and buckets full of distribution amplifiers.

With ST 2110, we found the way.

SDI diagram compared to ST 2110 precision timing diagram
In-band PTP also allows us to throw out baseband reference systems and related distribution amplifiers and cables, reducing overall infrastructure needs and allowing one fiber pull to do the work of many.

As detailed in previous blogs, ST 2110 uncompressed IP lets us fit up to eight UHD streams on a single strand of single-mode fiber. And we can move UHD as far as 40km without stopping to re-amplify the signal strength. Qualified COTS IP switches are capable of hosting 384 x 384 uncompressed UHD streams per rack unit ― double that if edge devices are bidirectional.

This completely changes the rules and unlocks all-new possibilities in system design, and by extension ― the production capabilities of the creative team! UHD+HDR cameras in a distant venue, linked by miles of fiber, can be controlled as if they were in a studio with a shared wall to the control room.

Monstrous Power?

You may have heard a rumor that COTS IP solutions are “power hungry,” but the opposite is actually true for systems that properly leverage a COTS IP core and infrastructure. Take the example of a standard 29RU SDI router handling UHD SDI (12G) compared to a 2RU COTS switch with 96x 100G ports, as detailed in Why you should build your media system like a data center.”

rack diagram showing SDI vs ST 2110 COTS IP solutions
Image Credit: Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) - Blog: “Why you should build your media system like a datacenter”

The bigger you go, the worse it gets for the SDI system, with increasing needs for distribution amplifiers and tie-lines (or proprietary linkages performing the same functions). But you don’t have to go super-big to realize benefits with a COTS core. A 2RU 100G switch could be considered a hedge against unexpected system growth. Start as a 256×256 1080p system today, with the capability to go full 256×256 UHD at any time. We know our media systems must last 7-10 years, but who can predict what the demands upon the system will be over that time?

The latest technologies act as platforms for change over time; for example, Imagine’s Selenio™ Network Processor (SNP) brings this type of efficiency to the media processing realm. Leveraging FPGA technology to provide a dynamic multi-functional tool, one SNP can provide up to 8 channels of HD-to-UHD or 32 channels of HD frame synchronization, or even an HDR multiviewer. The SNP can absorb the responsibilities of multiple devices and easily change “personalities” to suit different needs from one day to the next.

Legacy Design diagram vs SDI System with SNP diagram vs ST 2110 Alternate diagram
Dynamic network attached resources, like the Selenio Network Processor, improve efficiency all around.

Place an SNP in a flypack and you suddenly have the ability to correct audio and video, multiview, and even compress to JPEG XS for distribution to the cloud and other systems. Adding new roles to this FPGA-based resource over time is as easy as a firmware update. The production team can create ultra high-resolution content, tweak the look as they please, and rapidly move media to distribution.

From a Titanic Quilt to a Cohesive Media Fabric

IP hasn’t changed everything. We fully expect your system to include a combination of mixed signal types and technologies from multiple generations and manufacturers ― like it always has. Imagine continues to make complex systems feel like “one big router” with traditional “Destination, Source, Take” performance for live operations, just as we did under the renowned Leitch name decades ago. And Imagine’s routing controller, Magellan™ SDNO, does not favor any single media format.

screen image capture of the PathView software
PathView - Click to Enlarge

One of the major benefits of ST 2110 is the ability to send any resolution of uncompressed video, up to 36k x 36k, within a single ST 2110-20 multicast IP stream. This means we can send one large multicast stream, which contains the complete UHD video raster, eliminating the need for “4-wire” or “quad-stream” UHD. In addition to the simplified switching logic, this reduces overall system complexity, configuration requirements, and troubleshooting. Consider this: 75% fewer ST 2110-20 multicast addresses, 75% fewer IP video streams to keep track of in the system – what’s not to like?

All these UHD streams can include HDR and be routed to processing devices for corrective and creative adjustments. In the case of QVC Japan and the tpc truck, the Selenio Network Processor is used to lock to single-stream UHD multicast and can apply creative changes as needed, such as S-LOG3 to HLG or PQ HDR re-mapping and fine manual adjustments within.

The safest way to make a clean switch (no visual impairments) is to perform make-before-break at the IP receiver. The receiver maintains lock on the previous signal while securing lock to a new signal, switching between the two when lock is confirmed. Again, the SNP can be used to provide clean switching in ST 2110, whether in HD or UHD modes, ensuring a seamless experience for your audience.

COTS-based infrastructures with 25G fiber paths (or 100G and beyond) are perfectly suited to host uncompressed UHD traffic and allow for hitless switching.

A Colossal Canvas for Creatives

Both QVC Japan and the tpc Switzerland truck have been in live operation since 2018 ― the 2110 and COTS technologies proving themselves time and again. Many more ST 2110 systems, from large broadcast distribution centers to small flypacks, have come online since.

Function and stability are the most important aspects of this story ― earning the trust of the operations teams ― but there are also plenty of bonuses for the creatives. For example, the FPGA and COTS-based platforms in each system pack enough horsepower to support 8k and High Frame Rate, reducing the need to “forklift” hardware as workflow needs evolve over time. A large canvas means more room to create…

SMPTE ST 2110 with COTS IP Core description
IP systems can go big! Image Credit: SMPTE - Blog: “Why you should build your media system like a datacenter”

That is a ton of media content! So if a special event calls for a sudden shift from HD to 8k, we have you covered.

File UHD, HDR, and scalability under “things a COTS-based ST 2110 IP system can handle with ease and efficiency.”

July 1, 2021 - By Imagine Communications
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portatif of Steve Reynolds


Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is President of Imagine Communications, a global leader in multiscreen video and ad management solutions that broadcasters, networks, video service providers and enterprises around the world rely on to support their mission-critical operations.

Steve brings 25 years of technology leadership in the video industry to Imagine Communications. He has served as the CTO at Imagine Communications and Harris Broadcast, Senior Vice President of Premises Technology at Comcast, Senior Vice President of Technology at OpenTV, and CTO at Intellocity USA.

Steve earned a MS in Computer Engineering from Widener University and BS in Computer Science from West Chester University. As the Chairman of the AIMS Alliance and a member of SMPTE and SCTE, he has participated in numerous standards-making bodies in the cable and digital video industries. Steve also holds over 40 patents relating to digital video, content security, interactive television and digital devices.