In my first blog, “Live Production with IP and SDI: The Simple Beauty of Standards,” I spoke from my experience as a former live operations staffer about the advantages that IP technologies ― particularly ST 2110 technologies ― bring to live production environments. I hope any fellow operators who read it came away with some ideas.
But maybe you scanned that first post and thought, “That’s all well and good, Cassidy, but how do I manage and maintain an ST 2110 system from an engineer’s perspective?” Well this blog’s for you.
The More Things Change …
When I first started discussing uncompressed IP solutions for live production systems back in 2017, I was asked countless different versions of this question: “Where is my patch panel?”
Ah yes, the familiar patch panel ― many of those ports dedicated to one signal or one workflow path. In the baseband world, with one uncompressed signal per cable, this kind of patch panel was a simple and logical tool. But in IP …
- How do I know what is happening when I have 400G of dynamically routed signals moving over my cable?
- What if I lose a signal?
- What if a device fails and I need to protect my workflows while troubleshooting?
No need to panic. New technologies allow us to do all these things ― similar to the familiar patch-panel way we managed systems in the past ― but virtually and more quickly.
Patching in a Virtual World
The broadcast routing control system has lived for years as software on a server, rather than as a card within a “big iron” router. The industry has moved far beyond the X/Y routing of a single crosspoint in a large router frame. All routes in a broadcast system are now virtual points within a database. I can see this database from any computer with access to the broadcast control system, from a PC at the facility to my home laptop via a VPN.
As a veteran of live operations, I have clear memories of troubleshooting a broadcast “air chain” with physical patch panels during primetime football ― only fun if you are a glutton for punishment. Modern technology is different. If all sources and destinations in the router are user-defined virtual points, this unlocks operational flexibility for live routing, maintenance engineering, and even system design. In the same way virtual sources and destinations are defined, virtual patch points and virtual workflows can be created.
In the image above, “Camera 1” is actually a routable virtual point, which could be any one of your physical cameras on a given day. “Program Output” is actually a series of virtual patch points, each routable, to marry audio/video/data from multiple sources in a virtual workflow.
From a user interface tied to my broadcast routing controller, I can easily see if there are errors on my “Program Output.” If I have created a virtual workflow behind “Program Output,” a simple glance at the virtual patch points can reveal at which point the error was introduced, and the offending device can be routed out of the workflow.
Once I have corrected “Program Output” with good media, via simple Destination-->Source-->Take routes from my soft-panel, I could even route the bad stream to a waveform vector scope for trouble-shooting via the scope’s web interface. Within minutes, from my desk, I have observed and corrected an impairment. Try matching such recovery times with traditional patch cables.
One Giant Router
The above scenario can be incredibly powerful in large IP or hybrid systems. When I was dealing with multiple SDI router frames with tie-lines between their individual routing control systems, my view of the total video system may have been limited. Now, with the broadcast control system living as software on a server, I can have visibility on everything and treat the system as one big router. My database can also scale as needed to manage and keep track of massive systems.
Not only can I manage a single system with tens of thousands of inputs and outputs, but if my broadcast routing controller has access, I can see multiple facilities across the globe.
So getting back to your original question: managing and maintaining an ST 2110 system won’t take you too far outside your baseband comfort zone. And once you experience the benefits of virtual patching ― greater flexibility, broader visibility and faster response times ― you’ll likely never look back. You may even want to apply these new technologies over, or in combination with, your legacy equipment.
IT and IP technologies allow new creativity for both production staff and system engineers, while performing in a rapid, deterministic way necessary for critical live broadcast. No patch panel required.