Live programming is a powerful tool for broadcasters against the encroachment of OTT services and loss of advertisement revenues. Live content, with its potential for enrichment and analysis, holds the key to drawing viewers. As such, broadcasters are constantly looking to provide more live sports, news, and other live content. Live programming, especially sports, still attracts a large and dedicated TV consumer base as viewers want to discuss news and events of the day with friends via social media.

However, live event production can be resource intensive and traditional OB production limits the amount of live content that can be cost-effectively produced. In order to increase the number of live production programs, broadcasters must address cost control by embracing live production workflows that are more efficient and cost-effective.

IP is slowly changing the market landscape. Customers are starting to set infrastructure in place although the majority has not yet dealt completely with the graphics and video live IP output side of things yet. Most of the decisions at this point are centered on video infrastructural architecture. Industry is ready for an IP workflow so when customers start to switch over and the infrastructure is already there, it should be a quick transition.

IP-optimized solutions are providing a tremendous opportunity for broadcasters, live events, and sports production to ease into and expand their delivery of ultra HD and 4K content. Building IP-based/supported workflows is a necessary part of a technology investment and provides more power, scalability, and flexibility to the overall infrastructure.

The signal in live production requires a continuous path from a studio or event, to a production gallery, where it is manipulated, before being distributed live to the audience with as little delay as possible. This movement and manipulation of signals is principally what differentiates live production from nonlive, where the activity is focused around the movement and manipulation of files.

IP and Hybrid SDI-IP

The latest technical developments, such as improved compression; networking technology that aggregates IP connections from satellite, microwave, Wi-Fi, and cellular to transmit high-quality live HD video over the strongest signal available; and the increasing number of niche sports and entertainment programming creates opportunity for producers looking to reach a more specific audience via nontraditional broadcasting channels like Facebook Live and YouTube. While the workflow of a traditional control room is still required, network affiliations – and many of the other typical distribution channels associated with being a broadcaster – are not. And no longer is a large truck with crew in the field required.

Live production relies heavily on technologies that help cope with a high volume of signals and information in environments where precision timing is essential. The best-known technology for achieving such precision is the serial digital interface (SDI). With the arrival of new, IP-based technologies, SDI will slowly be phased out. The reason for this is not that SDI is fundamentally inferior to IP. Indeed, when it comes to resilience, robustness, and lack of delay, SDI is in many respects still superior. But the strength of IP is that it promises to improve the flexibility and responsiveness of live production – in ways that are profound.

Moving the live production network to an IP world would allow industry to leverage commercial-off-the-shelf networking gear, packet network signal aggregation and format agnosticism benefits, and latest software-defined networking (SDN) technologies. On the other hand, mirroring SDI's deterministic behavior in a best-effort IP environment requires additional security methods to be implemented.

The industry is working together to develop these protocols and agree on common IP media interfaces that guarantee vendor interoperability which is essential to truly seize IP benefits.

IP and hybrid SDI-IP infrastructures enable any live or previously captured asset to be enriched or made available for instant sharing anywhere, whether it be at the live event – from large screen to in-suite screen to mobile device or at home.

Challenges

Different organizations have been working since 2013 in standardizing a video-specific protocol that addresses IP limitations in live production environments, guaranteeing media integrity and allowing different vendors to interoperate. These organizations include SMPTE and VSF which have released several standards to help companies transition from SDI to the new IP media infrastructure.

SMPTE ST 2022-6 is the first published protocol to support transmission of SDI signals over IP networks. Though new considerations have been made to adopt a more flexible approach, this early adopted standard is still relevant for installations where SDI and IP coexist. The related SMPTE 2022-5 and SMPTE 2022-7 implement error correction and redundant transmission to protect video signal transmission.

VSF TR-03 allows for elementary audio, video, and ancillary data streams to be individually forwarded through an IP packet network. This VSF recommendation leverages the real time protocol (RTP), precision time protocol (PTP) and SMPTE 2059-1 standard for low-latency transmission and frame-accurate synchronization. The related VSF TR-04 recommendation allows SMPTE 2022-6 streams to be the RTP payload of a VSF TR-03 installation for SDI and IP hybrid deployments.

SMPTE 2110 suite of standards builds on the previews to guarantee interoperability between different vendors through the whole IP live production workflow. SMPTE 2110 is the industry preferred candidate for broad adoption of IP technologies in live production and as format-agnostic, it is prepared to support future 4K/8K UHD and HDR services.

Beside latency, integrity, and synchronization challenges, another bandwidth aspect needs to be considered in 4K live productions. True UHD TV video signal bitrate is approximately 12 Gbps. Given that most currently available networking gear integrates 10 GbE ports, video compression is a desirable feature to optimize IP bandwidth usage. SMPTE 2110 supports compressed video signals as the RTP stream payload and different mezzanine codecs can be implemented to this end.

Professional media equipment manufacturers are looking to deliver IP-based products that optimize broadcasters operations when producing 4K live events. Advantech enables them with a broad choice of adapters, switches, appliances, and systems to integrate IP media interfacing into different live production equipment.

Leveraging on Design

Broadest choice of platforms to develop high-performing IP media products: Customers can choose from a wide range of adapters, appliances, systems, and switches to build next-generation IP media live production gear. IP media portfolio supports industry-agreed standards and follows industry-agreed roadmaps for safely migrating to IP-based facilities.

Professional grade UHD HEVC encoding and decoding, video processing with IP interfacing in a compact and low power platform that can be easily integrated into outside broadcasting installations help in UHD live event broadcasting.

Solutions have been designed with flexibility in mind and integrate comprehensive SDK and software tools to minimize development efforts and accelerate next-generation media product rollout. Customers can leverage on design and integration capabilities to choose their sweet spot between commercial-off-the-shelf and fully customized solutions.

Maximum Flexibility

The high and ultra-high IP data rates of 25 GbE, 50 GbE, and 100 GbE, coupled with low latency, are proving to be a game-changer for transport and switching of uncompressed 4K UHD and HD. This now gives organizations the ability to have multi camera (30+) live productions in uncompressed UHD, where previously they would have been constrained by the physical limits of deploying SDI for a project of this scope.

Outdoor production companies are increasingly considering the move from SDI to IP for their new OB trucks. HDR and 4K are fast becoming a requirement and production houses know that the road to increased resolution does not stop there. Enhanced reality and VR are already around the corner. Quad SDI solutions are limited to 4K. IP offers more flexibility down the road in terms of supporting the formats that will become standard in the next decade.

IP technology is making remote production a reality. IP allows user to do much more with what they have. Maximum flexibility in redeployment is achieved with potentially significant savings in capital outlay.

New Production Model

Remote production of live events is seen as the next step in the world of live production. In this model, most of the costly production equipment and staff remain at home in the studio. This model has the potential to dramatically reduce costs associated with live production and let broadcasters deliver more and richer live content.

With remote production, there is no need to send large OB production trucks to the venue and fewer staff resources are required. Expensive and scarce resources like directors, editors, and production staff can remain in the central production facility, working in their own familiar environment, while just a few camera operators and a limited technical staff actually go on-site.

The cost savings associated with remote production can be significant – upwards of 40 percent savings or more, based on recent studies. But is remote production technically practical at this time?

The answer is clearly yes. With the latest technological advancements, remote production is now a practical, deliverable, and proven option. Major broadcasters are currently using this model to cost effectively deliver high-quality live events that likely would not have been covered at all with traditional on-site techniques. Transporting signals over dark fiber or via IP circuits with high security and relatively low latency is now possible. Compact remote equipment minimizes transport cost, is easy to set up and establish connections, and has redundancy built in to eliminate disruptions.

While remote production opens the door for lucrative content opportunities, pursuing those opportunities without a proven, reliable, and cost-effective communications solution puts the production at risk. With a little planning and proper intercom technology selection, even the most challenging remote production events can be successful. If done correctly, viewers will never know that the entire production staff was hundreds or thousands of miles away from the actual event.

Way Forward

The media industry is going through a profound transformation in its way to optimize operations by leveraging IT and networking technologies and economies of scale. The introduction of IP into live production environments is one step further in this transition and will bring greater scalability and flexibility above all when looking at the arrival of UHD.

Professional video equipment manufacturers can now easily integrate IP media interfacing into their next-generation 4K live production portfolio by leveraging a wide range of interface adapters and integrated switches and systems. These support video-specific industry-agreed protocols to guarantee media integrity and interoperability as well as latest networking technologies such as SDN.

Industry Speak

Selecting Master Control Automation

Kulvinder Singh
VP Sales SAARC,
Aveco Group international Ltd.

Master Control Automation is one of the most mission-critical parts of broadcast operations, it is a long-term strategic purchase, and great care is advised in evaluating the character of the companies, their track record of working well with all manufacturers, their core control platform, and of course the versatility and performance of their software.

Aveco has the great reputation of working well with all broadcast manufacturers. This has contributed to our developing and maintaining the largest library of software integration and control in broadcasting. Also, because we are independent, and not a buried component of a competing bundle, all manufacturers have good motivation to work closely with us, generation after generation of software and hardware. We keep up, so a broadcaster's options to continually select the best equipment is maintained.

The company integrates with more broadcast manufacturers than any other automation provider, including a vast range of the equipment either now providing all IP operations or mixed IP and SDI. When evaluating MCR systems, take great care in how many manufacturers a MCR system supports, and avoid getting locked into any system that only controls one-company's equipment.