Olivier Suard, Marketing Director, Nevion
For many in the broadcast, media, and entertainment industry, 2016 will be seen as year zero for the adoption of IP in facilities. The focus for the year was no longer on the decision to adopt IP but rather was seen as a period of confidence building, where broadcasters began realizing its benefits.
Looking back at the year, standards continued to play a significant role and there was some alignment in forging a common approach around SMPTE 2110, especially in the studio environment. This year perhaps saw the fastest evolution of standards that we have seen in the last 25 years, probably helped by the fact that virtually all significant players in the industry have become aligned under the banner of AIMS (Alliance for IP Media Solutions).
Another powerful proof point for the year is the continued work that the VRT-EBU LiveIP Project is doing – firstly, in making IP work and secondly, in demonstrating that different vendors can, in fact, collaborate. The project is a joint initiative between Belgian broadcaster VRT, the European Broadcast Union (EBU), and a number of technology partners, with the objective of building and operating a live TV production studio based on IP and IT-centric hardware and software.
Apart from winning five awards in 2016, the project has been successful in producing a live-to-record classical concert in Belgium and broadcasting live shows for VRT’s Ketnet children’s channel. It was also the backbone of IBC’s studio this year in Amsterdam.
The True IP Deployment
While confidence is building when it comes to IP, we are not seeing too many true IP deployments – rather, what we have seen to date are pseudo-IP projects that added some IP capabilities to essential baseband infrastructures and a few solutions that are more proprietary than standards-based.
Looking ahead, 2017 must just be the year of the true IP deployment, particularly as many broadcasters are looking to build completely new studios in the next few years. At this point, they are reserving the decision to build baseband infrastructures or take the leap toward a greenfield IP deployment. While challenges still exist, these decisions may be helped in the upcoming year by the rapid maturing of switch fabric.
Way back in 2003, when we experienced the first true milestones in terms of WAN connectivity, the first IP routers were launched that were able to handle media flows deterministically. Now, we are looking more and more toward capitalizing on the expertise, capability and resource that high-volume datacenters are able to offer us. We are still experiencing some challenges in terms of the performance and scalability of IP switch fabric from a broadcast perspective; but if we leverage the knowledge and experience of the IT industry and look toward commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) options, these challenges could be overcome.
Maturity of Network Switch Fabric
There are a number of switch fabric releases planned for 2017 that will enable us to take some significant strides forward in addressing scalability and performance that will really benefit the broadcast industry.
As more organizations think about greenfield IP deployments, one of the key areas they will need to address is the network architecture. We need to see IP as IP, and not just a replacement for baseband. We need to look beyond the initial benefits of IP and look more at what an IP network will enable us to do – moving away from mimicking old ways of doing things and forging a new path.
Taking a Fresh Look at Network Architecture
By assessing and reassessing the network architecture, we will be asking important questions. These include “should we move away from a central video router?” The easy answer, and the one often heard currently is, “It’s worked for us in the past, so should we change it?” However, the answer could very well be yes, especially if we want to capitalize on the use of data center-like decentralized architecture and its leaf-spine set up, which offers more deterministic performance and control.
Other questions include those around switching. Up until now the focus has always been on ultra-fast and clean switching. In an IP architecture, this is likely to come at a price – but do we actually need it? For the vast majority of outputs in broadcast, video routers do not need to be perfectly switched. While there are instances, such as live programming and color correction, where fast clean switching is critical, it is not needed all the time. As a result, this realization allows us to change the way we view the network.
LAN/WAN Merger Revolutionizes Workflows
One of the biggest potential benefits which we can derive from IP is the LAN/WAN merger, i.e., the blurring of the distinction between studios and campuses (local area networks) on the one hand and contribution (wide area networks). Suddenly, the limitation in live production is no longer the length of a co-ax cable, but latency. This means equipment and people involved in live production can be spread over considerable distances – hundreds of miles apart even.
That has the potential to totally revolutionize production workflows, as remote production and remote collaboration become a reality. Control rooms can now be used to handle many studios; regional studios can become extensions of the central facilities; equipment can be shared more easily (virtualization); the very best people can be used on productions, almost wherever they might be.
These potential benefits can only really properly be realized if the networks, especially those in the facilities, are architected from the inception with that in mind – and here once again the future of a centralized router comes into question.
We should expect a lot of discussions about this workflow transformation in the coming year.
Standards, 4K, and Virtualization
Of course 2017 will also be the year when the trends of today and yesteryear filter through and build on their presence. When it comes to standards, SMPTE 2110 will be ratified by the end of the next year and will, in all probability, not change significantly from the present proposition. There will, however, be a strong focus on elements associated with SMPTE 2110 – like the work Networked Media Open Standards (NMOS) is doing on registration, discovery, and connection of IP devices in a studio environment. We also expect some discussion on how SMPTE 2110 will reach out into the WAN environment, to support remote production, for example.
No discussion on trends and predictions would be complete without at least a look at 4K. This resolution is ramping up everywhere, driven largely by TV manufacturers. There are still some inherent challenges for broadcasters – around delivery, for example, as they require higher bandwidth, as well as the consideration of other enhancements like HDR and higher frame rates that can also bring value to viewers.
And finally, as broadcasters adapt to doing more using fewer resources and with lower budgets, virtualization will increasingly be a topic of discussion. Enabled by the move to IP, virtualization or the replacement of physical hardware with software that can perform the same functions or allow for the sharing of resources will streamline operations and make them more cost effective. We are still in the beginning stages of realizing the ways in which virtualization can change the broadcast landscape in much the same way it has brought benefit to the IT industry.
Ultimately, 2017 will be about understanding the true potential of IP and delivering on it, rather than just trying to emulate baseband using IP. At Nevion, we believe that this will be the year when we start to focus on the end game – the overriding objective of moving to IP. At the moment, it seems we are thinking more incrementally about the next step. However, as confidence grows and technology advances to support IP, we need to shape and create a long-term strategy so that the benefits become more apparent and easier to realize.