Joe Khodeir, Senior VP-Asia-Pacific, Imagine Communications

This is a very exciting time for the media industry. We are witnessing a remarkable industry transformation, which is impacting not only how content is consumed but also the associated revenue models, through a shift in the underlying technology delivering content to various distribution models. Since television was invented 80 years ago, we have been forced to rely on bespoke hardware and connectivity to handle the demanding signal flow to consumers. Analog systems gave way to digital, but we still require specialist equipment and SDI interconnections.

In parallel, and driven by other industries, the technologies implemented by the IT industry have become ever more powerful, and now capable of handling our demanding video and audio signals in real time. At first we used this new power to make bespoke broadcast products more flexible and more affordable – a video server, for instance, might use enterprise-class disk drives and a PC controller as part of its construction.

But the real benefit comes when we can use standard, off-the-shelf hardware to run specialist software applications. The potential is that those software applications will talk to each other as they need to. Instead of fixed architectures, which are determined at the time of system design and are then largely inflexible, we have technology platforms which can change their structure moment by moment, to reflect precisely on what we require.

These software-defined architectures provide complete agility and unlimited flexibility. But that potential is realized only through the interoperability of these software applications. At the transport level that is accomplished through IP, the way computers interconnect in all industries. But each application must understand all other applications it deals with. So there needs to be a suite of common standards which all vendors recognize. These standards are now ready. The Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS), which we are proud to be one of the initiators of, has rallied the industry around key standards. The most recent is the SMPTE ST2110 standard, which defines the way audio, video, and control signals are presented and exchanged, for real-time live connectivity which is completely reliable.

The real importance of the work of AIMS has been to get universal recognition for open standards. Vendors who initially promoted proprietary schemes have now acknowledged that the best way forward for the whole industry is through agreed standards. Using open standards will allow a broadcaster or media company to buy applications from a wide range of sources to achieve precisely what it needs for its business. At least 30 vendors plan to launch ST2110-compatible products this year. Imagine Communications recently announced at NAB its Selenio Network Processor (SNP), an all-IP-capable processing solution, optimized for handling uncompressed UHD signals based on the SMPTE 2110 specification for transporting media over IP networks.

The work continues. Functionality still to be agreed is around how devices discover and recognize each other; how a monitor knows that an IP stream is from a camera; what the requirements for network management tools are to ensure that bandwidth is optimized while prioritizing live traffic.

Most important is the security question. How can live, uncompressed, Ultra HD traffic flow while still being secure? What is the network overhead to protect streams?

This work is in hand, and one can expect to see standards in these areas in the coming months.At IBC last September, an IP Interconnectivity Zone demonstrated products from a large number of vendors working seamlessly together, including a live multi-camera studio. At NAB this April, a similar demonstration showed remarkable advances even on the IBC demonstration, based on these new standards including ST2110. BroadcastAsia2017 will see a practical demonstration of what is deliverable today. We are proud to sponsor the Broadcast IP Inter-Op Lab @BroadcastAsia2017, which will feature multiple vendors collaborating on live studio production, editing, and post and OTT distribution.

This is no longer a science project. This is the future of our industry, and it is available today. Every media company will plot the speed of its own transition, but there is no doubt that we will all be working in software-defined, IP-connected architectures in the coming few years.