Philip Scofield, Managing Director, Crystal Vision Ltd.
Change is in the air for the broadcast industry. Everything in a live studio can now be carried out using IP-based equipment. However, most installations during 2017 and 2018 will ignore this revolution and stay with SDI.
It is definitely a revolution and is profoundly affecting broadcast manufacturers, including Crystal Vision. However an IP installation is not for the faint-hearted. The equipment is still expensive and interoperability between different manufacturers has not been firmly established.
Both these issues will gradually go away and every broadcaster will have to decide whether the time is yet right for them to move to an IP environment. An IP installation has some advantages over SDI and it ought to be cheaper, but the current generation of IP installations is not. They have not exploited the full advantages the IT industry can offer, and they carry on using SDI practices that could be dropped to save money. The first version of IP installations has used equipment provided by a single manufacturer, configured in the same way as the SDI installation with a single big router. Equipment needs to come from a range of suppliers giving the best value and performance and the infrastructure needs to be designed by IT specialists, not SDI equipment manufacturers.
Current work by standards organizations such as SMPTE is setting the standards that will ensure compatibility in multi-vendor installations. The IT manufacturers such as Cisco, Juniper, and HP will continue to supply more data capacity for your money to allow IP switching to match the price of an SDI router. These suppliers are also increasing the support they offer the broadcast industry.
Crystal Vision's approach to this is to accept that for the next two years its main income will come from SDI installations. The equipment is well-established and the broadcast engineers have a huge amount of knowledge on how to install, operate, and maintain these installations. We have brought out a number of new products and introduced a new frame system that will ensure that new SDI installations are upgradeable to IP (and even 4K) when required. Our business centers around a number of key products as well as the general range of modular products that allow SDI systems to be compact and flexible. We are working on our strengths which include being the main manufacturer of high-quality standalone Chroma key systems for the growing requirements for realistic virtual sets and green screen graphics. We know broadcasters still need to do the best-quality upconversion when using standard definition inputs into new high-definition channels, and we continue to help connect different equipment together with a range of video and audio delays, synchronizers, audio embedders/de-embedders and distribution products. These products will continue to be important to us and our customers.
In addition to all the work we are doing with SDI products, we are investing heavily in products that will help make the move to an IP infrastructure – one that will give a good return on investment for our customers. Back in 2015, we announced our plans for IP gateway products and a new frame system that would allow both SDI and IP products. That Vision 3 frame is now installed with a number of customers, and we are currently working with broadcasters that will be putting together the second generation of IP installations. These new IP installations will use equipment from a number of suppliers, will be more flexible to use than current IP or SDI installations, and – most importantly – will be good value for money. These are the kinds of systems that will make the IP revolution happen.
This is a good time for engineers building TV channels. They can choose SDI equipment that is mature, sophisticated, and well understood. Companies like Crystal Vision are still bringing out further products and the pricing is cheaper than it has ever been. Alternatively, they can choose to build an IP installation. Currently, IP installations are built by companies that are preparing themselves for future technology. Soon the choice of moving to IP will save money and allow more flexible systems.