While IP has become a given in large operations, smaller outfits like regional TV stations and local radio stations are now warming up to the benefits of this lean way of processing and sharing video and audio data, says Klaus-Jörg Jaspers.
Remote production is gaining traction all over the world for obvious reasons.
It is easier on operators, who no longer need to travel to and fro; it allows broadcasters to control production costs; and broadcasters can make more efficient use of their most talented staff as well as their equipment.
This has become possible thanks to the advent of IP as the transport medium of data (rather than signals) from a venue to the broadcasters premises and back, on a wide-area network (WAN).
Onward and upward
IP makes equal sense in an on-campus setting, and even for OB trucks. In this scenario, IP-based audio and video products offer the advantage of easy local networking, reducing footprint and flexible scalability. Fibre-optic or CAT-5 cables can replace a whole bunch of audio and SDI cables, making patchbays and lengthy repatching operations obsolete excellent news for the weight that OB trucks carry around.
A broadcaster in Abu Dhabi, for instance, has equipped its high-definition OB fleet with IP-native video processing units, audio consoles and overarching, vendor-agnostic VSM control systems. Quite a few radio stations in the area have followed suit.
Simplified cabling, drastic weight reduction and flexible, format-agnostic connectivity are only three advantages offered by native IP solutions. Customer-centric manufacturers have gone one better by implementing open standards to avoid manufacturer lock-in right from the start.
Network connections in the audio and broadcast world are nothing new. But until two years ago, there were almost as many formats as there were manufacturers. Everybody thought they had found the best solution, which also presented a pleasant side-effect: their proprietary format allowed them to sell more gear to existing customers. Or so they thought.
True to previous format wars, open standards eventually prevailed. In the case of IP, they were instigated by the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS), which fosters the adoption of one set of common, ubiquitous, standards-based protocols for interoperability over IP.
Thanks to IP, a lot of users have developed distributed set-ups involving studios in two or more cities, Klaus-Jörg Jaspers, Sales Director, Lawo Middle East.
A bunch of far-sighted manufacturers ventured into IP with open environments in mind and actively contributed to the development of standards like RAVENNA, AES67 and Ember+ for interoperability; SMPTE 2110 for the accurate transmission of audio, video, control and timing data; and SMPTE 2022-7 for redundant operation.
Nowadays, professional users expect vendors to follow the standards of the AIMS Roadmap.
While IP is starting to be considered a given in large operations, smaller outfits, like regional TV stations and even local radio stations, are warming to the benefits of this lean way of processing and sharing video and audio data, just when everybody thought IP-savvy gear was so expensive that only hefty corporations could afford it.
Outfits still sticking to legacy solutions baseband devices believe migrating is too costly, because all existing equipment needs to be replaced in one go. This misconception is put to rest by the availability of IP-native devices that offer a variety of baseband inputs and outputs, and which convert SDI, AES3 and other formats to IP and back.
The migration to IP can be a gradual process where only devices that no longer live up to user expectations or can no longer be upgraded are replaced. Solutions that still perform as expected can be left in place.
There is a caveat, though. Some manufacturers offer gateways units that convert baseband formats to IP, to allow users to stick to their existing equipment. Other vendors, on the other hand, build this gateway functionality into their next-generation devices with a much more powerful feature set.
The difference between these two approaches is that with a gateway added to an existing solution, users miss out on the power of newer technology. What point is there in equipping a used car with new tires in the hope of making it faster and more fuel-efficient, when other brands offer next-generation models with more horsepower and more efficient and flexible engines? The migration to IP can be a gradual process. Add-on gateways, however, are essentially an attempt to make old technology appear current.
Resource pooling, scaling and clustering is unthinkable with baseband devices, which would require extensive physical repatching, while long-haul WAN connections are not even an option, Klaus-Jörg Jaspers, Sales Director, Lawo Middle East.
Benefits of IP
The benefits of IP include both interoperability and novel approaches to the service potential of IP devices.
The most important of these is the possibility to retask devices for a variety of applications: multiviewer applications, up/down/cross-format conversions, etc. Software-defined hardware allows users to flexibly scale and match their resources according to production requirements, in the same way that computers are used for a variety of applications.
Given the right control software (Ember+, for instance), reconfiguring such a resource pool is lightning fast; at the press of a button, users can select the feature set they need for the task at hand.
This reconfigures the hardware in front of them and all required connections (no repatching needed).
Broadcast service suppliers and corporations in Germany, Australia, the US, the UK, Sweden and many other countries already work this way.
Devices based on field-programmable gate arrays (FGPAs) i.e. software-defined hardware can additionally be used in clusters where several processing blades share the workload based on availability. Advanced routines take care of distributing tasks automatically among the members of a cluster.
The processing blades do not need to be available in one physical location. Like gear hubs, they can be scattered across the globe, allowing operators in one part of the world to leverage the horsepower of FGPA modules in areas where the workload is much lower.
Resource pooling, scaling and clustering is unthinkable with baseband devices, which would require extensive physical repatching, while long-haul WAN connections are not even an option.
Thanks to IP, a lot of users have developed distributed set-ups involving studios in two or more cities. Control formats like Ember+, which are also transported over IP lines, allow a user on the American east coast, say, to remotely control video cameras, mixing consoles and a variety of other devices on the west coast or in Asia.
Most users have started to leverage the WAN capability of their equipment to a point where the processing cores are centralised in one city or part of the world, while users in need of that processing power are located elsewhere.
A device can be accessed from several locations and thus used to its full potential, which makes financial sense. Installing devices in every facility or studio is far more costly and leaves them unused for longer periods. Sharing them makes a lot of sense.
See you online
Are there any downsides to going IP? Not if you accept that IP requires a paradigm shift involving people able to think in terms of data packets and switch fabrics for broadcast applications. This is something that can be learned.
While only a year ago the biggest challenge posed by an IP network was that nobody really knew the routes used by data packets or how to troubleshoot, this has since been overcome by system monitoring and telemetry software that makes the entire network transparent and easy to maintain.
IP is very much here to stay, and the migration is already in full swing. See you online soon, then?