Cloud services, virtualized workflows and IP networking technology grab the spotlight as the company prepares for the Las Vegas showcase. Its Media Solutions Division, a new organization it formed last December, is focusing on selling media workflow systems for applications like cloud-based master control and OTT video distribution. Above, Sony’s new XVS-9000 production switcher supports 4K, HD and HDR content.
Electronics giant Sony is renowned in the broadcast industry for its high-quality cameras and camcorders, used to cover everything from the Olympics to local broadcast news, and the company is expected to introduce several cameras at the NAB Show in Las Vegas next month.
But like other large vendors famous for high-end hardware, Sony is wrestling with a new broadcast world — one where the rapid adoption of IP networking technology is revamping traditional operational models, and customers are often looking to buy services instead of products.
So, visitors to the Sony booth at NAB may be surprised to hear as much about the cloud as you will about cameras.
“There are many changes happening in the media industry, and our customers need to transform their operations,” says Katsunori Yamanouchi, president of Professional Solutions Americas (PSA) for Sony Electronics.
Yamanouchi was one of several top Sony executives in attendance at a press briefing in New York this week to outline Sony’s NAB plans and give an update on its Media Solutions Division, a new organization formed within PSA last December to focus on selling media workflow systems for applications like cloud-based master control and OTT video distribution.
Sony executives also described how the company will support the new SMPTE 2110 suite of standards for handling media over IP networks and provide a cost-effective path for producing High Dynamic Range (HDR) content.
It’s been an evolution. The company was touting its investment in software development two decades ago, when it was still doing a brisk business selling video tape recorders (VTRs), and it previously ran a large systems integration business building broadcast production trucks and studios.
As the industry has embraced IP-based services and outsourcing over traditional hardware, Sony has responded by broadening its portfolio.
In 2014 Sony partnered with WGBH Boston to create a cloud-based master control system for noncommercial stations, using the Amazon Web Services cloud, and last year it acquired automation software supplier Crispin to strengthen its position in master control.
Sony has its own cloud platform aimed at broadcasters and producers, called Ci, and has also created XDCAM Air, a cloud service that ingests content from Sony streaming camcorders for news production.
Ven.ue, a “digital supply chain” solution business used by OTT providers like Funimation Entertainment, has also been wrapped into the Media Solutions Division.
Sony will always make great cameras, says John Studdert, VP of Sony’s Media Solutions Division, but customers have been asking for more of an “end-to-end approach” to remain competitive.
“We’re trying to help them move from a capex budget to an opex budget wherever possible,” he says.
The marquee offering for broadcasters from the Media Solution Division at NAB will be a “master control in the cloud” system for disaster recovery, based on Crispin technology and developed in response to a wave of natural disasters like hurricanes that affected stations in the last two years.
The system, which uses Crispin master control automation software running on the cloud, lets reporters in the field send both live streams and edited files into Sony’s virtual switcher when the physical station is compromised.
The Crispin software can take the live streams and the file-based content on cloud and automate playout of that for on-air broadcast, or OTT distribution if the transmitter isn’t functional. Sony is working with three station groups on the DR product and will demonstrate it at NAB.
Another example of how cloud services can achieve new efficiencies is in reality-TV shows, which usually have a tight window for post-production. Sony’s camcorders can now stream proxy files from the field directly to the Sony Ci cloud, where they are automatically transcoded and available for an editor to pull down from the cloud and begin working on them.
The proxy edits will then automatically conform the high-resolution material when it is brought back to the production facility, cutting several days out of the post-production process.
In a similar vein, Sony’s XDCAM Air cloud service will now offer multipoint distribution for streaming content from camcorders, allowing everyone in the enterprise, such as a station group, to access and start editing content.
“It’s all about driving efficiencies,” says Studdert. “You take people out of the process where you can, replace them with technology, and drive down the cost.”
To support IP networking in live production, Sony will be building SMPTE 2110 compliance into both legacy and new products, says Deon LeCointe, Sony marketing manager for production switchers, as well as continuing to support its own Networked Media Interface (NMI) protocol.
Sony is also working with the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) to support its NMOS (Networked Media Open Specifications) IS-04 specification, for device discovery and registration, and IS-05, for IP connection management.
IS-04 and IS-05, which LeCointe expects will be formally adopted by the NAB show, are important for remote (or at-home) productions where producers in one location are controlling equipment thousands of miles away.
He notes that with advances in IP networking, particularly in regards to latency, Sony production switchers can already be controlled remotely by a virtual panel located pretty much anywhere.
“You could eventually have a remote production data center, where all of the signal processing resides in one location, and studios anywhere can use it over an IP link,” says LeCointe. “For example, you could have it in Utah where the real estate is cheaper.”
Sony also announced a new Sony production switcher, the XVS-9000, that is designed to support both 4K and HD productions and High Dynamic Range (HDR) content. The XVS-9000 offers up to 80 inputs and 40 outputs in 4K and up to 160 inputs and 80 outputs in HD, depending on the interface, and has interfaces for both IP (SMPTE 2110) and 12G-SDI in 4K. It will be available in October.
Rob Willox, Sony director of marketing, said the company will also offer HDR conversion capabilty for legacy cameras like the HDC-2000 that will allow them to be retasked for HD/HDR and 4K production.
He predicts that traditional broadcasters are likely to go as far as producing in HD HDR, while OTT players may look at doing full 4K production as they get rights to sports packages.
“We have to look at a complete ecosystem for HDR,” says Willox.
Looking ahead, Studdert says he is excited by Sony’s increased footprint in cloud-based services and virtualized technology.
While the company is currently focused on the new cloud-based playout system for disaster recovery, he expects that down the road some broadcasters will explore using the same technology on a permanent basis.
He notes how big groups like Sinclair and Nexstar have gotten, and says their sheer size will push new technical models because of the efficiencies of rolling out virtualized systems across multiple stations. One possibility could be a centralized switching facility that would serve stations across multiple time zones, using remote control interfaces at the different stations.
“When the acquisitions are complete, that’s when you’ll see the innovations start,” says Studdert.
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