TVN Tech | Pandemic Puts New Priority On IP Routing
After the COVID-19 pandemic forced broadcasters to mostly abandon their facilities in March and switch to remote workflows wherever possible, technology vendors are seeing increased interest in replacing aging HD-SDI infrastructures with IP routing systems based on the SMPTE 2110 standard.
The ability to control IP-based equipment from anywhere via a web interface has gained new importance from the COVID-19 lockdowns, during which most facilities have operated with only a skeleton staff entering the building to perform functions that can’t be done remotely. Broadcasters that had already adopted IP routing were able to easily control equipment and monitor feeds, while those with legacy HD-SDI plants needed to create new remote connections and invest in encoding and decoding gear to facilitate basis operations like monitoring.
“Those people who adopted IP were well ahead of the game, those people who were [already] thinking about remote control of audio panels,” says Robert Welch, technical solutions lead for IP switch vendor Arista Networks.
Many broadcasters have said that while they had robust disaster recovery plans in place for events like hurricanes and tornadoes before COVID-19 struck, most didn’t account for not having long-term access to a facility that was otherwise physically intact. Now they are looking at remote access as an essential part of their business continuity plans going forward, says Imagine Communications President Steve Reynolds. He says IP routing is a big part of the solution.
“It gives them a level of flexibility in running their business,” Reynolds says. “The problem with SDI is one wire equals one signal, and it’s physically laid under the facility. IP gives you enormous flexibility in terms of how you virtualize operations and centralize [them].”
Cisco has seen COVID-19 reinforce and accelerate trends that it was already addressing with its major media customers, such as consolidation of technology and standardization of their technology stacks, says Cisco Regional Manager Lauren Godfrey. She points to recent 2110 projects such as the BBC’s new facility in Cardiff, Wales, and All Mobile Video’s new 4K truck, both working with Grass Valley control software, as well as 2110 installations at two new NFL venues, SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. And Godfrey says Cisco has won fresh IP business since COVID-19 struck.
“We’ve had a few big wins during COVID times, people are still investing, and customers are still pushing us to continue on what we’ve promised them and the path we’ve been headed,” Godfrey says. “We’re not seeing it slow down.”
Given the near-term revenue hit of COVID-19 — and its potential long-term impact on how many people return to work in large urban office buildings — broadcasters are evaluating how IP networking could change the physical configuration of their facilities, says Mo Goyal, senior director of international business development for Evertz. If many personnel shift permanently to working from home, broadcasters may look to save money by downsizing their broadcast centers and spreading remaining on-premise personnel and equipment across smaller, distributed facilities. They would then rely on IP connections and cloud services to fill in the operational gaps.
“The days of building large facilities in central cities may change completely, especially if you’re now trying to limit the number of people to come back,” Goyal says.
In the interim, many Evertz customers who have aging EQX HD-SDI routers are suffering from decreased ad revenues and aren’t quite ready to make a big capital investment in IP routing today. So in the past few months, Evertz has created an audit program where it analyzes their existing equipment, recommends component replacements for possible failure points like line cards, and makes recommendations about how they can set up their plant to sensibly migrate to IP routing.
“We do that audit, and we say here are some things you need to refresh to extend the lifespan of the technology you’ve got while opening the doors to migrate to IP with built-in gateways or 12-gig cards,” Goyal says. “You can do that now and then migrate to IP a lot easier in a year or two, rather than say I’m going to live out my equipment and not do anything.”
Grass Valley technology fellow Chuck Meyer says that he has seen an increased interest from broadcasters in virtualization and IP routing since the onset of COVID-19. Customers who have smaller HD-SDI routers on the order of 288 x 288 crosspoints or less can still consider a new 12-gig HD-SDI router as a viable solution, he says. But anyone dealing with more signals than that should consider an IP solution.
Sports Market Strong
The sports market has been strong for IP sales, says Meyer, particularly with many new stadiums installing a telco POP (point of presence) that IP mobile trucks can directly tie into. Grass Valley just announced a big deal with U.K. mobile vendor Timeline Television for a new all-IP, 4K UHD HDR capable truck that uses its GV Orbit control software and Kahuna 9600 IP production switcher 4K in conjunction with Arista 100-gig switches. The double-expanding truck was originally built for the BBC’s coverage of UEFA Euro 2020, but with that event postponed until next year it will initially support the Barclay’s FA Women’s Super League soccer as well as some entertainment programing.
“Every bid spec, every RFI that comes across our desks has a requirement for 4K and HDR — every one,” Meyer says. “It’s becoming seen as table stakes. People know they need to do it.”
Lawo CTO Phil Myers agrees that for mobile vendors UHD capability has increasingly become a box they need to check, even if true 4K production represents a small chunk of their overall business today.
“In America some big customers like Game Creek and NEP, they have to do everything,” Myers says. “They have such a wide breadth of customers, you have to make sure the technology you provide can handle any format. They may need to switch from a 1080p production on Thursday night to a UHD production on Saturday night.”
Meanwhile, the IP business in new stadiums like SoFi and Allegiant is being driven as much by their giant in-house 4K displays as any potential UHD broadcasts the networks may produce from them.
“SoFi stadium in L.A. was predominantly driven by 4K,” Goyal says, noting Cisco’s switches are being controlled by Evertz software. “They wanted to have 4K HDR drive the massive displays, so they built a 2110 facility to carry that uncompressed 4K around.”
IP Routing Gets Easier
IP routing is becoming easier to implement through efforts by various industry organizations to ensure interoperability between different vendors’ systems and make configuring 2110 equipment a quick process that can be completed in hours, not the several months it took early IP adopters like Telemundo and CNN.
Major initiatives include the Advanced Media Workflow Association’s NMOS (Networked Media Open Specifications) protocol for communicating with and controlling remote equipment, and the Joint Taskforce on Networked Media (JT-NM), which is led by the AMWA, SMPTE, European Broadcasting Union and the Video Services Forum.
NMOS, which allows two devices to automatically discover each other across an IP network, greatly streamlines setting up IP broadcast infrastructures. Key specs include IS-04, which handles device discovery and registration; IS-05, which covers connection management; and IS-08, which covers audio channel mapping.
Interoperability “plugfest” events have been curtailed by COVID-19, but vendors are still able to test equipment remotely. They have also been sharing ideas through virtual networking events like the Alliance of IP Media Solutions’ (AIMS) IP Oktoberfest 2020, which concluded last week.
Welch says that significant progress has been made on vendor interoperability for 2110 products but that there are still some pieces missing, such as a registry of multicast addresses to facilitate dynamic allocation of multicast streams. He notes that the end goal of 2110 is to allow broadcasters to assemble a “best of breed” solution picking components from different vendors.
“Here’s your menu list of products that fit that capability, now I can build my Tinkertoy,” Welch says. “Because I may want a Dalet system for up and down convert, Lawo for audio, I want to use the Imagine system for the video and multiviewer, and I want to use a Sony vision mixer for the mixer, and you know it all works together. Instead of ‘You go to retrain on all the Evertz stuff, because that’s what we bought.’ That shouldn’t be dictated to you.”
That said, Arista is now working to integrate its switches with Evertz control software based on customer demand. The companies have been competitors in the switch business, but now they are sharing application program interfaces (APIs) and Arista is doing tests for several customers, Welch says. Goyal confirms that Evertz is working to integrate its Magnum software with Arista and notes that it has already successfully integrated with Cisco.
Another significant technical development is that the speed of IP networking keeps getting higher. While two years ago a spine-and-leaf IP routing architecture might have had 25 gigabit-per-second connections to each leaf and a 100-gig spine, line-card rates on the leaves are now approaching 100-gigabits with the spines being much higher, up to 400 gigabits per second, says Jacob Jeevanayagam, senior business development manager for Cisco. And Welch says Arista is working toward 800-gig backbones.
The higher speeds make managing bandwidth much less complex than five years ago, Meyer says, when 10-gigabits per second was seen as the “inflection point” that made IP routing possible. While IP was feasible with that bandwidth, it still required a change in mindset for broadcasters who were used to having every circuit available 100% of the time.
“As people think about IP, they get the drift that the flexibility can save them money, but they have to think about a new workflow,” Meyer says. “The key thing for today is that with the advances in switch bandwidth, the advances in router technology that’s buried in the new chipsets and the advances in people’s orchestration software, those problems are easier to roll over with the customers. And these are the things that are helping to accelerate IP, particularly for the larger facilities.”