TVN TECH: NAB HOT TOPICS

IP-Enabled Workflow Advances Set For NAB

IP transport will touch so many aspects of television that it is positioned over time to supplant most everything people know and understand about TV workflows — from origination and contribution to distribution and consumption. The latest developments will be on display at next month’s NAB Show. This is the latest installment of a special series on emerging tech trends, NAB Hot Topics, that will appear each week leading up to the NAB Show that runs April 11-16 in Las Vegas. The schedule: March 26: Audio; April 2: Automation. Read the earlier installments here.

Like the blind men in the ancient Indian parable who were asked to touch an elephant and describe what it was like, those attending the 2015 NAB Show could not be faulted for coming to different conclusions about what IP for video is all about.

Some, who look upon IP as a synonym for file-based workflows, will find ample evidence that files remain central to storage, editing and playout.

Others who see IP as an enabling technology for virtualizing common video tasks, such as transcoding, by using off-the-shelf computing platforms rather than purpose-built devices will find numerous examples on the exhibit floor.

Still others, who are hoping to find IP transport and switching as an integral part of live television production, will encounter new SMPTE 2022-based IP interfaces and production technology to satisfy their perception about what IP for video is all about.

While each description and numerous others growing out of the interactions between attendees and vendors at NAB would be accurate in a certain sense, like the descriptions of the elephant by the blind men, none by itself would be complete.

That is because at the 2015 NAB Show, April 11-16 in Las Vegas, IP transport will touch so many aspects of television that it is positioned over time to supplant most everything people know and understand about TV workflows — from origination and contribution to distribution and consumption.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Sony

The future of live TV production will be enabled by IP transport, and that future isn’t five years away but right around the corner, says Deon LeCointe, Sony product and marketing manager for IP Live production solutions.

Driving its uptake is the desire to deploy live production systems for higher and higher resolution formats.

“As more productions are looking toward moving beyond HD production, such as to 4K and even in the future 8K or aspect-ratio-free formats and resolution-free formats, the feasibility of using SDI or coaxial connections for live production is becoming burdensome,” LeCointe says.

However, relying on IP transport lightens the load significantly. Rather than having to use four 3G SDI cables for a live 4K production, a single 10Gigabit Ethernet cable can be used to move IP packets throughout the 4K production environment.

“That’s slightly compressed, because true 4K is 12Gigabits per second, but with Sony’s Live IP technology we are actually able to bond two network ports together and get a full uncompressed 4K signal at 12Gigabits per second,” he says.

Besides being format-agnostic, IP transport opens broadcasters to many other benefits, including the use of off-the-shelf IP networking technology, such as network switches, rather than more expensive SDI routers, LeCointe says.

It also enables more flexible management of sources and signals on the network. “If everything is IP-enabled, the signal can be routed from any source to any number of destinations all from a PC that is connected via the network,” he explains.

IP also opens up new possibilities for diagnosing and monitoring streams of video as well as the opportunity to add intelligence to the system to take the steps needed to do things like up or downconvert from one signal type to another without the intervention of an operator, he says.

While LeCointe declined to identify specific new products Sony will be showing at NAB, he says the company plans to feature working products with its IP Live technology partners both in the Sony booth and those of its partners.

Sony’s IP Live technology, which was announced in September 2014 at IBC in Amsterdam, currently is being supported by 10 third-party vendors, and at NAB several more will be added to the list, he says.

Sony IP Live uses what the company calls its Network Media Interface. It is being implemented across the board as part of the company’s video production products.

“We envision a future that is fully IP-enabled” he says. “We are talking about including that in our studio cameras for live production and sports acquisition. We are talking about our shoulder-mount camcorders and live production switchers and our multiformat production servers to start.”

Snell & Quantel
The 2015 NAB Show will be “the first showing of the combined” Snell and Quantel companies, and one unifying theme at the company’s booth will be “a really coherent product portfolio,” much of which will revolve around the transition from baseband video to IP, says Neil Maycock, the company’s SVP of product marketing.

While the Snell and Quantel sides of the same coin will leverage IP in slightly different ways based on the specific requirements of the market segment each addresses, they will share a fundamental approach that leverages generic, off-the-shelf IP technology that will allow broadcasters to benefit from continued R&D by Juniper, Cisco and other IT industry stalwarts.

“We then introduce the broadcast-specific stuff around the edge of the network,” explains Maycock. “So for instance, what we are doing with our Sirius 800 baseband video router is introducing IP interface cards.”

The interface cards can be used in place of some Sirius SDI cards, which in effect transforms the router into “a big gateway between the SDI video world and the IP world,” he says. As a result, the IP network “can be completely oblivious” to broadcast-specific necessities such as clean switching and synchronization.

This hybrid SDI-IP switching environment will maintain a user interface that is consistent with what broadcasters know. “People can’t retrain all of their broadcast personnel to become IP experts,” he says. “They want to punch up a source and destination on a router panel as they do today.”

Whether that switch depends on SDI crosspoints in the Sirius router, a Cisco switch or both at same time will be invisible to operators, he adds.

The company will echo this approach with IP interface cards for its IQ modular range of products as well as its Kahuna range of production switchers. “Basically, for all of our baseband video products, we are introducing the option of replacing traditional SDI I/O with IP-based cards,” Maycock says.

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Adding seamless IP connectivity and control to all three product ranges will be particular attractive to mobile television production companies that will be able to use 10Gig or 40Gig links between production gear in place of SDI, which “will drastically reduce” weight and overhead, he adds.

On the Quantel side of the coin, the company has long relied on high-performance networks and servers. At this year’s NAB Show, Quantel will show revolutionQ, a software architecture for fast-turnaround broadcast production, Maycock says.

“Our revolutionQ allows us to leverage off-the-shelf storage as a high-performance production system in a Quantel environment,” he explains. “Alongside our sQ baseband video servers networked together in a production environment we can introduce revolutionQ, which gives us IP streaming capability and generic storage.”

Overall, Quantel is moving away from dedicated hardware to abstracted systems without reducing performance, says Maycock.  “If you look at a Pablo Rio, that is built with off-the-shelf, industry-standard GPU capability. We will be showing that doing real-time 8K production.”

Grass Valley
Over the past year or two, says Grass Valley CTO Chuck Meyer, something very important has happened in the computer industry that is fueling the strong push to IP-based workflows in the television industry.

“What has transpired is the commoditization and availability of 10-Gigabit Ethernet,” says Meyer. “That is what has allowed everybody to tip over the point that it makes sense to move video — even high-quality video like 1080p/60fps-around in real-time via IP transport.”

While Meyer chose not to reveal specific Grass Valley IP product introductions to expect at this year’s NAB Show, he says as a general observation that “you will see across the board an IP-enabled workflow.”

Grass Valley has firmly established its IP credentials with GV Stratus, its open service-oriented architecture, SOA, software suite that enables video production and playout workflows from what the company calls “glass to glass,” in other words from the camera lens to the television and computer screen.

“Last year, we talked about GV Stratus Playout,” says Meyer. “It heavily leverages IP technology to provide an easy way for our customers to spin up channels, whether that is in a remote location or whether those channels all happen to be consolidated in the basement of the network center.”

At this year’s NAB, GV Stratus will continue to be an important part of Grass Valley’s vision of IP-based video production and playout workflows, says Meyer.

Imagine Communications
The 2015 NAB Show will provide Imagine Communications with a forum to show its newly introduced CloudXtream cloud video platform, the next step in the company’s product evolution aimed at transitioning broadcasters from a baseband to IP video world.

CloudXtream is a platform built specifically for distribution of video across IP environments, says company CTO Steve Reynolds.

“When I say ‘video,’ I certainly mean live linear streams, but I also mean VOD, and I mean cloud DVR, so the ability to take your live broadcasts and make them available on a time-shifted basis,” he explains.

The core functions of CloudXtream also include dynamic ad insertion, packaging, encoding, transcoding, storage management and cloud orchestration, says Reynolds.

CloudXtream uses adaptive bit rate, ABR, technology to produce multiple profiles of video streams that can dynamically adjust to available delivery network bandwidth and changing buffer conditions on the client side.

This approach gives viewers the perception they are actually watching a truly live stream without “having to endure the buffering pause people are familiar with on the Internet,” he says.

As a result, viewers always have a very smooth video experience regardless of slight network degradation.

CloudXtream isn’t the only new IP development Imagine Communications will be featuring at NAB. The company also will be showing a new version of its Magellan SDN Orchestrator, which allows engineers to define, manage and monitor their hybrid IP-baseband networks, Reynolds says.

Imagine Communications also will highlight a few deployments of hybrid IP-baseband networks that are currently under way, he adds. 

Avid
A fundamental change in the way people consume television — from a linear, appointment-based model to an everything, everywhere, all-the-time approach — is creating enormous pressure to produce content, particularly news, in a more efficient manner, says Dana Ruszicka, Avid VP of segment and product marketing.

Stations and networks are looking for ways to “get things done with tighter budgets and shorter time frames,” he says.

That’s precisely what Avid Everywhere, a vision company CEO Louis Hernandez Jr. laid out for the industry at last year’s NAB Show, addresses.

“So when we apply this vision to TV news, we are looking at everything from content creation all the way out in the field where it is captured and edited to broadcasting it and distributing it to all of the channels we have today and all of the links in between,” Ruszicka says.

While Avid Everywhere is “agnostic” when it comes to baseband vs. IP transport, says Ruszicka, that is more out of the company’s recognition that it must meet broadcasters where they are today and “in a fluid way tie” the two together.

However, IP transport and file-based workflows are important pieces of the Avid Everywhere approach and are enabled by the company’s Media Central platform. The platform gives broadcasters and others in the media and entertainment industry the flexibility to run Avid software that’s central to media creation, such as Media Composer, on premise, in a private cloud or in a public cloud, he says.

In particular, the cloud provides the collaborative environment necessary to create more content. In TV news, that means giving journalists in the field access via the cloud to all of the media and other resources available on the desktop at the station.

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“Journalists can be out capturing breaking news and editing it themselves on their laptops,” Ruszicka says.

“That content is immediately available back at the station. If the station has footage the journalist wants, that is available [via the cloud] as if the journalist were in the newsroom.”

The cloud also enables an easy and efficient way for news operations to encode news for consumption by consumers on the full range of devices.

“In news, you traditionally have separate silos for on-air production and digital,” he says. “Here the platform ties that all together so that when you create a story and are editing during the news process, the content smoothly flows out to multiplatform distribution. It’s pushbutton easy.”

While Ruszicka declined to discuss specific products Avid plans to introduce at the 2015 NAB Show, he did say the company will continue to build on the Avid Everywhere concept to offer broadcasters and those in other segments of the media industry ways to monetize content across multiple platforms.

Adobe
At the NAB Show, the Adobe vision for the transition from traditional baseband video to IP-enabled workflows on an enterprise level will continue to be focused on Adobe Anywhere, although the company declined to offer specific new product announcements for NAB.

Adobe recognized some time ago that broadcast infrastructure was moving away from copper cables that pass digital video to working with commodity networks, says Al Mooney, Adobe Premiere Pro product manager.

“The idea of Adobe Anywhere, as it currently stands, is we move from file-based to fileless, which sounds lofty, but simply means the editor doesn’t need to think about where the media is anymore,” Mooney says.

Adobe has worked with broadcasters like the BBC and CNN to understand their shifting workflow requirements, says Mooney, and what they need boils down to allowing journalists to work from wherever they are as long as they have an adequate Internet connection without concern for where the underlying media resides. “That is a powerful shift,” Mooney says.

“I can be working on a low-power machine because the way Anywhere works is I am connected to my central repository of storage –either in the facility via a standard network connection or in a hotel room via a VPN [virtual private network] connection, and I can still be working on my centralized media, creating my stories,” he explains.

While IP transport and leveraging shared storage is central to Adobe Anywhere, Mooney acknowledges that there remains a large installed base of baseband video technology and that the transition of IP will be gradual across the industry at large.

Nevion
Visitors to the Nevion booth at NAB may be surprised to find the company will be showing more than its traditional IP contribution technology, says Nevion Chief Strategy Officer Janne Morstol.

This year, Nevion will demonstrate how its IP hardware and software technology can be used inside the television station or TV network facility to transport IP packets.

“Once you have converted to IP, how do you control the larger network?” Morstol asks.

“That is where a software defined network [SDN] and our VideoIPath support management solution for the SDN network come in,” she says.

Nevion will also highlight IP-to-baseband and baseband-to-IP converters to enable its IP networking solutions to be integrated into existing TV facilities.

Aspera
Aspera, which was acquired by IBM in January 2014, and its FASP protocol have helped broadcasters and others in the media and entertainment industry transport large media files quickly over wide area networks since its founding in 2004.

At NAB, the company will unveil Aspera Files, a new SaaS (software as a service) offering that builds on Aspera’s fourth generation transfer platform, says Michelle Munson, Aspera co-founder, president-CEO.

“Aspera Files provides an end-user application for an organization to support file exchange that’s fast and secure across all storage types, including cloud and on-premise storage,” she says.

The product includes an authentication process for secure file sharing with individuals and organizations regardless of where the files or those with permission to access them reside, she says.

Aspera also will introduce FASPStream transport for live data and video at the NAB Show. FASPStream provides predictable, fast delivery of live content without glitching over distance, says Munson.

“Broadcasters can use it over standard IP networks rather than having to provision special links with high QoS [quality of service] or provide satellite delivery,” says Munson.

Signiant
Signiant, which also offers file transfer software for the fast and secure movement of large files over IP networks, will roll out some new capabilities for its existing products at the NAB Show, but chose not to discuss specifics for this article.

However, company CTO Ian Hamilton, says important trends, including acceptance of cloud technology and SaaS will be apparent at the convention.

“While cloud technology really isn’t anything new at this point, I think the real thing we are seeing is people have become aware of the benefits of OPEX vs. CAPEX and the business agility you get by paying for a business benefit as opposed to a tool,” he explains.

Media organizations, including television broadcasters, are beginning to be attracted to using the cloud because it can be provisioned as needed, he says.

“We are seeing a lot of traction because people are seeing they can use the elastic bandwidth of the cloud to ingest from all of the people who are sending them content very quickly and then trickle that content back out of the cloud to their playout center based on their monthly programming schedule,” says Hamilton.

(Editor’s note: To learn about IP newsgathering developments that are expected to surface at the NAB Show, see IP Newsgathering Finally Coming Of Age.)

Harmonic
One benefit vendors are hoping broadcasters will recognize with the transition from baseband to IP transport and workflows is the virtualization of functions that today are performed by purpose-built hardware.

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What that means is a transition from costly technology relying on custom ASICs (application specific integrated circuits), FPGAs (field programmable arrays) and even high performance GPUs (graphics processing units) to off-the-shelf servers that use the latest generations of Intel Xeon CPUs. It also means the same computer can be used to perform multiple functions, such as transcoding and video compression.

At Harmonic, this philosophy is embodied in VOS, a software-based virtualized platform that performs ingest, playout, graphics, branding and compression, using Harmonic’s PURE Compression Engine.

At NAB, the company will highlight new VOS support for Ultra HD content formats as well as existing support for SD and HD, says Tom Lattie, Harmonic VP of market development and strategy.

Two things are enabling virtualization, says Lattie. First, IT infrastructure is achieving a level of reliability on par with that of dedicated video technology, he says.

“I think the kind of robustness of the IT infrastructure, whether that is Ethernet switch connectivity, full fabric capacity or the ability to route video flawlessly, has improved, particularly for higher bit rates,” Lattie says. “The other major thing –and this is a key for us- has been the Intel architecture,” he says.

To illustrate his point, Lattie points to the first HD AVC encoders to become commercially available around 2006. “We had the first really good quality HD AVC encoders,” he says. “The first ones out of the gates were massive boards with tons of FPGAs.”

At that time it would have been impossible to use an off-the-shelf Intel-based server and do even one low-quality HD MPEG 4 stream, he says.

“Today, you can take one of those Intel servers off the shelf, and we are north of eight HD services on that platform. By the way, they’re 35% better, meaning better pictures at 35% of the bits than the state-of-the-art ASIC solution that came to market all of those years ago.”

Vizrt
Vizrt is a good example of a company that has one foot in the IP, file-based world and the other firmly planted in the baseband video world.

“Most of what we do is an IP workflow already, at least before it goes out as an SDI signal or an IP stream,” says Isaac Hersly, president Vizrt Americas.

All Viz Engines, the company’s rendering processor and real-time graphics and video compositor, offer both SDI and IP output, he says.

Supporting an IP stream out of its products opens up new opportunities for broadcasters on several fronts. One example is the Viz Trio character generator, which integrates via an IP connection, not SDI, with the NewTek TriCaster video switcher, thereby freeing up an SDI input on the switcher that can be used for another camera source, Hersly says.

“That graphics box is normally SDI, but because of the NewTek switcher accepting an IP stream, we are feeding two channels of graphics via IP to the switcher,” he says.

Another is using the separate SDI and IP outputs from the Viz Engine to enable broadcasters to brand content flowing from the IP output as one version and that from the SDI as another.

“So you get the same video coming into the box, yet the branding can be different for the SDI and IP streams. We see a lot of potential there and are already seeing some people using that type of operation,” he says.

At NAB, Vizrt will be showing tight integration between its MAM systems “from off-the-shelf to proprietary versions” with Adobe Premiere, Hersly says. “We will be able to move video and graphics to our engine, which will play it out as multiple streams from MAM to playout where graphics can be burned in or not. This gives us the flexibility to change graphics at the last minute, and allows us to change graphics but maintain metadata.”

Fade to Black
While the transition from baseband signal distribution to IP transport and workflows is important, it also will be gradual.

Realizing the benefits of such a transition — whether they take the form of using affordable off-the-shelf servers rather than expensive purpose-built devices or more easily repurposing content to satisfy the demands of viewers wishing to consume media on multiple platforms — is an important motivator for broadcasters to adopt this technology.

However, there is at least a decade of legacy SDI equipment, cabling and infrastructure built up at TV stations, and that won’t disappear overnight.

It is likely that as with the transition from analog to digital, little islands of IP will pop up in the sea of SDI. With time, those IP islands are likely to grow and eventually become the dominant infrastructure platform.

But to achieve that outcome, passing IP packets over a network populated by hardware from multiple vendors must achieve the same seamless connectivity that’s available today with SDI.

“The beauty of SDI,” says Harmonic’s Lattie, “is you have a workflow, and [when] you need to add a new device, you unplug an existing device, plug the cable into what you are adding, and connect the new device to the one you disconnected with another SDI cable. Effectively, you splice it in, and you know it is going to work.

“As we move to software and IP transport of video, whether it is compressed or uncompressed, we have to make sure that we as an industry don’t lose sight of that.”

This is the latest installment of a special series on emerging tech trends, NAB Hot Topics, that will appear each week leading up to the NAB Show that runs April 11-16 in Las Vegas. The schedule:  March 26: Audio; April 2: Automation. Read the earlier installments here.


Comments (1)

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Kingsley Smith says:

May 16, 2015 at 11:46 am

This is a great and comprehensive summary of an often confusing area of technology. Phil Kurz did his homework!


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