IP - A Golden Opportunity ?

Broadcast television has witnessed many advances in technology since the first electronic images were transmitted in the 1930’s, and none have been as influential or disruptive as IP. But are we now at the dawn of the perfect win-win outcome? Can manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and broadcasters all equally gain from IP migration?

IT innovation and SLA’s (Service Level Agreements) in the telecommunication sectors are the real driving force behind COTS. High-performance servers, incredibly large amounts of storage, and low latency high-speed networks are contributing to make broadcast engineers look at IT again in a new light.

SLA’s provide hidden benefits for broadcasters. Leveraging on significant economies of scale, industry leading IT manufacturers can achieve follow-the-sun support strategies to deliver replacement hardware anywhere in the world. Within a few hours, any hardware can be delivered to a customer’s site, allowing engineers to replace parts and fix servers and switches with incredible speed.

Choose Your SLA

IT manufacturers have been fine tuning their service contracts over many years to support data centers and ISP’s all over the world. They vary in the level of service provided allowing data center managers to decide which contract to buy based on the level of risk their business is willing to take.

These SLA’s are directly applicable to broadcasters as VoIP and AoIP applications use the same IT infrastructure as international large-scale date centers, ISP’s, and network operators. IT manufacturers treat the broadcasters the same as any other customers and don’t need to build-in special broadcast specific caveats, thus keeping costs down.

Even though 4K and 8K television is on the horizon, the probability of something else superseding these formats in years to come is very high. But we’re already reaching the limits of SDI even with 12G. UHD-8K video at 120 frames per second with 4:4:4 color sub-sampling requires more than 100Gb/s SDI bandwidth. IT is already achieving Ethernet speeds of 100Gb/s second and with the advent of 400Gb/s, the real question is why would you not use VoIP?

Work With IT

Broadcast manufacturers are beginning to partner with IT suppliers, so they can back-off their hardware support and concentrate on the specific broadcast application and service they are providing. The broadcast manufacturer will provide level-1 support for the TV or radio station and should there be a hardware issue beyond their control, they will liaise with the IT manufacturer to instigate a field repair.

Remote hardware monitoring of infrastructure devices will advise the broadcaster of a pending failure and instigate a fix, long before they are aware of issues. This model is already common place in IT.

Broadcasters win as they have a single point of contact to resolve the problem and the manufacturer wins as they provide a first-class service to their client. The IT manufacturer also wins as they are expanding into a new market and proving their worth through outstanding support.

IT Innovation

COTS allow broadcasters to benefit from innovation in other industries. EE have recently reported that they have achieved consistent 2.8Gb/s downloads over their test 5G network facility with less than 5mSec latency. HPE provided the hardware infrastructure running Huawei software in partnership with EE.

Other advances such as the DPDK (Data Plane Development Kit) - a collection of software libraries to accelerate packet processing workloads running on a wide variety of CPU architectures. Intel have recently reported they can increase packet processing using DPDK by up to ten times. On Xeon Processor E5-2685, they report they’ve achieved 233Gb/s forwarding of 64-byte size packets.

This performance is at the top end of COTS but is making broadcasters look up and take notice of the solutions currently available in the IT industry. Ethernet is continuing to get faster and IEEE approved 400Gb/s Ethernet (IEEE 802.3bs) on December 6th, 2017. In just under thirty years, Ethernet speeds have increased from 10Mb/s to 400Gb/s, a data rate improvement of 40,000 times.

Nervous?

Although these technologies are impressive and are now in the same ball park as television broadcasting, it’s not unreasonable for traditional hardware manufacturers to be a little nervous. But they don’t need to be.

At this point, it’s worth remembering that there are still SD broadcast facilities in the world and HD adoption took much longer than many pundits were forecasting. Although 4K and 8K is expected to gain large adoption, especially for live events and sports, it’s still a long way off anything like full acceptance. SDI still has its place and will continue to do so for many years.

Understanding timing is going to be critical for engineers migrating to IP, especially if they move to ST2110 and PTP (IEEE 1588). We will find a whole generation of engineers will emerge from the woodwork when the industry realizes that PTP has many operational similarities to analog pre-frame-synchronizer television. Consequently, there will be great demand for manufacturers building hardware precision broadcast timing measurement devices.

Humans Need Feedback

It may be some time before a full-blown vision-switcher can be fully built and reliably utilized in software running on an IT infrastructure. But even when this happens, what won’t change is the need for human-interface controls (HIC). Humans need tactile feedback when operating equipment, whether it’s the rudder control on an airliner or a sound console fader.

Broadcast manufacturers will continue to excel in the field of HIC’s as it’s their area of specialty. Talkback panels, sound consoles, and camera racks all need tactile feedback to reassure users. There are some places touch-screen simply will not work.

Win-Win

Again, this is a win-win outcome for broadcasters and manufacturers. Broadcasters win because they get the benefits of feature driven agile software development, providing new features and bug fixes much faster than before. Centralized Software as a Service (SaaS) provides automatic software updates without having to close half the broadcast facility. And manufacturers will develop products with amazing speed with product time-to-market slashed and be comparable to any web-site type business.

The combination of COTS hardware and SLA’s, with the innovation and agility of broadcast manufacturers and entrepreneurs, is guaranteed to provide broadcasters the services they need to expand into new audience viewing habits and keeping existing viewers glued to their programs. This is indeed a golden opportunity for anybody looking to the future and migrating IP systems today.

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