SIC TV’s All-IP Facility Provides Showcase For Industry In Transition

In 2017, when Portuguese media group Impresa decided to relocate its SIC (Sociedade Independente de Comunicação) TV network facilities about 10 kilometers away to one of its existing buildings in Lisbon, they knew they had a chance to create something special. In the span of four months, with the help of Sony Systems Integration and Telefónica, they implemented a ST2110 video-over-IP-based production infrastructure, with a small amount of SDI technology, which now supports nine channels and provides complete system configuration flexibility at the click of a mouse.

SIC began broadcasting from its historic studios in Carnaxide in October 1992. After nearly three decades at the same site, the decision was made to move SIC to a modern production center located at the Impresa Group headquarters in Paco de Arcos on the outskirts of Lisbon. The new facility went live on air on January 27th of this year.

“This is what the future of television production looks like,” said Francisco Pedro Balsemão, CEO of Impresa Group, the parent company of SIC. “IP gives us unparalleled flexibility and resilience to create better-looking content – faster and more efficiently, with wider creative possibilities.”

The move to a new $11.7 million state-of-the-art home gave SIC, Portugal’s first private television station, the opportunity to review its operations and invest in a range of traditional SDI-HD (1080p60) live production technology as well as an entire layer of IP systems. A wide variety of broadcast equipment manufacturers provided the key components for what is currently Europe’s largest ST2110/ST2022-7 facility. The building features three studio floors and two control rooms that are supported by 12 Sony HDC-1700 HD camera chains (paired with latest-generation HDCU-3100 IP enabled Camera Control Units), two Sony XVS-7000 production switchers, numerous Lawo mutliviewers, Lawo IP master control (Virtual Studio Manager), Calrec Audio consoles, Harmonic video servers, RTS ADAM digital intercom systems and Avid Maestro graphics workflow tools; complete with numerous real-time rendering engines.

Indeed, while the equipment is all latest generation IP-ready, a series of challenges had to be overcome to get them to communicate and work together on the network. Chief among them was third-party device interoperability, according to José Lopes, Director for Operations & Technologies at SIC TV.

SIC moved into its new state-of-the-art home in 2018 and went on air January 27th 2019.

SIC moved into its new state-of-the-art home in 2018 and went on air January 27th 2019.

“There were lots of implementation challenges,” Lopes said. “At first, in early June 2018, there was a lack of mature technology for IP. We couldn’t wait for the pieces to become more mature, so we just did a lot of experimentation. We knew we were incorporating components that were going to an ST2110 interface for the first time ever. It was risky, but we did it because we knew it could be done.”

The core of the facility includes a dual-layer Cisco “spine-leaf” network topology coupled with a Lawo V__matrix virtual routing system as well as an existing SDI router to accommodate legacy equipment moved over from the original building. This minimizes latency and bottlenecks because each payload only has to travel to a spine switch and another leaf switch to reach its endpoint.

Spine-leaf switching is an IT network architecture that is not typically used for media file applications. At SIC they have deployed a network design that includes a main switch on top and several links to other switches within the facility. The spine switch on top is a 56-port 100 Gb switch (model 9356) with five spines made up of three leafs with the same 56 ports and two other leafs (model 93180) with 48 ports that are able to support up to 40 Gbit data throughput. Add to that a mixture of 40, 25 and 10 Gbit network interfaces for the end devices. There is also a second network path running throughout the building for redundancy.

Then, putting everything on top of an IP core allowed Lopes and his engineering team to reduce the number of SDI sources significantly—from approximately 250 sources in SIC’s old building down to about 50 SDI sources that are converted to IP using gateways.

A spine-leaf topology minimizes latency and bottlenecks because each payload only has to travel to a spine switch and another leaf switch to reach its endpoint.

A spine-leaf topology minimizes latency and bottlenecks because each payload only has to travel to a spine switch and another leaf switch to reach its endpoint.

“Even though all of the components are compliant with the 2110 standard, there were still interoperability challenges because while the standard was written to accommodate all of the manufacturers, they all do it a bit differently,” Lopes said. “It can be made to work together, but of course you have to do a lot of interop testing and rewriting of software code. The problems had to do with the amount of data being moved around the facility and the issue of packet interval variation. When we started we were not experienced enough to make it work out of the box. We learned along the way, through much trial and error on a daily basis.”

Lopes said the infrastructure as designed provides tremendous flexibility; they can have all of the resources in the building available at any point to any room or studio.

“We can easily use any resource,” he said. “We can use one control room and all of the camera chains, or we can split the camera chains between two control rooms or three studios. The network is also prepared for 4K, but we are doing HD today. For a news and general entertainment channel, 4K is not required. It’s not commercially viable for now.”

Lawo supplied and installed 15 V__matrix software-defined IP core routing, processing and multiviewing devices, a total of 39 C100 core processing blades as well as vm_dmv multiviewer, vm_udx up/down/cross conversion as well as several other software modules for the V__matrix platform. The Lawo VSM Broadcast Control System (Virtual Studio Manager) was chosen to control both baseband and IP devices for quick patch and configuration changes via multiple VSM user panels. With the VSM system in place, changeovers between shows no longer require physically repatching cables. It’s all done virtually.

Sony Professional Solutions handled integrating all of the disparate pieces of equipment, in partnership with Telefónica. Sony provided the core IP system architecture, hardware, support and project consultancy at the new Lisbon facility. SIC has also invested in Sony’s Media Backbone Hive, a multi-platform news production system that allows journalists to share content easily.

IP control and configuration functions are handled by Sony’s LSM (Live System Manager) software that’s tightly integrated with Lawo’s VSM platform, which is controlled by a touchscreen interface. In parallel, SIC has upgraded its news production capabilities with Media Backbone Hive. Running on standard IT hardware, Hive allows journalists and editors based in Lisbon and Porto—or in the field—to create content for Internet, social media and broadcast applications.

The facility features three studio floors and two control rooms outfitted with Sony switchers and a full complement of IP devices.

The facility features three studio floors and two control rooms outfitted with Sony switchers and a full complement of IP devices.

The RTS intercom solution (installed by local integrator Pantalha and SIC, with support from RTS) is based on an ADAM full-frame matrix. KP-5032 and KP-3016 key panels have been installed in various locations. Completing the IP signal chain is a DECT-based ROAMEO wireless intercom system; including RTS’ AP-1800 access points and TR-1800 beltpacks.

Adopting an open IP approach at the facility allows SIC to route HDR-capable HD video plus audio, synchronization and control data in real time over the same network infrastructure. Working with Cisco, the Sony Professional Solutions team was instrumental in the design of the network, facilitating the integration between the various third-party hardware and software components and systems.

Lopes said that anyone considering building an all-IP facility should consider using an experienced systems integration team—like Sony Professional Solutions—instead of trying to do it themselves. There are just too many variables to work out. With more and more projects, people will get more familiar with IP.

“You need experienced IT guys to do the work, you can't do it yourself,” he said. “No manufacturer can reproduce in their lab what we have implemented here in the real world. If you are an early adopter, there will be growing pains. People can learn from our mistakes, but until they do it themselves, they have no idea what is ahead of them. We had a great design team and system integrators.

“There are not many system this large and complex," Lopes said. "It was not easy, but it was worth the effort. We were committed to doing this and we did. Now, everyone is very happy with the results.”

What’s clear is that SIC’s new facility is a true showcase for the industry to observe and learn from. Lopes said he’s been getting visits from broadcasters from around the world: all eager to see what SIC has accomplished. In the past few months alone he’s hosted broadcast engineers from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Croatia, and Morocco.

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