Transitioning to Broadcast IP Infrastructures; Part 1 – Initial Planning and Scoping

February 16th 2021 - 12:05 PM
Tony Orme, Editor at The Broadcast Bridge

Our first Essential Insights is a set of three video episodes in which we discuss transitioning to IP with industry experts. We explore the fundamental challenges during the planning stage. The decisions that need to be made, and the long-term thinking needed to maintain flexibility, scalability and resilience. 

In this series I speak to senior industry figures who’ve had the opportunity to either build IP networks or who are in the planning stages of major infrastructure projects.

We interviewed three guests and contributions from each of them feature in all three 30 min episodes:

Geir Bordalen, Head of Technology Portfolio at the Norwegian Broadcast Corporation - is in the early planning stages of building a green-field IP broadcast facility.

Paul Markham, Global Technology and Operations Director, and Media Infrastructure Architect for Discovery - discusses broadcast infrastructures from the software perspective.

Dave Schwarz, Managing Engineer for Diversified - has more IP infrastructures under his belt than any of us would care to imagine. Dave discusses the hardware infrastructure and what it means to build IP. 


Part 1: Initial Planning & Scoping (CLICK HERE TO WATCH NOW) - looks at the initial planning stages for a major infrastructure project, software development and mindset changes, and specifying switchers for IP.

Part 2: Practical Topologies and Systems (CLICK HERE TO WATCH) - discusses the practical aspects of building IP infrastructures, the architecture topologies considered during planning, the philosophy & benefits of Agile Development, and making IP systems flexible, scalable and resilient.

Part 3: Delivering Operational Reliability (CLICK HERE TO WATCH) - discusses the merits of cloud, datacentre architectures, the crucial role of logging in maintaining system reliability with software infrastructure, and the potential use of compression to deliver increased efficiency and economy.


About Part 1 - Initial Planning & Scoping

Moving from a design idea to a fully operational IP broadcast facility that is resilient, flexible and scalable, is a potentially daunting task. Replacing the acronym SDI for IP will not get close to truly leveraging the potential IP has to offer, and we must fundamentally re-think how we approach television and system development. The good news is that there are now many IP installations working efficiently throughout the world and we can learn from them to build the IP infrastructures modern broadcasting is demanding.

Knowing where to start and defining the problem to be solved is ninety percent of the battle, but with many potential solutions out there, the options are far more numerous than those presented in the SDI days.

The first question to ask is should I go IP at all? Although IP provides incredible opportunities in terms of flexibility, scalability and resilience, there is a price to pay. As in all things engineering, a compromise must be struck between investment in time and resource today, and payback in the short, medium and long term.

Resource investment is much easier to quantify than time investment. Engineers not only have to learn a new skill set but must completely learn how to rethink the way they work. The point-to-point connectivity of SDI, AES and analogue doesn’t transfer well to the world of IP. It will probably work, but not very efficiently and the number of workarounds needed to force the IP to work in a point-to-point methodology will soon manifest themselves.

We often speak of flexibility in IP and this points to the much trumped need to change the way we think. Flexibility is achieved through packet switched networks and software. Traditional broadcast infrastructures needed custom hardware solutions due to the massive connection speeds and processing required at the time. COTS infrastructures have now surpassed these speeds and can easily facilitate HD and 4K video.

Thinking in terms of software is quite alien for most of us. Yes, we understand what software is and how it works. After all, we’ve been using it in control and off-line systems for a good ten years. However, modern software developers, through Agile methodologies, think about very short-term deliverables of a few weeks at a time. This approach is the opposite of broadcast engineering where vendors and major infrastructure designers think in terms of many months and even years.

Short-term delivery shouldn’t be confused with short term thinking. Agile software developers have long term plans but accept that the user’s requirements often change as the project is unraveled and delivered. Roll-out of features with bi-weekly or monthly timescales promotes communication between the developers and the end users. Furthermore, it helps prevent all stakeholders within a project from being overwhelmed with the enormity of a task ahead as they can break their understanding down into manageable chunks.

Modern IP infrastructures promote and encourage the agile methodology and way of thinking. In the past, SDI routers would have been specified while trying to project user requirements five or ten years ahead. With the pace of change in technology we’re now experiencing, this kind of projection is simply not viable. In the past five years alone we’ve seen the introduction of 4K, HDR, WCG, 8K and OTT delivery.

Although the underlying technology facilitating IP networks is constantly improving, it’s much easier to expand an ethernet and IP network than with SDI and AES. Combined with the separation of the media stream from the underlying physical network further promotes scalability and flexibility as system designers don’t need to think too far into the future. Who knows what technology is going to be with us in another five years? But separating the media stream from the network hardware means we can just treat the media essence and associated metadata as just data carried around in IP packets.

Installations containing ST2022-6, ST2110 and NDI are growing in their popularity. The great news is that there are many experienced engineers, project planners and system implementers who have much experience with planning, designing and making IP systems operate reliably.

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