Although it may seem that remote production was born out of necessity to address a growing demand for distributed workflows amidst global lockdowns, it was already gaining momentum prior to the pandemic, which accelerated the trend. But why is remote production so attractive, and what is the broadcast industry doing to advance this initiative? What will it look like in the next ten years?
Remote workflows pose many benefits to productions, from cost savings on travel and other tasks to the ability to tap into a broader talent pool. They also drive new efficiency, allowing productions from different locations to be handled simultaneously and providing a boost to centralization and decentralization.
The Role of the Internet
Circuits used by broadcasters have notoriously proven expensive and difficult to manage, to the point where the resources of telecommunication giants are needed to deliver them. SDI and AES signals both need specialized interfaces and complex infrastructures to move live pictures and sound between facilities, thus incurring incredible costs. But much of this has changed with the ability to transport high quality video and audio over the internet.
International internet speeds are increasing beyond all recognition as governments see the benefits of connecting home users to the internet, resulting in massive infrastructure investments. Not only is the “last mile” being improved, but specialist data switching centers are appearing and further boosting the connectivity for ISPs and home users.
This trend – coupled with increasing Fiber adoption, which makes it easier to transmit audio and video over longer distances; bandwidth friendly codecs like H.264 and HEVC; more remote control capabilities built into live production tools; and emerging streaming and remote monitoring technology – has helped to make remote production via IP and public internet more accessible and simpler to implement from anywhere in the world.
A Broadcast Shift
These innovations have enabled broadcasters to exchange high-quality live video and audio over the internet and not only between broadcast facilities, but also to the homes of media specialists and production talent located across the globe. At the same time, distribution costs have plummeted. Recent advances in compression have helped make all this possible, providing a sizeable reduction in data bandwidth requirements, so that high quality and low latency video and audio can reach employees at home. Developments in security have also played a role, allowing professionals to send high-value media to specific users over the internet without fear of the content being compromised.
The digital revolution has delivered fantastic opportunities but also provided a lower technical barrier to entry, leaving media companies potentially vulnerable to piracy and copyright infringement. As such, security is a colossal concern for content owners and production companies. This has led to massive investments in developing better security, which is now paying dividends and making it difficult for media pirates to infringe on material protected by copyright. In most cases, they can’t even view or process media unless they have the decryption keys, which are much easier to protect. All this ensures greater flexibility for media professionals.
Production from Home
A director working from home may need to review the most recent cut quickly with the editor and production crew. Normally, they would have to travel to the post house, review the material, and return home. Alternatively, a DVD could be sent via a dispatch service or an encrypted file created and sent electronically for review. This way of working, however, doesn’t lend itself to the same spontaneity that in-person review sessions provide and can hamper artistic judgement.
Working from home, a director can review the edits near instantly and collaborate interactively and dynamically with the production and post crews to ensure an optimal result. With geographical bounds no longer an issue, the director can also bring on the best talent for the job no matter where they’re located, vastly increasing the available talent pool. This ensures more dynamic interactions and empowers creativity, both of which can lead to higher value productions.
Keeping Standards High
Key to maintaining high technical specifications is the ability to process media with high end compute resources, and having access to an on-prem datacenter or cloud resource can be incredibly useful in this respect. Modern low-latency compression provides high enough quality for a director or other members of the production team to review graded edit material from nearly anywhere with an internet connection. Proxy streams can then easily be created with relatively low data rates to provide browser access, allowing media to be viewed and edited remotely without compromising the integrity of the final image.
For instance, an editor could edit a proxy feed and generate an edit list that would then be used to edit and process the original material. The compression system can be adapted to the editors’ working environment, and even if their internet connection isn’t ideal, they’ll be able to work without impacting the integrity of the original media.
Although centralized datacenters work well, there may be occasions when on-site processing or monitoring is required. Internet connections between distributed processing further deliver greater flexibility to provide production teams with more choices than ever. Also, just because the internet is being used for distribution and connectivity doesn’t mean the whole production must be IP. SDI is still prevalent in broadcast environments and will be for many years to come. A whole plethora of SDI, HDMI, and fiber interface equipment is available to process 4K and UltraHD.
There are still many advantages to using SDI including its ease of use and speed with which systems can be assembled, especially on location. 12G-SDI is the backbone of 4K and UltraHD, and although it may be limited to 80m, fiber converters resolve this and increase the effective signal distance up to ten kilometers.
Format conversion, audio embedding and de-embedding, and recording all go a long way to making SDI convenient to use. And combined with internet signal transport and control, remote operation with SDI infrastructures provides unrivalled flexibility for production teams.
A move to remote production was always in the cards, and the pandemic accelerated the process, but the real innovation turns out to be a combination of resilient, high speed internet access with ingenious solutions provided by broadcast vendors. It’s opened up new possibilities in live production in both traditional broadcast and production environments as well as in the AV space.
All these developments have contributed to a more dynamic live production landscape and one that is enabling innovations such as virtual production and simultaneous video distribution to a wider range of platforms. It’s also driving media organizations in the pursuit of a camera-to-cloud workflow to increasingly invest in cloud-based collaboration, NLE, and storage solutions. The first chapter on remote production may be complete, but the story is just getting started, and remote production 2.0 will look markedly different.
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