Migrating A PCR From SDI To IP Requires Careful Discussion And Implementation

TheBroadcastBridge.com discuss the intricacies of migrating a Production Control Room—and the team that uses it from SDI to IP—with Tom Fuller, Solutions Architect at Bexel, part of the NEP Group.

The increasing popularity of streaming and digital platforms is pushing broadcast networks and production facilities to migrate to IP infrastructures. For production systems integrators, making the right point-person connections is key to successfully migrating a production control room from SDI operations. The next step is understanding that production staff have a certain way of working that can’t be altered, so the new infrastructure has to be immediately familiar to them.

Those are two aspects of any integration project that must be strictly adhered to or various problems will arise. Communication is key.

“Like the transition from analog to SDI, IP is a big step but an evolutionary one that changes the way we do things and provides a lot more power to the end user,” said Tom Fuller, Solutions Architect at veteran systems integrator Bexel (a division of NEP Group). In the past four years he’s worked on several larger installation that have included control rooms, production studios, machine rooms edit suites and everything in between. “The first thing we do is sit down [with the client] and figure out the pressure points and additional capabilities they’re after.”

Detailed Documentation

That conversation ideally starts with the head of the customer’s IT networking team, to figure out how the new IP network will affect the existing corporate network and vice versa. Together they plot out a plan for implementing network switches at the right places on the network and also develop a topology and routing plan for how the new packet-based operations work.

“We put together multiple documents to show how the system operates and how outside influences could negatively affect the in-house system,” said Fuller. “The need for detailed documentation is greater now than it ever has been because someone has to keep track of all of the IP addresses and all of the cables. If I need to add a new component or troubleshoot a problem, this can help immensely. The SDI world was so much easier to troubleshoot. It’s a much more linear process. IP is nonlinear in nature, but that’s what makes it so powerful and flexible to use.”

The next thig to remember is that existing facilities have proven workflows that they don’t want to mess with. The technical director has a favored way to set up the video switcher. The new IP infrastructure has to deliver the same results when they launch their presets or Mix/Effect buses to bring up a desired program element (like graphics). Some operators like to use several M/E busses, allowing them to create more complex on-screen effects.

“When we have completed an installation, the most important thing to look at is what has not changed,” said Fuller. “Our goal is to create a production control room that feels like the familiar SDI one they originally had. They don’t want to work differently. We’re giving them new capabilities, but maintaining their existing workflow is still critical to each member of the production team.”

The advantages of IP become immediately apparent when the director calls for that first live remote and it is brought into the production, seamlessly intermixed with a studio shot that then is rendered as a live augmented reality graphic on screen.

Building A Smarter Working Environment

The new infrastructure gives them whatever they need at exactly the moment they need it. The TD has so many more options on their switcher panel. The panel hasn’t gotten larger, but the system design and more advanced workflow affords them new options and in a more automated way. You can also build a fully featured audio position in a control room using a much smaller footprint. This allows you to fit more people in a control room.

IP facilities need more sources and rely on a different router that is much more network aligned. That’s because we’re now moving from baseband SDI to IP streams. Done right, the behind the scenes operations become a giant networked infrastructure versus a fixed baseband cross point where you have clearly defined physical connections of inputs and outputs. In the past couple of years, the number of connectors on specific pieces of equipment has decreased. On average a new IP facility is made up of 20 percent baseband I/Os and the rest, even down to the camera level, are originated as multicast network streams.

Fuller said the cost of building new control rooms has been reduced because an IP infrastructure over fiber is a lot less expensive to implement while also providing lots of bandwidth. For every new facility we build, the technology concentration is on connectivity. So, we just run a spiderweb of fiber throughout the building. This allows virtually anything to run through it.”

He said some Cat-6/7 Ethernet cabling is also used for cost advantages and certain types of components don’t need a lot of bandwidth. For example most audio networks (AES67, Dante, REVENNA-30) do not need a lot of bandwidth. So, in this case it’s less expansive to terminate copper (CAT-6/7) cable than fiber.

Each Team Member Needs Their Own Tools

Providing each production control team member with the exact tools and connectivity they need is also important. The audio guy needs a mixing board, an IFB panel, digital recorder, and other things. In the past they might need a 36-fader board to handle all of that, now he only needs a 16-channel physical board and a touch screen or two that handles automated tasks (e.g., an auto-mix). Now the audio console operator becomes much more versatile by automating processes and focusing more on creativity.

“With audio, I stopped focusing on the number of inputs or outputs because I don’t need to anymore,” said Fuller. “There’s such incredible bandwidth available in an IP room that it really has become arbitrary.”

When you start thinking about matrix sizes and the fact that we don’t need to embed or de-embed anymore, even in the smallest rooms, the available virtual matrix can be thousands by thousands of software-defined connections. But that’s all in the background and the operator only focuses on their job.”

“Everything, Everywhere”

Of all of the new technologies to come along to make his job easier, Fuller said implementing a software control layer is key to making the network perform the way it should. He likes to think of an IP network from a “everything, everywhere” perspective.

“I build media islands,” he said. “The switches that handle the media, whether that is audio or video, are designed to manage signal traffic. They don’t even interface with the control layer. They are there to handle the media and their end points—the sources, the destinations, and the processing. In a networking world, sometimes it is best to shut off things that don’t need to go certain places so we lower the risk of flooding ports or generating too much network traffic. So, it’s not about a single audio or video switch, this software layer is looking at the entire system and orchestrating a production and all of the various pieces of equipment involved.”

Getting The PTP Right

The most critical design consideration when it comes to implementing 2110 (which addresses the carriage, synchronization, and description of separate elementary essence streams over IP for real-time) and 2022 (that describes how to send digital video over an IP network) is getting the timing, or “PTP clocking,” right. That’s the first thing you do. Then you worry about things like NMOS, which helps identify and command devices on a network.

“It’s not as simple as plugging in a user interface, like a TD’s switcher panel or an audio guy’s intercom panel,” Fuller said. “There’s got to be a software layer that makes it all work and an IT guy that knows how to configure and operate it.”

“The pandemic opened people’s eyes about what’s possible with IP,” he said. “Broadcasters got creative with what they could do from home, sometimes utilizing a cloud-based switching system. We‘ve learned a lot of lessons that we now use in our system designs.”

Working from home requires a minimum of 100 Mbps connections, with the IT department of a facility responsible for enabling the connectivity between the end points (for example, an on-site edit suite, and a person working from home). They save bandwidth by working with proxy files in their house, then uploading a final EDL to the cloud for assembling the full-resolution files before it’s sent back to the station for inclusion in that evening’s newscast.

New Generation Of Production Infrastructure

Fuller made it clear that the new generation of IP infrastructures has opened up the production control room to touch more devices in more places. That’s a powerful capability that increases productivity and allows the staff to work smarter.

During the design phase, system integrators work hard to understand the specific needs of a production facility and what they are trying to accomplish. Done right, this should involve the IT department and the production staff collectively, so they should meet with the system designer to identify and install the infrastructure that works best for them.

“This is about the democratization of content,” said Fuller. “Now we’re taking everything and putting it on a level playing field. ‘This is my -20 which is my video, -30’s my audio and -40 is my close captioning and ancillary data.’ These are all separate things that are available and routeable and switchable at any time in a much broader way than SDI ever was.”

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