How to design flexible comms systems which satisfy the requirements of both technical engineering teams, and creatives who need simple transparent operation.
A broadcast comms network is the central nervous system of any broadcast infrastructure. It not only ensures that messages are freely carried between the control room and the rest of the production, but it controls every function, and coordinates everything to work as a single organism.
Like a central nervous system, it does all this in the background. You don’t even notice it is there and that’s how it should be. Comms has no ego, it is invisible; and yet is has been setting the pace in networked broadcast infrastructures since the very first televised broadcast.
The Big Shift
Early analog comms systems developed into with 2- and 4-wire connectivity which provided two-way communication, and then Partylines made it easy to talk to multiple people at the same time. This covered all the bases for many years, but the rapid growth in digital infrastructures has changed the game for everyone.
Digital signals like MADI and AES3 were a big change and offered superior audio quality and speech intelligibility, while VoIP offered the ability to transmit audio data via long distance connections and integration into telephone systems. The introduction of AES67 and SMPTE 2110 revolutionised how we communicate and what we are now able to achieve within real-time networks.
Riedel has been an early adopter throughout every paradigm shift, building up our knowledge and experience with all these emerging technologies, and blazing the trail to the future. This bank of knowledge makes us the perfect partner for anyone eager to move to state-of-the-art technologies.
Today, IP provides our users with increased flexibility, greater efficiency, and huge scalability. It provides our support teams with the ability to diagnose and fix issues remotely. But more importantly it provides Riedel with the tools to continue to drive the evolving broadcast landscape.
Post-Covid, workflows are inherently more complex. Remote production, distributed working and cloud resources are all being utilised in different ways to achieve more efficient programming. Customers are working with workflows in a hundred different ways but while everything has changed around us, one thing remains the same: reliable comms are as important as ever.
We don’t need to ask what the end user wants because they want the same thing they have always wanted; reliable and flexible comms which keep their teams in touch with each other. But perhaps we should be asking who the end user is.
The emergence of distributed production models and the democratization of broadcast workflows to users outside of traditional engineering teams has created new user types. We cater to users who are hands on with the practicalities of comms management, and we also cater to users who view comms purely as a creative tool. Both are equally embedded in the broadcast environment, and both have different responsibilities and motivations. With different sets of needs we can categorise them as: the technical customer and the creative customer. Riedel is all about creating a focus for both of these users.
The Technical Customer
Technical customers are usually engineers. Their responsibility is to plan the whole system and manage its deployment. System designs need to be scalable; they need to flex with requirements and they need to handle multiple signal types in a transparent manner.
There are practical considerations. Where are all the endpoints? Are they fixed or on the move? How many are remote? What are the restrictions on access? Who needs to talk and listen, and who just needs to listen? What are the plans for future expansion? Are there any links to outside sources? How easy it is to apply firmware and software upgrades?
Manufacturers like Riedel have dealt with these issues for many years, but future-proofing modern comms systems isn’t just about choosing the right hardware. It is about ensuring that your existing architecture is capable of doing the heavy lifting when required and can be updated when the time is right with no on-air disruption, and no additional investment.
For network designers, IP provides a lot of this out of the box. SMPTE 2110 and NMOS-compliant equipment delivers interoperability between a range of devices and services, and allows equipment like cameras, editing systems and control panels to seamlessly communicate with each other.
Guaranteeing interoperable connectivity requires strict adherence to standards, and while Riedel has been SMPTE 2110-compliant from the start for the encoding, transport and synchronisation of media streams, its support of NMOS for discovery and management, GPIO functionality and channel-level operations guarantees a better fit into dynamic broadcast workflows. Wider adoption of specifications like NMOS IS-04, IS-05, IS-07 and IS-08 give engineers the confidence that we are all striving for the same goals.
IP makes scaling up a network infrastructure based on actual production requirements much more efficient, with no need for physical rewiring or patching. IP-based infrastructures can also leverage existing network infrastructures and COTS equipment, making them more affordable and accessible.
In the past, people had to choose hardware with inflexible port counts, or had to connect multiple frames into one net. Artist-1024, with its networked backbone, can easily scale from 16 to 1024 ports with its flexible licensing model. And trunking technology allows systems to grow beyond 6000 ports and allows interconnection across continents, if required.
Successful implementations like this still require careful planning and robust network management, but the benefits make IP an increasingly attractive choice for all modern broadcast infrastructures. Greenfield builds are now designing for IP from the ground up, while more and more existing production environments are switching over.
Adapting The Future
Software-defined hardware can also promote flexibility and future-proof systems for whatever is coming. Riedel pioneered this approach in 2009 with MediorNet and there are now millions of MediorNet SDI and IP I/Os in daily operation all over the world. In addition, initiatives like Riedel’s UIC-128 (universal interface card) for the Artist-1024 matrix platform can help minimise future hardware investments. Each high-density UIC provides up to 128 ports per card and can be reprogrammed to switch between SMPTE 2110-30/31, MADI or router/processor/Artist fibre.
Meanwhile, Riedel’s SmartPanel combines an intercom panel, router control panel and audio monitor on one device, which not only takes up less space and consumes less power, but also provides technical engineers with the ability to adapt it to different use cases when the production demands them. Cost of ownership is lower from day one and over time the saving on power consumption can be significant. Crucially, it also saves on switch ports, which is especially important in IP environments.
The Creative Customer
Riedel’s SmartPanel concept also speaks directly to our creative customer. Live production environments demand real-time decision-making. SmartPanels help encourage greater user focus by combining several functions in one, easy-to-operate piece of hardware.
When we address the creative customer, we are addressing the person who most needs the system to be invisible. As workflows have evolved, so has the shift of power. IP has facilitated more remote production and collaborative working to allow content creation to come from multiple locations. This not only reduces travel and setup costs, but it promotes wider collaboration between teams across different regions by delivering all necessary bandwidth and low-latency comms required for real-time production.
In the battle for eyeballs across more OTT and OTA channels, creative collaboration and input between teams is key. Implementation is key; the Creative customer may not be technical and may have little interest in how the system operates, but they do need it to be as seamless as possible. And everyone wants to see happy internal customers.
An Eye On The UI
This is where Riedel makes a difference. In fact, Riedel has an entire team devoted to it – our dedicated User Interface team works hand-in-hand with users to understand and to anticipate changes in workflows.
Every project and every broadcaster has a different way of working, but building devices collaboratively with the customer helps Riedel get the most from changing environments. Riedel is a highly flexible comms solution because at Riedel, flexibility is designed in from the start.
Bolero was designed around this principal. With a possible 250 beltpacks and 100 antennas in a single deployment, Bolero sets the standard for wireless intercoms: it has six full-duplex keys, uses Riedel’s DECT receiver technology allowing an installation in the most difficult environment and uses a high-clarity voice codec to increase beltpack to antenna density. NFC means no registration headaches; licence free, just touch the beltpack to the antenna for quick deployment.
The SmartPanel encourages distraction-free focus so creatives can stay on task, while Riedel’s Artist-1024 licensing scheme enables licences to be quickly switched from frame to frame to deploy in different configurations for bigger, one-off events. With no requirement to buy big up-front to meet the demands of the biggest possible event, flexible licence packs mean that creatives can stay in touch while keeping costs low.
The business of content is changing, and the roles within it are changing, but comms is still key – it is the unsung hero of award-winning content. Riedel’s job is to keep everyone talking and to adapt to whatever the production looks like, wherever it is, and however many people are involved.
And to do it quietly.