Across the broadcast industry, production and distribution technology have advanced at breakneck speeds, vastly improving the quality of content that consumers watch every day on their TVs, mobile devices, and other displays. However, on the backend, taking advantage of these technological innovations from a production and distribution standpoint requires a lot of time and research and development (R&D). With new ways of working come new challenges, especially as many emerging technologies are still getting their footing. Let’s take a closer look at what we saw in 2023, with a specific focus on security and encryption, latency, and IP.
Nick Rashby, President, AJA Video Systems.
Improving Security And Encryption
Protecting intellectual property has always been important in broadcast, but it proved a prevailing theme this year as more content providers began moving away from satellite or dark fiber links for video transport in favor of the public internet. Satellite-distributed media is generally transported over either K band or C band, but with the arrival of 5G, C band has been massively impacted; 5G has consumed the lower part of C band, making it a less popular option. At the same time, owning a fiber line can be expensive. Demand for greater cost and workflow efficiency has driven more providers to consider video transport over the public internet in 2023.
However, the challenge with this trend is that ensuring content is protected as it moves across the internet isn’t straightforward. The internet is essentially an open highway, leaving many questions around how to best encrypt content so that it is secure and delivered in total to the intended target. In addition to security, dropped packets are a concern. Like all payloads, video data is sent over the internet in packets, and when routers are oversubscribed, they will drop packets. It happens all the time with websites, and while the extra five milliseconds to load a website isn’t all that noticeable, it is with video. The end result is a distortion or streaking in the video, which may persist for up to two or even four seconds.
This sort of perceptible distortion just isn’t acceptable to major content providers. As a consequence, engineers have come up with methodologies to mitigate the effect of such packet loss. In addition, over the last few years, we’ve seen more routers emerge from companies like Cisco and Netgear that understand the nature of video payloads and that are specifically targeted at preventing packet loss during video transport.
Furthermore, protocols like Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) have continued to emerge and evolve; it’s become the dominant protocol in the space because it has built-in mechanisms for both encryption and recovery. In the event a packet is not received at the destination, a retransmission of that packet is triggered. Another protocol that is gaining traction is Reliable Internet Stream Transport (RIST). Developed by an open source consortium, RIST is an up-and-coming technology to watch.
Reducing Latency Across The Live Production Chain
Latency frequented industry headlines in 2023, and while there’s certainly work to be done to improve latency on the content delivery network side of things, we’ve seen a lot of progress in the last few years in reducing latency as footage is captured and output, live graded, encoded, encrypted, and prepared for transport over the public internet. It’s something AJA has been focused on improving with products like BRIDGE LIVE, KONA X, and our color management and conversion solution ColorBox, which all deliver on low latency. BRIDGE LIVE, for instance, offers a low latency option for transcoding.
On the video streaming end, it’s all about achieving consistency between streams. If you're producing multiple streams, accurate, common timing, and clean switching are essential. Delivering consistent signals ensures the receiving end can use that within their environment; BRIDGE LIVE helps with this. It allows users to provide the correct clock timing, so if you're locked into NTP time, or provide a reference input on the SDI, it provides a zero timing point for the signals. When the signal is sent from one BRIDGE LIVE to another across the internet, the technology ensures that the egress is timed properly, which means everything on the receiving end is timed properly as well. The following SDI output going into the baseband production environment will also be accurately timed. It’s a win-win.
Latency has also become more crucial as broadcasters and OTT providers have added more elements to live productions to meet audience expectations for more dynamic viewing experiences, such as the “first down” markers used in football games. Reducing that latency to an unnoticeable level has previously proven difficult because it requires simplifying the production chain. Streaming DMA is helping to change that. With it built-in, KONA X bypasses the on-card memory, significantly reducing the latency in that processing step. As more solutions for virtual production are created using KONA X, we expect to see several applications in Media and Entertainment take advantage of the low-latency capabilities that Streaming DMA offers.
IP Grows Up And Branches Out
A topic of conversation for many years now, IP video reached a tipping point this year. Both NDI and SMPTE 2110 have advanced and seen broader adoption; at the same time, newer players like Dante AV and IPMX have introduced even more options.
While running an SDI cable from point A to point B can have distinct advantages, running a cable beyond 300 meters becomes more complicated, and that’s one of many scenarios where a video over IP approach can be advantageous. If a network infrastructure exists, customers can connect devices across floors or campuses using video over IP, which can have much longer cable lengths, and that makes it easier to connect, transmit, and receive signals across locations. Indeed, many multi-location facilities have a dedicated network or fiber line and use video over IP to transmit and receive signals from client facilities.
All that said, there’s a learning curve for implementing video over IP, and some professionals still question its stability and complexity, as well as its potential impact on quality and latency. Fortunately, protocols like Dante AV are helping to solve these concerns. Dante AV provides less than subframe latency, so it’s ideal in any environment where lip sync is required, and for teams who have already used Audinate’s Dante Controller software for audio production, it’s a familiar interface. Some professionals are also excited about the JPEG 2000 codec offered in Dante AV Ultra because it offers 10- and 12-bit solutions, which most other video over IP platforms don’t easily offer today on 1Gb networks. In line with this trend, AJA released Dante AV 4K-T transmitters and 4K-R receivers at NAB 2023, which let users easily transmit and receive video over a 1Gb network, controlled and configured via the widely-adopted Dante platform.
When AJA began building Dante products, we had AV customers in mind (i.e., theaters, schools, hotels, convention centers, stadiums, arenas, etc.), but at NAB and IBC this year, we also saw a lot of interest from broadcast network engineers and sports networks professionals who are familiar with Dante audio and know how to use it. The appeal is the simplicity of being able to plug Dante AV technology into this existing 1Gb network in a way that’s familiar to them and achieve high-quality, low-latency video alongside Dante IP audio.
Interest and adoption of NDI remains high in select markets, including the Asia Pacific region, while SMPTE 2110 has become a widely accepted standard for professionals working in higher end broadcast environments. Then, there is IPMX, which is based on SMPTE 2110, but designed with the proAV market in mind; it’s still an emerging technology and one AV professionals are keeping an eye on.
Across the world, productions are experimenting with various IP technologies, largely in hybrid environments that also include legacy SDI infrastructure. We expect most setups to be hybrid SDI/IP for the foreseeable future, which means professionals and facilities need conversion solutions to easily and reliably move between SDI and IP. While one broadcaster may prefer SMPTE over Dante AV and another NDI over SMPTE, it’s become clear that all these must play nicely together in an environment. As professionals in broadcast move into IP and continue integrating it into their workflows, it will be exciting to see just how they use it.
2023 presented yet another year of technological innovation by broadcast engineers and production professionals alike and has set the bar high for 2024. For more information on how you can leverage AJA technology to keep pace with emerging industry developments, head over to www.aja.com.