Vendor Content.

Give & Take For IP’s Sake

Why real world user experiences and the sharing of knowledge are what really drives forward the widespread adoption of new technologies and the innovative workflows they empower.

Christian Scheck. Head of Marketing Content, Lawo.

Christian Scheck. Head of Marketing Content, Lawo.

Even though it may be stating the obvious, an IP network requires thorough planning and the dedication to see the project through. But so does a baseband installation where forgetting the odd patching option may require adding significantly more cables, which is usually far more time-consuming and only provides a, well, patch for one isolated issue.

The benefits of an IP network are such that those who have completed the transition swear they will “Never go back to baseband.” Technically, this may still be a bit optimistic as SDI cameras and video switchers are being used to great effect to this very day. Connecting them to gateways like .edge, however, bridges the gap between baseband and the IP network where almost everything is possible. As a matter of fact, one reason for going all-out IP right behind such gateways is precisely that this leaves ample wiggle room far into the future.

New devices or software apps can be added where they are needed and partake in the freedom to route essences from anywhere to anywhere on the network. Plus, rapid switches from one location to another on election night or for other multi-location coverage scenarios without so much as re-patching a single cable are not only a major time saver, but also help avoid errors likely to cause blackouts.

The Bigger Picture

Obviously, today’s IP networks stretch beyond a single facility or production location, courtesy of the WAN capability of Layer-3 IP networks and the SMPTE ST2110 and RAVENNA transport protocols. This has allowed operators to separate the production side in a central location from the ingest stage at a venue that may be thousands of miles away.

Thanks to IP, remote and distributed production scenarios are increasingly popular, for all the right reasons: the best engineer for the job can work from a location that is more convenient for them given their tight schedule; smaller crews and vans can be sent on-location; and fewer people need to spend a large chunk of their professional lives travelling, which is good news both for their loved ones and the environment.

But let’s not get carried away just yet. Even “at home”, IP offers a wealth of benefits and—provided the team is allowed to voice its wildest dreams at the planning stage—new workflows can be designed that feel immediately familiar to operators while, at the same time, providing signal routing options at the press of a single button that are otherwise impossible to achieve.

One shining example of the boldness and the determination to make it happen is Nouvelle Maison de Radio-Canada in Montreal, Canada. Backed by the VSM control system—which, by the way was largely configured in-house—the CBC/Radio-Canada team now enjoys the liberty of connecting any studio or on-site or remote location to any control room and any editing suite simply by pressing a hardware or on-screen software button. The possibilities regarding resource pooling have even allowed them to spend considerably less on their processing infrastructure, which can be leveraged in a flexible manner from different locations and for a variety of purposes.

Another example involves live Dolby Atmos mixes (5.1.4) from a fixed location for Bundesliga soccer. In this case, the A__UHD Core DSP processor that does the number crunching and processing travels to the arena, while the A1 sits in a control room in Darmstadt, Germany. The two main benefits of this Remote Audio Control Room (RACR) setup are more space for the sound supervisor, which is always at a premium in an OB truck, especially if the project at hand requires ten loudspeakers. The second is the perfect acoustic isolation from the action on and around the pitch.

The reason for setting up the DSP engine at the venue is that the audio essences do not need to travel back and forth and can be embedded into the on-air video signals at the venue without the slightest latency, even though latency is not really an issue for audio essences. The sound supervisors in the remote audio control room indeed only monitor the busses, or stems, and hence the result of their tweaks and setting changes. These do not need to travel back to the venue as they are only for “remote consumption”— and the individual channels stay close to the OB truck where the production is run. Talkback both directly via the console and an IP-native intercom system is also available.

The two ingredients needed for this acclaimed workflow are the separation of the console, which effectively becomes a “big mouse” (remote control), from the processing proper, i.e. the execution of commands sent from Darmstadt to the DSP engine at the venue, and the fact that this happens over standards-based IP on a wide-area network. In a way, this approach leverages the experiences gathered in Australia, where a remote production workflow covering the entire continent and beyond has been applied for over five years.

The Essence…

You may have noticed that once a signal is on the IP plane, it is referred to as an “essence”, or rather several of them. The video component of an SDI signal becomes a video essence, and the audio an audio essence. Both are transported separately and kept in sync by a PTP grandmaster, a clock far more precise than what you may know from baseband digital signals. What’s the point of separating the two?

An audio mixing console does not need the video information contained in a traditional SDI signal, while a video switcher only looks at the video information. Separating these two first of all saves a lot of bandwidth, as only the required data need to be transported to a given processing device or application.  Additionally, this approach makes it easier to combine different sources, swapping out the audio signal of the on-camera microphone for the stadium-cum-spot-microphone mix, which is “embedded” into the camera’s video footage.

For the sake of completeness, let’s also mention the two remaining essence types: control essences and metadata essences.

…Is An Open Partnership

IP is no longer confined to bespoke hardware processors and monolithic facilities, but also plays an important role in public- and private-cloud-based infrastructures—or indeed a mix of both.

To some, it may seem challenging to get their heads around IP as quite a few concepts need to be viewed from a different angle. As already stated, some broadcasters deliberately decide to do as much of the planning, programming and configuration work in-house.

The reason for this is that they want to be sure that a critical issue can be resolved at a moment’s notice and at the right time, while in-house knowledge also means that tweaks to the workflow can be performed by operators who know the system inside out and may therefore find clever ways of implementing them.

Even they sometimes stumble upon roadblocks that require even more expertise than they currently have. This is precisely why Lawo has long stopped considering itself a manufacturer of powerful boxes and apps, because Lawo’s Professional Services Group realizes that a system’s effectiveness will always be judged by how it can be used to address all the requirements at hand in the most elegant and efficient way.

There is still more to be gained from a true partnership: once a vendor understands the overall vision and commits to help implement it, it becomes much easier to openly discuss how a given hardware or software tool can become even more flexible in order to achieve something “out of the box”. This spirit of give and take not only benefits the project at hand but also the entire broadcast and AV community as, in Lawo’s case, no incremental development is ever considered a patch for a “local” problem but usually finds its way into subsequent feature upgrades.

In the case of CBC/Radio-Canada it has to be stated that the team that delivered arguably the biggest IP infrastructure created to date not only contributed to significant refinements of IP best practices and standards, but also openly shares its experiences with the community at large to avoid other projects stalling for a reason that has already been solved once. And they are not the only ones willing to support their peers.

Similarly, the importance of listening to user suggestions and acting upon them simply cannot be overstated. Lawo customers know from first-hand experience that their input is taken into account and often implemented in a timely fashion. Anyone who has ever spent years waiting for a solution to materialize—if at all—will confirm that this is one of the most frustrating situations to be in.

Most operators agree that broadcast IP is state-of-the-art technology with a host of creative options, some of which have yet to be explored. Contributing to its advancement in a spirit of mutual trust and friendly challenges is a sure-fire way of progressing together to deliver an infrastructure that not only provides maximum flexibility but is also intuitive to use today and for many years to come.