Encoding & Transport For Remote Contribution At NAB 2024

As broadcasters embrace remote production workflows the technology required to compress, encode and reliably transport streams from the venue to the network operation center or the cloud become key, and there will be plenty of new developments and sources of expertise on the 2024 NAB Show floor.

In the ever-expanding world of IP based remote contribution, media organizations are looking for new methods to transport content in the most flexible and cost-effective way. To ensure a successful experience, this needs to be done over a reliable network that delivers ultra-low latency, very high quality and with zero or manageable packet loss.

How to achieve such reliable infrastructure is driven by a range of factors which are specific to each production or application but there some key elements to consider: transport service provider, streaming protocol and compression.

Today’s remote broadcast contribution involves delivering live or recorded streams from the field back to a production studio and this can be achieved using managed transport services over satellite, fiber, cloud, and IP networked infrastructures, and increasingly the public Internet. In live contribution, whatever platform you use, there can be no dropped packets or the viewer will notice. That’s bad for business.

ARQ-based streaming protocols like SRT (Secure Reliable Transport), RIST (Reliable Internet Stream Transport), and Zixi are all being deployed in the field for transport/backhaul, as these protocols offer a balance of reliability, security, and efficiency; all crucial factors for maintaining the integrity of live feeds across diverse network conditions.

Compression is widely deployed to reduce overall bandwidth requirements and in many instances without it, remote contribution is not achievable. AVC/HEVC is still widely used for contribution for good reason, but in many use cases involving the highest profile content, JPEG XS compression has been deployed. The JPEG XS standard (ISO/IEC 21122) is relatively easy to deploy and results in “visually lossless” image quality and exceedingly low latency measured in mere lines of video – rather than full frames or seconds. It facilitates hardware implementations that do not require external memory, allowing for efficient implementation on various platforms such as FPGAs, ASICs, CPUs and GPUs.

Most vendors we spoke to agree that customers are looking for solutions that offer high efficiency, density and flexibility. At NAB attendees will also see low-latency encoders and decoders that support the increased speed and capacity of 100 Gigabit Ethernet networking.

AI-Based Codecs Emerge

There has been much speculation about the potential of a new generation of AI-based codecs which could use AI and Machine Learning to compress and encode video data, using techniques such as neural networks, deep learning, and generative adversarial networks. AI-based codecs could potentially achieve higher compression ratios and better quality than conventional codecs, by learning from large datasets of video content and adapting to different scenarios and preferences. Look out for announcements during the show and expect this to be a good discussion topic.

5G Wireless Contribution

The latest generation of mobile transmitters (many camera-mounted) to be shown on the exhibit floor at NAB this year that support 5G’s increased bandwidth allow users to encode and transmit one 4K UHD source or four simultaneous HD sources - leveraging bonded cellular technology to aggregate multiple mobile network connections for maximum reliability. Some portable systems now include six embedded cellular modems, four frame-synced HD inputs, genlock support, and 4G/5G cellular modems paired with high-efficiency internal antennas. These cellular modems help deliver live and recorded content within milliseconds while receiving bi-directional audio and real-time video return feeds. Vendors to investigate include Haivision, Live-U, Dejero and Vislink. 

Surveying The Show Floor

Zixi (Booth W1401). The Zixi protocol is among the leading choices for OTT/streaming delivery and the same attributes which make it a superb delivery platform also make it well suited to live remote video contribution. The protocol uses a combination of adaptive FEC, ARQ, network bonding, congestion avoidance and hitless failover to algorithmically reconstruct data down the supply chain.  The ecosystem of edge devices that natively support the protocol is now well established, leading many of the major M&E organizations and professional sport leagues around the world to distribute their traffic using the protocol.

Managing ultra-low worldwide transport latencies is practical and fully supported in Zixi Broadcaster, a universal live media gateway that ensures high performance and highly resilient connections between sources and destinations. With it, users can deliver error-free video globally with less than 300ms transport latency and 100 percent packet recovery.

Their ZEN Master software features sophisticated event management tools designed to enable live production at scale. The ZEN Master Live Events Manager delivers advanced event schedule management, enabling operations teams to programmatically or manually define the event schedule. Event stages unlock automated stream switching and alerting rules tailored to pre/live/post event stages. New alerting templates and sophisticated live event monitoring ensure that events are running smoothly and operational dashboards provide ‘at a glance’ confidence monitoring across all scheduled events.

Appear (Booth W2130) will show new features for its X Platform, a high-capacity, versatile, ultra-low latency platform for high-speed video networking, enhanced IP security and advanced compression for the remote production, contribution and distribution markets. It uses the company’s hardware accelerated SRT video transport at the core.

Also on the booth will be demonstrations of Appear’s HEVC performance and flexibility, as well as a new JPEG XS module, enabling up to 96 full HD channels per chassis for exceptional quality and efficiency in live production.

Mounted in a 1RU (X10) or 2RU (X20) chassis, the X Platform is currently deployed in OB vans and across stadiums to support the delivery of premium events worldwide. It’s designed to have near-limitless capacity. Also included are bi-directional 10G IP interfaces with the ability to route up to 140G of traffic internally, as well as modules that support up to 4,000 (2,000 in and 2,000 out) streams and 10G of traffic.

The X Platform works with any video application and supports the implementation of both current and future IP video codecs. It can also be used as a compression head-end for OTT, IPTV, broadcast and for high density satellite turnaround or monitoring.

LTN Global (Booth W1517) are another leading brand in OTT/streaming delivery whose technology and services are well suited to remote live video contribution. Their LTN Live Video Cloud is the contribution element within a suite of tools and technology which forms a comprehensive and fully featured global transport ecosystem. Their service lead approach facilitates contribution from any source anywhere in the world, low latency reliable secure transport and distribution to one or multiple global destinations. LTN will also discuss the current trends shaping the landscape and how the company is driving innovation to maximize monetization for customers.

Cobalt Digital (Booth SU4027) will feature its full line of RIST-enabled products.  They are one of the pioneers of remote contribution technologies and one of the most respected bands in broadcast and the perfect destination to explore and evaluate the benefits of the RIST approach. Cobalt produce an extensive range of encoders and decoders that includes stand-alone hardware devices, cards and software. 

Of particular interest for remote production is the new PACIFIC Ultra Low-Latency Decoder that can decode one stream up to 4K, or two up to 3G. The PACIFIC ULL-DEC is an openGear card capable of decoding H.262 (MPEG-2), H.264 (AVC), H.265 (HEVC) and 4K with less than 10 milliseconds of latency (for properly encoded streams). The card can either decode one stream up to 4K, or two streams up to 3G. It supports an extensive set of audio CODECs and network protocols, including RIST. When combined with the Cobalt 9992-ENC encoder, this solution can achieve an end-to-end latency of less than one frame.

For the first time, Cobalt will be showing a new factory-installed option for SMPTE ST 2110 input, the INDIGO 2110-DC-02 to its existing PACIFIC 9992-ENC openGear card. The option supports up to 4 inputs at 3G and lower resolutions, or one input at 4K resolution, with full NMOS support. Each encoder channel can be individually configured for SDI or ST 2110 operation. 

The Broadcast Bridge reported on recent new developments in RIST itself on this article here. Cobalt’s CTO Dr. Ciro Noronha, who is also President of The RIST Activity Group, said they are completing the work on TR-06-4 Part 1, which provides an open industry specification for providing synchronized multi-stream transport benefitting IP-based contribution systems.

Matrox (Booth SL5073) will show their Monarch Edge range of hardware encoders and decoders designed specifically for remote contribution. 

According to Matrox the Monarch EDGE encoders and decoders are renowned for their advanced features, including ultra-low-latency multi-stream sync, 4K/multiHD support, tally, talkback, and genlock. The upcoming 2.07 release introduces new capabilities, making Monarch EDGE a versatile solution for backhaul, contribution, video transport, and distribution workflows. With HDR and Dolby audio support, VANC metadata for closed captions, SCTE-104 messaging for ad insertion, and SRT Stream IDs for easier stream routing, Monarch EDGE stands out as one of the most flexible encoder/decoders. Industry distribution platforms such as GlobalM and TechEx endorse Monarch EDGE as the preferred encoder for delivering high-quality streams. A GlobalM pod at the Matrox Video booth will showcase cloud-based distribution workflows featuring Monarch EDGE.

Evertz (Booth SU2027), will show its existing XPS Live Video Encoder Series of high quality and low latency video encoder and decoder modules for live streaming, cloud-based, REMI/remote production, OTT, and on-demand applications. They support most common transport standards, like RIST, SRT and Zixi.

The XPS Live Video Encoder Series provides secure broadcast-quality video encoding at ultra-low latencies, supporting up to 4x simultaneous 1080p50/60 HD video encodes or decodes. It can be configured in software to switch between either a four-channel encoder, four-channel decoder or a combination of two encodes and two decodes. In addition, the XPS Live Video Encoder Series supports up to 2160p50/60 4K UHD video resolutions with 16x channels of audio, with support for different compression standards such as H.265 / HEVC or H.264* over any IP network.

Evertz will also launch their RFK-ITXE-HW-DUO media processing platform at NAB. The RFK-ITXE-HW-DUO is a powerful, flexible platform that allows broadcasters to easily convert between different formats and resolutions. The RFK-ITXE-HW-DUO supports JPEG XS encode, for low-latency video compression wrapped in reliable transport offerings including Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) or Reliable Internet Stream Transport (RIST) that make the platform suitable for remote production contribution and cloud-based workflows. 

Go Forth And Compress

So, this year’s NAB Show will feature something for everyone involved with securely distributing content for contribution, both in terms of technology and (hardware and software-enabled) products. The right solution for your application depends upon a number of factors—including your specific business model—and undoubtedly can be found somewhere on the exhibit floor.

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