Playout Monitoring & Compliance At NAB 2024

Monitoring vendors are focusing more than ever on quality and compliance at NAB 2024, incorporating AI tools with machine learning. The requirements of cloud storage and IP based distribution loom larger than ever before, with greater modularity and more scope for purchase of standalone products, while also catering for centralized control and management.

Monitoring of playout and transmission is a regular staple of NAB Shows, in some ways steeped in legacy with probes and file based tools, yet at the same time the field has had to adapt to the era of streaming and the big themes of broadcasting today. At NAB 2024 these themes are cloud, IP transformation, and remote live broadcasting, especially sports, all underlined by AI, involving various forms of neural network based machine learning.

Compliance is more critical than ever, extending increasingly into the realm of content, which is taking monitoring into greater depths with demands for identifying infringing material, such as rude words or hate speech, in near real time. This is one area where machine learning AI is being employed to converge on objects within audio or video that contravene regulations or norms.

AI is also being applied in the more traditional realm of viewing experience by enabling the user’s perspective to be assessed more accurately through analysis of parameters such as resolution, latency, jitter, playout startup delay, and buffering. In this context AI is helping improve the matching between Mean Opinion Scores (MOS) as traditionally collected by subjective surveying of user panels, and measures of those parameters as surrogates of the experience. That enables use of costly and time consuming human panels to be greatly reduced, although perhaps not entirely eliminated because there is still a need to keep on calibrating the AI models.

One discernible trend this year is a flattening out of monitoring portfolios so that they can be deployed as individual units as required, allowing for greater cherry picking, and yet at the same time ensuring they are well integrated into single management and control platforms. While it is not clear how much cherry picking is going on, there is certainly an emphasis on support for standards that are relevant for monitoring, notably the SMPTE 2110 suite defining how to transmit digital media over an IP network. That suite is widely used to transmit quality related information, inevitably with a slight bandwidth cost.

US based monitoring specialist Actus Digital is one to have noted this trend and acted upon it over the last year especially. “Not only have we introduced two new standalone products, Actus MV Multiview and Actus AI - Media Insight, but we’ve separated all six of our specialty use-cases into affordable standalone products that can be combined on one platform for added value,” said Actus Senior VP Ken Rubin.

Another dedicated vendor in the video QC (Quality Control) field, Interra Systems, underlined the importance of covering all the angles and being able to address all requirements as a one stop shop, while agreeing that modularity was important. “We are committed to ensuring that content looks stunning and performs flawlessly on every screen, and our comprehensive quality assurance products help achieve just that by testing every aspect of content — from video and audio quality to QoS, QoE, captions, and standards compliance,” said Anupama Anantharaman, Vice President of Product Management at Interra Systems.

Likewise Bridge Technologies, headquartered in Oslo, Norway, has altered its stance this year to distinguish the different areas of monitoring more clearly. “Last year, we took our ‘Bridge Show’ to Vegas,” said Simen Frostad, Chairman of Bridge Technologies. “The Bridge Show was something we started during lockdowns: a live talk show produced by us in-house every week. But last year our booth was so busy with people that we realized we really needed to devote the space and time to engaging with customers – existing and potential – on a one-to-one basis. So the daily show will be gone, and instead our booth will more clearly ‘zoned’; highlighting the role of our probes in each part of the broadcast process.”

The most visible change this year though, according to Frostad, is final industry acceptance that the era of IP has truly arrived and is no longer a vision of the future. “In previous years a lot of our efforts have been on working as ‘IP evangelists’ for the industry generally,” said Frostad. “Now that IP has been truly embraced, we can focus more on showcasing how important IP monitoring is, and how it can be deployed across the full broadcast chain, not just in distribution but in the production sphere also.”

It is in this context that all monitoring vendors seem to be underscoring not just the breadth of their ranges, but also the depth of each individual probe in terms of functionality and network insight.

Telestream, as a vendor that also covers streaming and distribution, likes to emphasize how monitoring can be integrated with transmission to improve quality. The company has integrated its monitoring platform with streaming operations around ST 2110, SRT and NDI protocols, which have all become critical components of many IP media streaming services. SRT is designed for low latency distribution by reducing delays associated with IP packet retransmission, while NDI was developed by workflow software developer NewTek for transmission of video and audio data over IP networks. NDI was designed for integration of cameras, computers, and other devices into a network for video production and live streaming.

Vendor Focus

Actus Digital (Booth W2059) is attempting to reinforce its standing at the apex of Compliance-Logging/QA Monitoring at NAB 2024 with a focus on affordable coverage of the whole video chain, according to Actus Senior VP Ken Rubin. “We aren’t holding anything back. Customers are getting complete systems at great prices,” said Rubin.

Actus is showing its interactive multiviewer at NAB 2024.

Actus is showing its interactive multiviewer at NAB 2024.

The company has modularized its products further rather than presenting them solely as a one stop shop. The highlight this year is the launch of two new standalone products, Actus MV Multiview and Actus AI - Media Insight.

The multiviewer presents all the feeds on a single screen, making it easier to identify any issues or errors that may arise. It allows users to monitor video and audio quality, detect errors, and perform various analyses on the content being broadcast in real time.

Actus AI – Media Insight then extends content monitoring into production and editing by allowing search by keywords, date/time and extracted metadata, with help from machine learning algorithms. It can be used for creation of clips and social media content on the fly.

Telestream (Booth W1501).  The company’s main playout monitoring & compliance deliverable at NAB 2024 is its Inspect Monitoring Platform, designed for the ST 2110, SRT, and NDI protocols for detection, diagnosis, and optimization of content of varying qualities across all platforms and protocols. The company makes a big play of its integration of AI to combine monitoring and QoS with workflow automated as far as possible around key compliance and QC attributes. New features of note this year include IMF (Interoperable Master Format) Compliance, enhanced with Netflix Photon support to meet emerging streaming standards. Photon is Netflix’ implementation of IMF written in Java.

Telestream will show new AI powered variants of a selection of their highly regarded product portfolio.

Telestream will show new AI powered variants of a selection of their highly regarded product portfolio.

Also new from Telestream is support for the Harding FPA Test, based on a set of guidelines recommended by various standards bodies such as ISO to screen for spatial aspects of content and sharp variations in colour or light such as flashes that may trigger epileptic attacks, or vertigo in some susceptible people, of which there are more than is commonly appreciated.

The company has also introduced Dolby E Presence and Dolby Vision Validation, designed to ensure consistent high quality audio. Dolby E is an algorithm that allows 6 to 8 channels of audio to be compressed into an AES3 digital stream that can be stored as a standard stereo pair.

Telestream has also added rude word detection, which is increasingly required to apply levels of word screening deemed appropriate for different audiences, with variations between countries. The use of machine learning helps tailor this to specific requirements.

A key theme for Telestream at the 2024 NAB Show will be the introduction of a number of their products as new cloud-native variants, . ‘Qualify As A Service’ – a new cloud version of their Qualify QC product will be amongst them.

Interra Systems (Booth W2720).  While introducing new products at NAB 2024, Interra Systems will also take the opportunity to listen and talk to clients and visitors at the event, according to Anupama Anantharaman, Vice President of Product Management.

“We hope the direct interaction with customers and partners will allow for real-time feedback and validation, but beyond showcasing our products, NAB 2024 will help us identify emerging trends and customer preferences,” said Anantharaman. “This information can help us make informed, strategic decisions and product development efforts. And of course, we hope to network with other companies in our eco-system, industry experts, and potential business partners to expand our professional network.”

Interra will be showing an upgraded version of its file-based QC system with more quality checks.

Interra will be showing an upgraded version of its file-based QC system with more quality checks.

Product highlights include the company’s file-based QC system, which has been “enhanced with more quality checks, comprehensive HDR checks, and extensive auto-expansion support,” according to Anantharaman. “We continue to exploit machine-learning where optimal efficiency and accuracy can be realized.”

There is also the company’s suite of ORION systems on show, including ORION-OTT for linear, broadcast, and OTT delivery, and the ORION Central Manager (OCM) which traces service quality from different monitoring probes from a single dashboard. “Major updates that will be on display include dynamic ad insertion (DAI) monitoring, monitoring post server-side ad insertion (SSAI), and support for the monitoring of low-latency streams,” said Anantharaman.

Interra Systems’ ORION 2110 Probe for end-to-end monitoring of video quality in IP environments, will also be on show.

Bridge Technologies (Booth C4939).  The requirements of remote and distributed production have come to the heart of the company’s entire product range, according to Frostad. “All of our products are designed to facilitate remote access via any HTTP-5 browser, so that users can gain real-time insight into the performance of the network from anywhere in the world,” said Frostad. 

Norway’s Bridge Technologies claims to cover the whole of the broadcast chain with its range of monitoring probes.

Norway’s Bridge Technologies claims to cover the whole of the broadcast chain with its range of monitoring probes.

“That’s particularly pertinent in the field of production, with the VB440 facilitating real-time, distributed access for up to eight users on one unit – each able to customize their workspace on a browser screen – even a tablet – in the way that best suits their needs. For audio engineers particularly, we’ve developed tools to both downmix immersive audio configurations into stereo headphone preview, or isolate single channels for validation,” said Frostad.

Frostad argued that even though the VB440, the company’s IP production probe, had been available for many years now, it remained a source of differentiation. “The idea of using IP monitoring not just as a technical engineering tool, but as a tool that facilitates in-the-moment creative decisions, is quite groundbreaking,” Frostad insisted. “Audio engineers, camera painters and producers can all link-up from anywhere in the world and use the probe to visualize production and make creative decisions, live. Reducing rack space, monitor demand and energy draw, the VB440 combines the creative tools of dozens of pieces of equipment – often with greater depth of functionality than the original specialist equipment itself.”

Frostad also insisted Bridge had broken new ground with understanding of IP packet behaviour. “The depth of network insight granted by our VB330 remains a significant differentiator, but also, tools such as those relating to SCTE 104/35 ad insertion are crucial not just from a technical perspective, but in terms of supporting the strategic business case of a broadcaster, allowing not only more in-depth validation, inspection, and fault-finding, but also accountability reporting and proof-of-delivery to key stakeholders,” Frostad concluded.

Conclusion

The fingerprints imposed by that triumvirate of compliance, remote production and AI are clearly visible across many of the monitoring product ranges at NAB 2024. The primacy of IP has been noted by various vendors, as has the extension of QC to the content itself, as well as its presentation on the screen and through the speakers. Despite those comments about IP having come of age, there is also a sense of monitoring being in a state of flux still, awaiting further developments and certainly tuning to specific requirements, as the field continues to expand. There is also the increasing mobile dimension and advent of 5G Broadcast, which has not been mentioned specifically in this discussion but will have an impact on future upgrades and enhancements in the field. 

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