​Is IP Ready For Primetime? Net Insight has a view

Video over IP for live production is set to be the most pressing issue at IBC and beyond. At stake, a new methodology for transporting data from site to plant, around a studio and live to air. It promises cost savings in a move to COTS, a scalable path to 4K, HFR, HDR, object-oriented audio, 8K and practically anything else. In response, Net Insight argue that it is a misconception that live over IP is not proven, while admitting that IP based solutions have reached different levels of maturity for different aspects of production. Here’s the rest of what Alexander Sandstrom, Strategic Product Manager at Net Insight has to say:

AS: Many of our customers already use an IP based infrastructure for transporting live video. European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has provided their broadcast members with live video services over an IP infrastructure for years, Embratel in Brazil uses IP as the underlying technology in their media network and Swisscom Broadcast in Europe has built their contribution network on IP.

It is true that IP based solutions have reached different levels of maturity for different aspects of production. While IP live production has not reached mainstream adoption, as you can see from the examples above, innovative companies are using the technology and there is plenty of experience and knowledge to begin the shift to IP based live production today.

Any major technology shift has challenges, but when it comes to the shift to IP based live production the advantages definitely outweigh the challenges. It is actually more difficult to justify the status quo versus the shift. Combining live and file based workflows into the same infrastructure brings significant efficiency gains. In addition, IP-based live production brings increased flexibility and agility to the workflow with the potential for automation, leaving time for work that adds creative value to the production. The transition to all-IP is also an enabler for other technology shifts, such as the move to cloud-based media processing, which requires standards based IP and Ethernet transport technologies.

Broadcast Bridge: Are the risks of moving to IP live today over exaggerated? (that IT technology is not opaque to broadcast engineers and that real-time switching over IP is guaranteed to work?)

AS: Even as some areas of live production have challenges and risks, which we believe are greatly over exaggerated, these are often misinterpreted and do not take into account the evolution that has begun and the aspects that are already proven and ready for transition. It is true that some tasks, such as real-time video switching, have not yet reached maturity in standards based implementation. With media optimized IP transport equipment, hitless switching is available and is already well proven today. But lets not forget that the shift is not only technical. To get the benefits promised by IP, organizations and ways of working will need to change.

It is important to begin shifting today to transition in line with industry opportunity and to be ready for the continued evolution to IP. Standardization and interoperability are not yet fully defined but are expected to evolve in support of all IP-based production. This evolution will drive greater openness and reliability and will enable the entire live production environment to shift to IP-based technologies.

Broadcast Bridge: Is SMPTE 2022 the best standard for video over IP in the long term? And if not, where should the industry be looking next?

AS: To get the benefits that a shift to IP promises, it is crucial that the industry works together to build interoperable solutions. This allows broadcasters to pick and choose solutions as they like.

SMPTE 2022 is the most important standard for transporting video over IP today. We do believe that future standards will emerge within VSF to even further utilize the flexibility that IP brings. Similarly the move to IP also means that the industry needs to take IEEE and ITU-T standardization work, such as basic Ethernet and IP standards as well as synchronization solutions such as IEEE 1588, into consideration.

We also foresee that open source will play a role in the future of the broadcast industry. When moving to IP technology and software defined networking (SDN) we will see the broadcast industry using existing open source tools, such as virtualization software, cloud orchestrators, SDN controllers and virtual routers. But just like in the telecom space, the use of open source will be complementary to standardization.

Broadcast Bridge: How long will SDI remain part of the chain for most broadcasters?

AS: Replacing old technology tends to take longer than expected, and longer than the industry would like. SDI and IP based infrastructures will both continue to play important roles in live production, at least over the next five years or so. We will probably still see SDI based technology being used a decade from now, but by then it will play a diminishing role and workflows, technologies and tools will be fully focused on IP based live production.

Broadcast Bridge: To what extent is the move to 4K production bound up in the migration to IP? Will 4K accelerate the move towards IP in this space?

AS: Quadrupling SDI infrastructure to move from HD to 4K productions is a solution commonly used in commercial operations today. While this provides a reliable solution for 4K on top of existing infrastructures, it is far from optimal in terms of scalability. For 4K to move from a technology used for selected live events to something used across all production, the infrastructure needs to have efficiency that is only provided by an all IP environment.

The media industry is already taking its first steps to move to all-IP live production environments. While there are challenges still to be solved, there is a sense of urgency and the move to 4K is top of mind for the majority of broadcasters and operators today. And, while 4K is one of the drivers for moving to IP, we have noticed that workflow agility is truly at the core of the transformation, rather than 4K.

Broadcast Bridge: Is the lack of standards and vendor interoperability a long term barrier to adoption of video over IP?

AS: While there is still work to be done on interoperability, we believe that the efforts being made through SMPTE 2022 and projects such as VSF TR01 for JPEG2000 interoperability are going to eliminate the long-term barriers for adoption of video over IP. Of course to achieve the promised benefits of moving to IP live production, having interoperable solutions is key. All industry players recognize this and are working to solve the remaining challenges.

Broadcast Bridge: What is the best compression technology for working with video over IP at 4K or higher resolutions?

AS: When it comes to compression, interoperability is again crucial. Open and standardized compression technologies will be key in the future. While there might be room for proprietary solutions to address selected needs, our view is that interoperable technologies are the way to go.

For high quality contribution and content acquisition, JPEG2000 will continue to be the best technology out there. The interoperability work being conducted through VSF TR01 will make it more relevant than ever, in particular when moving to 4K and IP live production environments. Benefits such as the possibility to carry out multiple encode/decode steps in a production chain without introducing artefacts and reducing image quality is, and will continue to be, one of the main reasons to adopt JPEG2000 solutions for high quality content such as 4K.

Furthermore, niche content contribution and acquisition using public infrastructure such as the Internet, is becoming more common. There is therefore a need for efficient compression technologies for lower capacity contribution links. Standardized encoding solutions that allow for interoperability will become more and more important. For instance, H.264 has taken an important role in niche content contribution and acquisition today. There have been large infrastructure investments made in H.264, which means a shift to H.265/HEVC will take time, but it will more than likely become the future technology of choice for niche content.

With mature mass-market solutions, from chipsets to software, H.264 and H.265 have their obvious place in the future. Drawbacks such as quality reduction with multiple encoding and decoding steps are offset by the quality benefits on lower quality links. This includes use cases where cost and reach are more important than the highest quality. 

Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series on IP technology. The second article (from EVS) will appear on Tuesday, August 12th.

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