​IP for Live Production: The Case for ASPEN

The great promise of IP is to create a truly open and interoperable environment for the smooth plug and play of best of breed technologies. A bit like SDI in fact, but with greater potential for economic and creative benefit. There are a number of overlapping initiatives trying to solve the same problem: IP in the Live Production environment. Some fuse proprietary technologies with open standards, others are attempting to work with a mix of standards and technical drafts before committees at SMPTE. There isn’t one which has all the pieces of the puzzle to genuinely claim to be fully open, end-to-end and standards based. Here we take a close look at one of them, the ASPEN initiative, founded by Evertz and backed by over 30 end-users and manufacturers.

Could you update us please on membership for ASPEN and a recap of its aims.

Mo Goyal, Director - Product Marketing, Evertz Microsystems: The ASPEN Community formed at IBC 2015 has been growing. The objective of the Community is to provide an open format that is standards-based to the industry. The other objective is to provide interoperability amongst many vendors to complete the entire IP Live Production. The Community consists of camera, production switcher, graphic engine, production server, infrastructure, test and measurement manufacturers. The Community also includes end users and system integrators who have started to deploy IP solutions based on ASPEN. From our perspective we have engaged a cross section of the industry to deliver a working IP solution.

We have a growing membership of over 30 end-users and manufacturers. The current list is: Abekas, AJA Video Systems, Broadcast Pix, ChryonHego, Cinegy, Coherent Video Systems LLC, CSP, Inc., Deltacast, Diversified Systems, Discovery Communications, Dome Productions, Edit Share, Embrionix, Evertz, FOR-A, Game Creek Video, Hitachi Kokusai Electric Limited Inc., I-MOVIX, LEADER Electronics Corp., Macnica America Inc., Matrox Electronic Systems Ltd., Myricom, NBC Sports Group, NEP Group Inc., Neutrik, PacketStorm, PHABRIX, Providius Corp, Ross Video, Sony, Tektronix, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, The Weather Channel, and Vizrt.

What is the difference between AIMS and ASPEN or the TICO Alliance or the Sony Live Production?

MG: The ASPEN Community has been focused on promoting and showing interoperability of ASPEN. ASPEN, an open format that is standards based, uses the industry proven MPEG-2 Transport Streams (ISO/IEC 13818-1). ASPEN, as defined by SMPTE RDD 37, provided the definition of carrying uncompressed UHD (4K and 8K), 3G, HD and SD video format over MPEG-2 Transport Stream (TS). The industry has used MPEG-2 TS for years, and honestly will be for many more years. It’s not going away. So, why not leverage that knowledge and experience? The members of the ASPEN Community appreciate that this is a valid choice today thus can quickly deploy solutions to help our customers transition to IP.

There’s a misconception that ASPEN is proprietary, and that’s not true. The purpose of submitting an RDD to SMPTE is to publicly disclose how to expand the existing MPEG-2 TS standard to include uncompressed video. There’s no royalty or license fee associated with it. We felt the industry would benefit using ASPEN and the years of knowledge of using MPEG-2 TS. Moving to IP is a challenge, but using proven techniques that have been vetted for years will help that transition. The members of the ASPEN Community see that benefit.

The big difference between AIMS and the ASPEN Community, is that we’ve used a proven standard and have deployed over 30 global installations using IP. We’re addressing the transition to IP now. AIMS is promoting TR-03 and TR-04 as a possible path for IP. But it’s not proven. It’s at an early phase with a lot of unanswered questions. Starting from scratch will pose a challenge. They have some optimistic views on when the industry will see a final solution. We’re not as confident at this point when (and if) it will happen and whether TR-03 (or TR-04) will look the same.

With TICO Alliance and Sony Live Production defining compression format for the live production, we’re taking a wait and see approach. Both have their benefits as compressed formats. ASPEN currently defines uncompressed video over TS, but as a framework can be expanded to include compression formats if required.

How are these groups overlapping (Sony and Evertz are working together for example to deliver an ASPEN solution to NBC Sports)?

MG: The main area where the groups overlap is that they all are trying to solution the same problem: IP in the Live Production environment. This is the biggest challenge for IP due to the nature of the application. Low latency, discrete, and reliable switching is required. All the approaches recognize that IP offers the opportunity move from the constraints of SDI to allow for independent video, audio, and metadata streams. The differences between the groups is how (and when) to deliver this.

What danger is there of all these groups competing?

MG: The danger is losing confidence and creating confusion for our customers. The industry has recognized the benefits of moving to IP. They want to employ it as quickly as possible, however they want to ensure they invest in a technology that will protect them in the future. The ASPEN Community was formed to help ease customer concerns and build confidence that an IP facility based on ASPEN addresses their concerns. With the growing install base, our customers have realized they are ready for the future of IP with ASPEN.

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