Essential Guide: IP for Mobile Production

November 3rd 2016 - 05:00 PM
By David Austerberry

IP networks have been at the heart of many broadcast operations for two decades and more. Editing uses commodity workstations and IP networks, as do playout operations. But live production has, until recently, been the preserve of SDI. The advances in IT, driven by the data centers that power the cloud, and the general move to virtualization, brings benefits that now make live, real-time broadcast operations possible in an all-IP environment. There is gathering momentum to consider IP-connected broadcast equipment instead of the tried and tested SDI, which has served the industry well since the introduction of digital video.

The outside broadcast vehicle is an ideal place to start with IP operations. For one, they are a manageable scale when compared with the rebuild of an entire broadcasting center.

Live UHD broadcasts are already a reality for some OTT providers. Over-the-air broadcast will follow, once all the transmission issues have been resolved. Mobile operators are at the vanguard of UHD coverage, with sports being the driver.

All-IP systems

Moving to all-IP radically changes the landscape. IP switches are a fraction of the size of SDI routers. The number of interconnecting cables is reduced. One 10G Ethernet connection can carry three 3G-SDI circuits, HD or compressed UHD. Multi-channel audio, communications and control can share Ethernet connections, simplifying connections to remote commentary boxes and the like.

Moving from SDI to IP offers an alternative which decouples the intimate connection between coding systems and the electrical interface that we have with SDI standards.

IP connections are duplex (bidirectional). Stage boxes can use a single Ethernet fiber to carry the inputs and outputs. The physical layer carrying the IP data is generally Ethernet. This can be twisted cable pairs, or fiber for higher data rates (10Gb and more) and long cable runs.

Ideally, the move to IP should lower costs, provide same facilities as SDI systems, and offer new possibilities.

Advantages for mobile

An IP infrastructure brings a scalability and flexibility to a truck that is not possible with an SDI system. Scale means IP can be used to build a large 32-camera truck.

Flexibility means a truck can be used for an HD production one day, and UHD the next without the need for time-consuming reconfiguration. For mobile operators, reconfiguration time is down time.

Format and standards upgrades can be made through software changes rather than re-cabling. As standards evolve, the operator can move from embedded audio to elemental streams without major hardware changes.

IP is On-air

IP trucks are on-air now, they are field-proven and being used to cover prestigious sporting events, where gear failure is not an option. IP infrastructure has been demonstrated to be a lighter weight, especially when compared with a quad-link UHD system. The commodity Ethernet switches and routers are designed for the high performance demands of today’s enterprise data centers. The scale of manufacture, and the pace of change means 40Gb and 100Gb equipment is becoming more affordable, with 10Gb being a step on the road.

IP in broadcast is no longer a science experiment. It offers real advantages, without necessitating changes to the operators’ familiar facilities and control surfaces.

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