2017 NAB Show Review

Two major developments that stood out for me this year - the acceptance that IP won’t solve all problems, and that Imagine Communications is making source code available to their clients.

IP is certainly here to stay, and as we move from artisan provider to full blown production lines, IP is finding its place. In general, manufacturers accept this and are embracing the idea, but they are mostly taking a pragmatic approach with their solutions.

Many are pointing out the cost of enterprise grade IP COTS routers, but also acknowledge the best way of routing UHD and 4K is with IP. With each SDI-12G taking four coaxial cables, the size of routing matrices soon balloons with exponential velocity.


It’s easy to adopt a nostalgic approach to baseband SDI and the good ‘ole days of television when we didn’t have to worry about compression. But we should remember that television is a compression system by definition, even with SDI. We take an infinitely varying scene, sample it at frame rate, and then further sample it into lines and pixels, and that’s before we look at bandwidth limiting. In effect, we’ve taken an infinite amount of data, and compressed it into 1.4Gbps for HD.

Jeff Moore from Ross Video reminded me that one of the problems with chroma key, in the early days of SD-SDI, was that the chroma was 4:2:2 subsampled, causing all kinds of problems with fringe aliasing and interference. In PAL, NTSC and SECAM we didn’t see this because the chroma keying was processed in RGB, effectively 4:4:4.

Compression is Our Friend

Adding mild lossless compression to UHD/4K with a view to transferring video through IP routers is easily achieved and solves the problem of maxing out SDI-routers and overloading axles on OB trucks. We shouldn’t be afraid of compression, we’ve been doing it all our broadcasting lives.

OpenGear, provided by Ross Video, empowers newcomers and solution providers to deliver hardware to market quickly and with minimal risk. A well-defined chassis and interface format allows designers to focus on building a card to solve a specific problem, without having to be concerned with power supplies, metalwork design and ethernet/IP controls.

Grass Valley is focusing heavily on IP integration with Cisco routers, with Michael Cronk further enforcing the idea that SDI routers are simply not big enough, and fail when we look at the issues around scalability. Recent projects include networking a SMPTE-2110 system together between San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Dublin.

IT Innovation

Video bandwidths and sources are only going to increase, and as they do IP routers can scale to meet the needs of broadcasters. It is possible to distribute baseband video over fiber, but this would require specialist hardware. Why not just sit on the back of the IT wave of innovation? Packet switching using IP is significantly easier than signal switching with SDI at these densities. 10G and 40G IP connections are in use, and 100G backbones really open the innovation door for broadcasters.

IP benefits from compression and Grass Valley have invested heavily in investigating video codecs. Tico compression offers 4:1 visually lossless compression with only eight or nine lines of video delay, making real-time cloud video processing viable.

Although upbeat about IP delivery, Tim Felstead of SAM, adopted a refreshingly pragmatic view of the IP revolution, especially when delivering working systems in real broadcast centers. Going against the tide slightly SAM have decided not to use micro-services, a new way of configuring audio and video processes to deliver playout and transmission systems. Felstead advised micro-services can’t guarantee deterministic services (contrary to some other views).

Expensive Network Engineers

And he said we must be careful in assuming IT engineers cost less than broadcast engineers, citing a recent study advising ten milliseconds of data loss in a financial services network can cost ten million dollars of lost trading revenue. The bottom line is, there is a lack of IT Network engineers as many of them are working in financial services as they can earn big money.

It’s all well and good having lots of cloud and on premise servers at your fingertips, but controlling them in a meaningful way is extremely difficult. Especially when remote systems use different operating systems from the host control. It’s very difficult to Remote Desktop into a Linux server from a Windows host.

John Hickey, Senior Director KVM Business at Black Box gave an impressive demonstration of seamless connection to a variety of cloud and virtual computers. Their KVM extension systems simplify the workspace giving users a better working environment and improving system security at the same time.


Many manufacturers have identified the power of the cloud to collaborate. Both EVS and Avid pushed this, extending the idea of Google-Docs collaboration, that is two or more people can edit a document at the same time. Cloud is the enabling technology behind media collaboration and vendors are looking at exploiting it to facilitate international teams.

Workflow efficiencies is the latest buzz-phrase with Harmonic promoting their orchestration and end to end solutions, with the ability to integrate third party services. Many vendors have now caught onto the idea that they can’t do everything, and will facilitate and promote third party integration.

One of the principle reasons for “going IP” is it gives us the opportunity to review our working practices, review them and develop new processes that automate workflows. There were many vendors who didn’t get this, but there were a few exceptional ones that did.

What CEO’s Want

Ooyala have centered themselves as the go-to company to help you review and improve your working practices, and challenge assumptions that engineers may have made over many years. As well as providing workflow analysis, they commissioned a report to show how CEO’s think, and what they are trying to achieve with their businesses.

True Innovation

Imagine Communications have truly innovated by providing their micro-services source code to clients. But CPO Brick Eksten went to great lengths to confirm they are not open-sourcing their software. He passionately believes in education and providing the source code was a way he sees of training engineers on how their systems work, providing transparency and flexibility to broadcasters.

Although the source code is available to clients, there is a big focus on security and audit trails to stop code plagiarism. Broadcasters can develop the thousand micro-services already available and even send them back to Imagine for testing and validation.

This was the single most impressive innovation for me at the 2017 NAB show. It hits the sweet spot between commercial obligations, freedom to learn and removing the dark cloak of secrecy around software services. If I was a CTO or CEO of a broadcaster, buying Imagine would be a no-brainer. I know I’ll be able to get hold of the micro-services source code and develop my own bespoke solutions if I need to, but I can just run with Imagine’s product if I want an out of the box solution.

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