Hardware Infrastructure Global Viewpoint – March 2022

Cloud Human Interface Control

Although we started to separate the control interface from the signal processing over twenty years ago, this innovation has enabled broadcasters to adopt on-Prem and Cloud processing with much greater ease. But how do we solve the control latency challenges?

Variable and unpredictable latency is the greatest challenge facing broadcasters moving to IP processing. ST2110 has dealt with this by using PTP and keeping buffers small, but other systems, specifically those that stream into the cloud will inherently suffer some form of delay. Latency in itself is not disastrous, but what is challenging is variable latency.

Many broadcasters are now taking seriously the idea of keeping media in the cloud. The ingress and egress costs can be easily minimized by reducing the number of transfers, thus not only optimizing costs but also the time taken for ground to cloud transfers. There are vendors who can transfer real-time video and audio to and from the cloud, but good engineering sense tells us that reducing the frequency of transfers makes for better optimized systems.

Cloud computing resource has expanded beyond all recognition over the past few years. What was once just a collection of file servers, storage, and software networking, has now transitioned into some seriously advanced and powerful infrastructure. GPUs and FPGAs are now available giving broadcasters the option of real-time video and audio processing with pay-as-you-go convenience. Even long-term storage using facilities such as AWS Glacier are giving on-prem LTO3 a run for its money.

In the right hands, and once in the cloud, specialist cloud-born software service providers can keep video latency reasonably low, to the point where it is usable for broadcasters. Although it would be premature to rejoice and suggest we’ve solved the latency problem for cloud video and audio processing, we’re certainly making some incredible advances in this domain.

The next latency challenge is now exposed, and that is one of control. Accessing websites has taught us that control response can be very fast. Although not perfect, the majority of user-click type controls generally respond very quickly and reliably. Although challenges still occur when using pseudo variable controls such as faders and rotary pots, haptic feedback can often help deliver a better immersive experience for the equipment operator.

In the world of OTT and media streaming, we often speak of the user immersive experience, but this should also be considered for users of professional equipment such as sound consoles and production switchers. The irony is we have been doing this since the dawn of television with natural feedback from physical controls delivering response times that are so short they are difficult to perceive.

As we move more to the cloud, there may be other methods of providing haptic feedback that help overcome some of the challenges of latency in control. A whole research community has emerged focusing on providing an improved user experience. And I’m sure, any vendor providing control interfaces is best placed to solve latency challenges through haptics to deliver the ultimate user experience for professional equipment.