Hardware Infrastructure Global Viewpoint – July 2016

Broadcasters Migrate To IP, But Are Doing So Carefully

While the benefits of moving video and audio as Internet Protocol (IP) packets are well known, broadcasters, that now predominantly rely on SDI interconnectivity, remain cautious to wholesale implementation.

At this year’s NAB 2016 Show, a large number of manufacturers announced support for native IP interfaces—from cameras to production switchers to servers and routers—so the required technology is now becoming available to begin implementation.

We spoke to several companies that make video routing switchers, the key piece of technology that will facilitate the transition, to learn how the transition to IP is progressing and when broadcast facilities might be all non-SDI based. The sooner broadcasters migrate, the quicker they will gain access to increased control, scalability, and agility.

While manufacturers' product strategies are different, they all believe their customers will use a phased-in approach that will occur over several years. The transition for stations will make their infrastructures more cost-effective and resolution-agnostic, while providing additional flexibility in how they send content, control remote or in-house equipment and manage workflows. In addition, Cat-6 cabling costs far less than SMPTE SDI cable.

“These advantages include leveraging of IP economies of scale, format agnosticism, reduction of cabling, scalability and business agility,” said Mark Hilton, vice president of infrastructure products, Grass Valley. “This last one is probably driving the early adopters more, which promised to allow for future adoption of new formats and delivery of new services quickly as business opportunities are presented.”

There are some facilities that have already begun experimenting with IP and have reported success. In fact, broadcasters like ESPN, NBC Sports, and remote production companies like Game Creek Video and NEP are some of the major organizations that have been using IP at the core of their facilities since 2014.

Utah Scientific offers a family of IP gateway input and output cards that provide two-way conversion of SDI video signals and SMPTE-2022 signals over a 10G Ethernet connection.

Utah Scientific offers a family of IP gateway input and output cards that provide two-way conversion of SDI video signals and SMPTE-2022 signals over a 10G Ethernet connection.

Possibilities Are Endless

“The key advantage is really the future of possibilities,” said Scott Barella, CTO, Utah Scientific. “As you work with the signals, in unexpected ways you start to see the power of a bidirectional construction set. With SDI, it's very straight forward, but it does require an enormous amount of cables. What I see, over time, is a reduction of coax and much simpler connection schemes using IP. It's not so much that one cable does it all, but suddenly you have genlock, video, audio, ancillary data, as well as registration and discovery in one cable.”

“There will certainly be more as time goes along because the cable can not only transmit but also receive,” he said, “so when engineers get past the raw functionality of the signals, there will be more possibilities going forward that we may not have thought of just yet. The real power that will be leveraged at a typical television station won't be necessarily the advancement of technology but a whole new generation of video engineers that will bring their IP skills to the table.”

The folks at Evertz Microsystems, which has led the developed of the Adaptive Sample Picture Encapsulation (ASPEN) initiative for IP-centric infrastructures that is supported by a number of other companies, said several broadcasters have already implemented IP into their facilities. The company’s Software Defined Video Networking (SDVN) solutions using IP have been a major part of these implementations, with applications ranging from live production to playout to uncompressed transport networks.

“IP provides local broadcasters increased flexibility, scalability, and agility,” said Mo Goyal, director of product marketing at Evertz Microsystems. “The landscape for the local TV is quickly changing. Delivering content to multiple platforms and new formats (like Ultra HD) are rapidly becoming challenges that need to be addressed. Leveraging an IP infrastructure enables the local broadcaster to meet these challenges.”

Cost Is A Barrier

However, current costs of an IP infrastructure may be prohibitive for the local broadcaster. Many will await the lower-cost IP solutions that will develop over the next few years. When looking to deploy [IP solutions], chief engineers must consider both the scale and facility requirements to be sure IP is deployed where it makes sense. For today, a hybrid installation allows the local broadcaster to pick and choose the most cost-effective (and future ready) solution.

To support early adopters with flexible alternatives, Evertz has delivered a number of media gateways that were designed to migrate from SDI to IP. This includes the 570IPG, an external media gateway that encapsulates 18 3G/HD/SD into IP over multiple 10GE; EQX-IP18-IPG and EQX-OP18-IPG, which are input and output modules respectively that fit into any EQX router (Evertz Core SDI Routing platform). Evertz recently introduced the evEDGE platform, which will provide high-density gateways and compute blades that can be used for virtualized processes.

In addition, Evertz’ MAGNUM, VistaLINK (network management system), and inSITE (big data analytics engine) provide broadcasters comprehensive telemetry tools to easily manage and maintain their systems in a similar manner to their SDI infrastructures.

“The key drivers for implementing IP have been flexibility, scalability, and agility to meet the rapidly changing landscape of broadcasting,” said Goyal, adding that they have over 50 global installations using Evertz SDVN infrastructures today. “As consumers are changing how they consume content, broadcasters need to be nimble to meet these needs. IP opens the door to allow broadcasters to re-think how they are building facilities by using non-linear workflows and virtualized resources allowing them to maintain a creative edge while becoming operationally efficient.”

Grass Valley, makers of the NVision line of routing switchers, said that among their global customers very few broadcasters have implemented IP as a replacement for their SDI infrastructure for their studios or even as the main facility routing infrastructure.

The Grass Valley GV Node delivers a broadcast centric, real time, distributed-edge routing and IP processing solution that supports IP and SDI workflows with vertically accurate switching and integrated processing.

The Grass Valley GV Node delivers a broadcast centric, real time, distributed-edge routing and IP processing solution that supports IP and SDI workflows with vertically accurate switching and integrated processing.

“Of course IP has been used for years for file transfer and control plane applications,” said Grass Valley’s Hilton, “but when we are now talking about IP trends we usually mean replacement of SDI completely. This will take some time yet to happen.”

Grass Valley currently offers several products that are “IP fluent.” One product developed specifically for the transition from SDI to IP is the GV Node Real Time Processing and Distributed Routing Platform. This product combines the functions of a hybrid (audio + video) router with a full range of signal processing functions, including multiviewers, along with IP aggregation that allows all of the up to 144 video signals per GV Node to be made available on high-speed IP aggregation links. This then allows a distributed network of routing and processing to be constructed. The company said its GV Nodes can be connected directly to one another or through a COTS IP switch or switches to enable the system to grow as required.

Implementation Challenges

Of courses, implementation is not easy when trying to keep a station on air during the transition period. Careful planning is required.

“The challenges surrounding the implementation of IP into an all-SDI facility lie in the management of the financial and technological risks during the transition,” said Tim Felstead, Head of Product Marketing, Snell Advanced Media (SAM). “This is particularly true for businesses operating in live production. Customers don’t want to risk their operations on a technological whim, so a transition path is vital. Added to this, there is still a lot to understand around when the optimum moment to make the switch from a financial perspective, which needs to be managed carefully. Broadcasters should opt for equipment that allows them to make steady steps in the transition, to maintain the reliability and quality of the signal.”

To this end, SAM has developed products that offer a risk-free transition path for customers migrating from SDI to IP. SAM routers, switchers and modular processing all allow the gradual replacement of interfaces from SDI to IP. In using open standards that are interoperable with others already, customers can move forward with the migration without changing operator interfaces. A Kahuna production switcher operates like a Kahuna, whether it’s in IP or SDI. The same can be said for the Sirius 800 router and IQ Modular solutions. The control is unchanged, it’s simply the signal interface type that differs.”

The SAM enterprise-level Sirius 800 is a family of multi-format, expandable routers that offer complete I/O flexibility covering SDI, AES, MADI, 4K and IP.

The SAM enterprise-level Sirius 800 is a family of multi-format, expandable routers that offer complete I/O flexibility covering SDI, AES, MADI, 4K and IP.

There’s also a cost issue when moving to IP and the need for new types of IT-centric hardware and software to make it happen.

“Today, implementing an IP infrastructure will cost more than an SDI infrastructure,” Grass Valley’s Hilton said. “How much will depend on the particular facility and how much redundancy is required. Many facilities are starting with islands of IP, which then connect to their current SDI core via IP-to-SDI gateway products. At Grass Valley we have implemented native IP into our primary terminal products such as our cameras, production switchers and video servers. This helps to simplify the actual implementation but still several aspects such as timing, bandwidth allocation and security need to be considered carefully. The technology and solutions are now available to make this transition but it’s still fairly new and not many have the necessary experience with the technology to avoid some of the potential traps.”

Utah Scientific’s Barella said while an IP infrastructure is going to be a bit more expensive than a traditional SDI layout today, the costs will go down over time much like we have seen in the past especially when we transitioned from analog to digital SDI. And IP standards are critical to industry-wide adoption.

“At the core of what is needed is SDI to IP conversion gear that is using AIMS TR-03/04, which is also known as SMPTE 2110 currently in draft stage,” he said. “It's really AIMS that brings a number of critical standards to bear and now over 35 companies have endorsed the standards approach by joining AIMS. To me, the key is that we have all endorsed a single studio SDI replacement standard in the AIMS mission statement and roadmap.”

Utah Scientific is working on a new way of looking at signal conversion as a means to smooth the IP migration.

“Because our routing products exist in the very core of many broadcast facilities, we see them as a vital asset to stations,” Barella said, “In fact, we are working on ways to internally convert the SDI signals to IP, but also maintain the current HD/3G routing infrastructures. It saves broadcasters the need to externally convert the signals using 2-5 RU frames but instead uses the internal SDI fabric of our routers to convert. We believe, like evolutions in the past, that IP will be built up in 'islands' and our routers will be able to be used in ways that maintain the SDI plant while growing the IP plant.”

How Soon Will The Transition Occur?

So, how soon will the industry embrace the advantages of an all-IP infrastructure for all of their production and distribution needs? It depends upon the broadcaster and the particular business model they are pursing.

Grass Valley said it is planning for about 50% of the current SDI Enterprise class market to have transitioned to some form of IP by 2020.

“Complete replacement of SDI will take much longer in our opinion,” Hilton said.

Evertz thinks the transition will happen sooner than many people think. As it is already supporting more customers moving to IP than any other routing switcher manufacturer.

“The transition to IP is happening now and continues to gain traction,” Evertz’s Goyal said, adding that today, the core elements of an IP facility are available and in use globally. This includes high capacity switch fabrics (e.g. Evertz EXE-VSR and 3080IPX) and SDN Orchestration and Control (e.g. MAGNUM SDVN). “This is being driven by the quickly evolving landscape that broadcasters operate in. As such we are currently at the starting point of the transition, where the larger broadcasters have begun to migrate to IP as the business case justifies the move. The other factor for moving to IP is that we are also entering the next phase of SDI replacement. With new formats (4K and 8K) quickly becoming available, broadcasters (of all sizes) need to choose. We envision a complete transition to IP will occur over the next five years.”

Others, like SAM, think the notion of ubiquitous IP infrastructures is a bit farther away.

“It could be the case that the industry is never totally IP, but instead more of a hybrid market for many years to come,” said SAM’s Felstead. “We still have SD television and will need to manage legacy equipment for some time due to investment cycles. For many broadcasters, the cost implications and financial risks of undertaking a complete system and technology overhaul prevents them for doing so, resulting in many electing to do a partial investment in IP. Again, it comes back to recognizing what is going to enable the broadcaster to best serve their business and customers.

Interestingly, some customers, like NEP The Netherlands, have invested in IP for remote production, but kept SDI at the heart of their system.

“IP is undoubtedly provoking a lot of debate and discussion amongst broadcasters, who are interested in understanding how a transition from SDI might benefit their facilities,” Felstead said. “The majority of broadcasters are naturally cautious about investing in IP wholesale immediately, but many are undertaking trials and tests to establish proof points and clarity about how it will work for them from a technology and cost perspective. We are seeing more of a controlled and measured approach, with more broadcasters making a part-investment in IP to suit to their needs. The trend suggests broadcasters are building up to making greater investment in IP, but the timescale around this is still unclear.”

“We are seeing some early adopters put IP to use in their facilities but in areas of their operation that are not as risky as others,” said Utah Scientific’s Barella. “For example, one of our customers is using an IP conversion for use in a monitoring wall. While this is certainly rudimentary, the engineering staff is able to dig in to the full chain from SDI to IP without jeopardizing their direct air product. And they get to take it apart, and dissect the systems to understand the underlying IP technologies and to manipulate it.”

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