Standards Breed Success With IP Media Infrastructures

FKT Magazin 3/2022
IP-based Production Systems
IP Workflows

By now it’s become clear that IP-Based infrastructures are the future of professional video production and distribution. More precisely, that future is now.

Major sporting events like the NFL Superbowl, various professional association football leagues (like the Bundesliga) and the Formula 1 race season all took advantage of packet-based video delivery in 2021 and even big media companies expanded their burgeoning OTT networks in this, the most cost-effective way, because the appetite for content seems insatiable and serving up that content quickly and reliably become the key to success with subscribers.  

What they all have in common is a dedication to the Internet Protocol (IP), taking advantage of a decentralized (distributed) network of physical and virtualized devices on a media network that can be used to route sources and connect remote workers wherever they might be located. It was 2017, at that year’s National Association of Broadcasters convention in Los Vegas, that large broadcasters began to earnestly consider packet-based file delivery for their media operations. Many equipment manufacturers talked about it in slick marketing presentations, but it was not being done in the real world. At ethe time the technology had been used for financial transactions and other enterprise-level data delivery systems for years earlier, but as the need for content began to grow, IP delivery started to make financial sense.

What has also become clear is that an automated, efficient, well-organized multi-delivery platform cannot happen without a strict adherence to standards. SMPTE 2110 is a suite of standards from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers that describes how to send digital media over an IP network. Everyone in the media industry is using it in one form or another and finding success.

Then there’s SMPTE ST 2022-6, which describes the agreed upon method for packetizing the entire SDI signal, enabling compressed and uncompressed video over IP. Broadcast production is beginning to take advantage of new capabilities for the transport and manipulation of high bit rate, uncompressed signals over an IP-network topology. These applications have been mostly for live/real-time productions, but the infrastructure works and files get to where they need to go in a totally automated way.  

SMPTE standards (ST 2022-6 & -7 and ST 2110 published in 2017), alongside industry forums and initiatives are driving new technological efforts that will reshape the broadcast facility. ST 2022-6 is best suited to contribution and distribution workflows and serves as the “onramp” standard for broadcasters adopting video over IP. And SMPTE 2022-7 (“Seamless Protection Switching”), which specifies the reconstruction of the original stream in case packets are lost in any of the paths. Switching from one path to the other occurs automatically and without impacting the content of the stream.

So, at the core, what we’ve learned with the IP transition is that standard ways of doing things, or protocols, are vitally important to make the entire ecosystem work. Technical success starts and stops with a strict adherence to standards. In addition, industry-supported technical schemes like NDI (A/V networking), AMWA (networking and automated production) DANTE and AES67 (audio networking), SRT (high-quality streaming), RIST (acceptable-quality streaming), RTMP and others are what keeps the engine running.  

The goal, of course, is achieving the same reliability and interoperability that the industry attained with SDI signals over coax and fiber— but with the added advantages of bi-directional communications and data recovery through a packetized stream over standard IP networking and low-cost Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS hardware.

Migration to an IP-based media production infrastructure begins with the idea that the systems integrator has to preserve existing operational workflows that users are accustomed to while simultaneously creating opportunities in the background where the flexibility of IP creates efficiencies and enhancements to grow and expand media production pipelines. On the surface, the transition seems logical straightforward, given the level of IP/IT-integration already present at many facilities. Yet both IT and broadcast technical professionals are in for a paradigm shift in concept, facility design and support practices. Careful planning is key here. The EBU has its own set of recommendations, but most are generally based on SMPTE’s suite. The European Broadcast Union, a technical standard group, worked early on the Sandbox Live IP project, which was a collaboration between Belgian public service broadcaster VRT, the EBU and several technology manufacturer partners like Grass Valley and Nevion (Sony bought Nevion in Sept. 2020). In 2016 they designed and built a Live TV production studio for a kids channel called “Ketnet.” At the time it was considered risky, so VRT wanted to test the waters without affecting its main audience. Lead engineers there called it “‘the first proof of concept of a complete live production that relies exclusively on IP.”

Design engineers used the SMPTE 2022-6, AES67/Ravenna, PTP and OpenFlow standards to make all of the systems interoperable, which made them more efficient in remote production (sending les people on site) and many of their processes were automated.

While accepting the 2016 EBU Award for Technology & Innovation, Simon Fell, Director of EBU Technology and Innovation, said “This project is a major step forward for broadcasting, which will start a revolution in program production infrastructure”. Boy, was he ever right. The EBU has also released a document describing what a “Media Node” needs to support in order to enable broadcasters and vendors to design, build, operate and maintain an IP architecture based on the SMPTE ST 2110 Standards.

One interesting note: the document says that “updates to IP facilities should maintain backward compatibility with previous versions in the last 5 years to allow the progressive evolution of systems.” This should be in the back of anyone’s mind that’s deploying an IP network and continues to update it as required.  

Designing and building an IP facility requires a renewed technological approach to IT-networking accompanied with a new mindset compared to those for traditional SDI-facilities. To truly understand what it takes to design, build and operate an IP-based professional media network, an understanding of what “real-time” (RT) IP is and how it is different from conventional SDI implementations (including file-based workflows or data storage) is also critical.

And for remote productions, don’t forget about latency and timing protocols.

The momentum behind IP is undeniable.
However, like all technology transformations, the transition from SDI to IP presents both opportunities and challenges. Media companies of all sizes and across all segments of the ecosystem are currently evaluating the merits and risks of moving operations to an IP infrastructure based on COTS equipment.

Remember that the point of transitioning from SDI to IP is to increase agility and efficiency in how you process and distribute audio and video files.

If you haven’t planned for it already – and in actuality not every facility or remote production company has – now’s the time to start