With the migration from SDI to IP now firmly established, vendors and broadcasters have the opportunity to optimise the flexibility of their emerging solutions-based environments, writes David Davies.
It is arguable that the last 18 months have witnessed IP-based broadcasting and media production achieve maturity on a global level. With increased standardisation has come a more reliable, consistent and interoperable generation of IP solutions – and with that a greater confidence among end-users to accelerate or at least begin their migration from SDI.
All of which prompts the inevitable question: What next? Compliance with SMPTE ST 2110 has become increasingly essential, while adoption of the NMOS (Networked Media Open Specifications) is also destined to accelerate. Beyond their accommodation of these specifications, the emphasis will inevitably fall on manufacturers to deliver solutions that both provide valuable points of differentiation and support broadcasters as they embrace more flexible working models, including remote production. In an unpredictable economic climate, cost-efficiency will surely rise in importance once again.
For R&D teams, this is tending to translate to a developmental strategy which recognises that the speed and nature of IP migration will continue to vary. As Dave Letson, VP of Sales, Calrec Audio Ltd remarked: “A key driver with IP innovation is the fact that customers don’t necessarily want to move ‘lock, stock and barrel’ to IP. So a major priority for us has been to develop a suite of tools that make it possible [for them to grow their use of IP] and move different aspects across” in parallel with their own evolving requirements.”
IP innovation: Making IP ‘more attainable’
Many of the aforementioned strands can be seen to coalesce in one of the first major IP product launches to be announced in 2023. Described as a smaller version of the existing ImPulse, the new ImPulse1 IP audio processing and routing engine from Calrec is a 1U solution with DSP options ranging from 128 to 384 inputs. Designed for ST 2110 operations, ImPulse1 works with the recently introduced Argo Q and Argo S control surfaces and/or browser-based GUI Calrec Assist.
Read more IP Live Production
Letson confirmed the multiple design imperatives behind Calrec’s latest launch. “The Impulse1 is fantastic for the bigger jobs – it can be used with consoles of 2000 channels – but we realised there was a gap for IP in terms of the smaller, mid-range consoles that are the mainstay of news and [other] day-to-day TV production.” The new engine also chimes with the fact that “broadcasters are under pressure to improve workflows in the move to ST 2110 and reduce costs while still demonstrating ROI.”
For another company primarily associated with audio technology, Solid State Logic (SSL), another design impetus has been in play of late. “As an audio company, SSL has recently seen a fast-paced increase of IP where we connect to video equipment,” said Tom Knowles, Director of Product Management, SSL. “This sits very well alongside SSL’s System T and Network IO broadcast audio products. SSL’s entire broadcast range has been fully IP for audio routing and infrastructure for several years.”
He added that the company’s “choice to use IP – both Dante as a widely adopted technology stack, and standards such as AES67 and ST 2110 – was always about interoperability. Interoperability and the removal of large hardware routing requirements are the key advantages of IP for media, [and] we still hear concerns about the lack of plug-and-play operation with some standards-based approaches when looking at the whole industry.”
SSL continues to develop its ST 2110 offering, for example with the ability of System T’s routing GUIs to manage both Dante audio routing and ST 2110-30 multicast stream connection. Notes Knowles: “The ST 2110 stream browsing and connection management addition was added to further enhance the ST 2110 support on the Dante chipsets. You can use the console UI to dynamically connect signals of both transports, presented as audio channels, not multicast addresses. This is all managed from the console interface, and stored and recalled with the show-file.”
While acknowledging ST 2110’s impact on the adoption of IP “on the video side, and this always feeds conversations around audio,” there are still areas that Knowles would like to see addressed by technical standards efforts: “Specific audio requirements are often overlooked when there is a video focus. For example, there is currently no development for a generic stream creation API; this has a significant impact on how mono audio routing can be achieved. The solution often seems to be a hardware audio router or shuffler device, which in my opinion misses some of the elegance an IP system can bring.”
IP innovation: IP flexibility and virtualised solutions
Considering the notion that 2022 witnessed a new maturity for IP broadcasting on a global level, John Mailhot, Systems Architect for IP Convergence, Imagine Communications, responded: “What I see in the market is that IP and 2110 as a basis of design have become the standard idea for projects of a certain size – for example, over 512x512. It’s now the default design assumption [with the main likely exceptions being] that it only has to operate for a few years or there is no UHD angle. With smaller systems it might still be the choice to go SDI if the [requirements] are not really going to change. But if the customer plans to do UHD or expects to grow in the future then they are certainly going to evaluate rolling in as IP.”
In terms of the present momentum that he discerns around new IP projects, Mailhot pointed to several beneficial developments, including more “flexible hardware products – for example you might have something that starts out its life as a gateway, but then in a future version of a project can become a multi-viewer or an up/down cross converter. That ability to protect investments is helping more customers to embrace IP projects.”
There may also have been an uplift from the unexpected downtime occasioned by the pandemic. “Even as people were working from home, they had a great deal of time to plan what they were going to do,” said Mailhot. “There were a number of projects that were pretty thoroughly planned and ready to execute coming into 2022, and I’d say we see that trend continuing through ’23 as well.”
Other probable trends cited by multiple interviewees include a longer-term shift towards more reliance on virtualised system processing and management. To this end, and as part of the Audiotonix group alongside Calrec, SSL last year announced a cloud processing technology proof of concept (intended to be used across the main public cloud providers) that leverages Audiotonix patented x86 CPU optimal core processing technology and operates within a virtualised Linux environment optimised for low-latency throughput.
“Virtualisation and cloud by its nature uses IP,” said Knowles. “When it comes to public cloud, there is no multicast, so standards such as ST 2110 and the required multicast PTP are not possible. Other approaches that use unicast are more applicable. The virtualised solution uses cloud-compatible, software-defined real-time transport protocols to provide flexible and specific connections, with transport wrappers providing the necessary integrity. Contribution, distribution and monitoring feeds can be served by different interfaces, facilitating the specific requirements of each task.”
Meanwhile, the onus on manufacturers to deliver IP-based solutions that allow broadcasters to work effectively across different platforms and operations shows no signs of diminishing. Anupama Anantharaman is Vice-President, Product Management, Interra Systems, which specialises in QC and monitoring solutions for media content across the entire creation and distribution chain.
“I think 2022 was a significant year in the sense that the old ways of media creation and distribution have definitely been shaken up, with new needs emerging and [a requirement by many] to minimise production costs and achieve as much control as possible. The benefits of IP production are well-established, and it’s evident that there is a lot of demand for [compliance with] ST 2110,” she said, pointing to Interra Systems’ ORION 2110 PROBE solution for SDI-over-IP based workflows, which provides QoS and QoE monitoring of ST 2110 essence streams.
But inherent in this push for flexibility is a recognition that every organisation will chart its own distinctive route to IP. Some organisations will shift across in a concerted and fairly rapid fashion; others “will not be making the move outright, but will perhaps be transferring certain aspects to IP.” Hence it will continue to be of the utmost importance that vendors are ready to support the “whole range of approaches being taken to this transition”.