Marwan Al-Habbal, product manager, Matrox, discusses why a combination of both software and hardware is the right approach for building broadcast solutions.

The broadcast industry’s computation needs are dramatically increasing with demands for even more customised content, higher resolutions (4K) and wider repurposing of the original content to fit various devices.

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Marwan Al-Habbal, product manager, Matrox

With the advent of IT infrastructures, software-centric solutions have proliferated within broadcast environments.

A software-based broadcast solution entails an application running on hardware in a preconfigured PC platform.

This platform has traditionally been a physical machine with the paradigm now shifting towards a virtual machine in a broadcast datacentre.

In a homogeneous datacentre, the same pool of computation devices are dynamically allocated, expanded or contracted as needed.

In this context, software can be envisioned as completely hardware agnostic with CPUs being the only form of hardware computation; this has created a misleading perception of a software versus hardware dichotomy.

The reality is, software and hardware are intertwined when seeking high system efficiency.

Although CPUs are indispensable, general-purpose computation devices, they are an expensive choice when used for predictable recurring computational needs.

For example, a PC-based IP playout solution providing high bitrate contribution feeds has a core function of reading and decoding files from a mixed playlist and a secondary function of encoding and delivering them.

Current playout deployments have shown a fourfold increase in the number of systems required when CPUs are used for both file decoding and for H.264 delivery.

At scale, the quadrupling of power, rackspace and cost becomes a major concern.

For this particular application, CPUs are better suited for decoding the many different possible file formats, while offloading the predictable encoding task to an accelerator card.

The most favourable approach would be a scalable solution that provides the flexibility of software coupled with the performance of a purpose-designed hardware.

While the broadcast industry moves towards datacentres and IP, dedicated, purpose-built hardware accelerators can provide a flexible environment promoting highly-efficient workflows.

This content was first published at IBC 2016

The views expressed are those of the author.