Through the industry awards they have won, and through the worldwide interest generally accorded to technology pioneers, Arena and Timeline have become the reference points for moving outside broadcasting into the promised land of IP.
What they have established is that nobody is going to take a pre-existing SDI truck, rip everything out and create a pure IP production machine. IP has to be the choice for future-proofing with UHD and for what may follow it, which is increasingly pushing production people to demand the ability to work with uncompressed footage.
The hybrid life of converting between SDI and IP will eventually come to an end thanks to the toolset offered by the green light standard SMPTE ST 2110, and key things like RFC 4175, which reduces the volume of data transported, and the real-time transport protocol (RTP) for moving video around an IP world.
Vendor co-operation in the areas of interoperability and compression are other vital factors.
The discussion points of the moment in OB sit beyond the truck’s tailboard in contribution and exchange, and around the use of mezzanine compression to squeeze high quality video through smaller pipes.
Timeline Chief Executive Dan McDonnell and Arena Deputy Director of Operations engineer Daf Rees laid out the bare fact that with HD you can do everything with SDI, but you cannot move into UHD without jumping to IP.
The reason glue products like gateway cards are still prevalent is simply because cameras have yet to yield IP straight out of the CCU. Many other vendors are also close to releasing IP upgrades.
“Once these external bits of kit come then that will make a full IP end-to-end workflow complete,” said McDonnell . “Our truck is a total uncompressed option. We do not think you need to run compression for capture and on-site work.”
Armed with bandwidth options, he is glad to have escaped the nightmares about 1000-squared SDSI routers. Timeline has an effective matrix size of about 2000 squares and could eventually go to 5000 and then 10000.
“The levels of matrix you can do in IP are infinitely larger than the SDI world” - Dan McDonnell
“We have launched a truck we hope will be with us for 10 years. We have not even scratched the surface of capacity in IP. We could double or treble the number of cameras. We launched in April and we were on the very cusp of ST 2110. Now, because EVS, Sony et al are talking up 2110 that has enabled us to work in a 3G uncompressed standard where we treat video, audio and data as separate streams. SMPTE 2110 is massive.”
Timeline still has hybrid routers, but at core the truck is an Arista switch.
“We have adopted a very flexible approach so we can grow and expand as emerging technologies come along. And another big advantage is the scalability. If we are on site and wanted to add five more galleries to the show we can easily do it. It is just a case of plugging into the switch with 100 Gig fibres. With IP there is no central piece of equipment, no matrix bay,” said McDonnell .
What about the tailboard? “We do need BNC video in/outs because we need to connect to everybody else.
“We do not have hundreds of videos running the whole length of the truck,” said McDonnell. “We can work natively throughout the truck, but there are the contribution issues as well as interconnecting.”
Arena’s Daf Rees is sure that IP is inevitable right through all the OB fleets. He said: “At the slowest pace it will be part of the truck renewal programme for all OB companies. It is the only way to build a big UHD truck because doing it in quad SDI is impossible. There will be a need for those SDI to IP converters for a good few years, although the move to IP is accelerating.”
Bandwidth and compression is a big subject for Arena. Rees said: “The notion of compression gets a lot of people excited. We have built systems that use TICO compression (4:1) so it takes a UHD signal and squeezes it down to 3 Gig, and this allows us to get three UHD signals into a 10 Gig IP link.
“There are two polarised camps. Other people will say you should try and maintain an uncompressed signal format but that means you need more than 10 Gig per UHD signal,” he added. “The question is, if the compression algorithm exists and it works, why not use it. That is our philosophy.”
The power of IP
TICO does not impact on the latency of the system, nor produce visual degradation artefacts. Rees is also a huge fan of ST 2110. He said: “It is the point at which the power of IP really started to shine. We have these essences floating around separately within the system and you can pick and choose what you want. That makes it an incredibly powerful system, and from now on everything we build will be 2110,” said Rees.
“There is a lot of talk about remote production but when we are covering the likes of Glastonbury or Springwatch, remote production is not a reality,” he added.
When the shoot leaves the tailboard, content reverts into everything Arena has been trying to escape. “That is something we are working on with other companies,” said Rees. “We want to improve the contribution side so it remains in the IP realm from acquisition right through to presentation and playout.”
SAM IP Product Manager Phil Myers pointed to two challenges, starting with contribution. He said: “When you talk about Premiership football and other big sport events typically the up links are baseband. There are still challenges in terms of UHD because a lot of these trucks are square division multi-split, which means you need to deploy some conversion,” he said. “So you end up with a considerably more expensive infrastructure. The broadcasters are putting fibre into a lot of sporting events and using it to get a signal back. BT has done a lot of this work around the Premiership,” he added.
“The most dominant use of the tailboard is interconnectivity with other OB companies. We are always going to need this requirement, and as we see a lot more IP OB trucks come out it will get a lot easier in terms of outward device connector.”
Myers pointed out that emission coders, whilst ‘work in progress’, are available from the likes of Harmonic and Ericsson. “So it is about investment rather than the technology cycle,” he added.
Another member of the ST 2010 fan club, Myers said: “SAM is very excited by what will come. Having multi essence flows is certainly going to break up some of the constraints we have in the IP world today in moving signals together.
“The 2010 toolset is going to evolve way beyond system timing and discovery devices (Part 10). We can think about uncompressed video flows and uncompressed audio, and beyond that there is extra work on the 2010 feature set,” he added.
He had in mind handling software devices in an IP world, and the timing for dealing with compressed video. What about remote production and the promise of reduced budgets that could appeal to broadcasters?
“The workflows we see there involve mezzanine compression, and then we have work around compressed audio. When you talk to the guys at Arena and Timeline, they have to take into consideration that some of their deliverables include either Dolby E or Dolby Atmos, so you have to be able to move the compressed audio,” said Myers.
“What we see from the early generation of IP trucks is that they are typically 2022-6 throughout or, in the case of Timeline the entire production is done in VSF TR-03, which is the foundation of 2110,” he added. “Transmission is based on 2022-6, mainly to deal with handling compressed audio. 2110 will be ratified sometime between NAB and IBC.”
On the subject of TICO compression, Myers said: “You can use smaller networks, but you have to be careful of things like timing, and obviously there is a cost – encode/decode and licensing cost. If you look at the Arena and Timeline trucks they came 12-18 months apart.
“When Arena started we had 10 Gig and 25 and 40 Gig were premium. One of the benefits of technology is that its value depreciates a lot quicker, so your point of entry become much more complex all of the time,” he added. “There are more network switches, and we are not shackled by having to use compression.”
EBU Network IP Media Technology Architect Willem Vermost had recently seen a demo of the work of the 4KReProSys project (originating from EPFL university in Lausanne and nine consortium partners) offering low latency encode and decode HVCC compression for UHD signals in mobile camera links.
Considering SMPTE ST 2110 against the background of trade offs with compression against uncompressed media, he said: “That discussion is not there yet in SMPTE. All the effort is behind getting the uncompressed out, but the possibility is open to extend the document with two compressions schemes.
“If we look at the JT-NM roadmap, SMPTE 2110 is the starting gun for elementary flows and it allows for UHD” - Phil Myers
”Other pieces of the puzzle need to be implemented as well to achieve all the benefits of the move to IP: the registration and discovery services, and connection management to name a few,” he added.
Vermost predicts a sharp rise in remote production. He said: “When we did the live IP project at VRT we thought that the biggest advantage is that you don’t need an OB truck. You go with a small rack and a few cameras, but to send the pictures home you need a dark fibre or maybe some compression. It is a bit of change management really.
“There are plusses and minuses, but it is change. Most of the big stadia are fibre connected so there is a huge opportunity,” he added. “Belgian telco operator Proximus produces two football games in parallel with a small truck, and one gallery. It plugs into the stadium network and sends pictures back.”
Is it now worthwhile for all OB companies to commission IP based trucks?
“All the manufacturers want to sell you IP kit at this moment. They have invested such a huge amount of money, and they created a big hype,” he said. Not all devices do have IP connectors for live IP signals. One example would be monitors. They still come with SDI inputs or HDMI, so conversion from IP to SDI is still needed at this moment in time. IP though is the obvious choice. A new truck is being built in Switzerland (for TPC Switzerland AG) for showcasing at IBC, and it is going to be all IP, with of course some interfaces.”
There is one elephant stalking the industry. “What about the network? The network vendors are so silent,” said Vermost. “And why do we need traffic shaping? If you are using multicast you say you do not want to drop any packet because that’s not good for video. OK, but what does it mean for the sender, for the network, for the receiver? That is a huge topic – how to control the network.”