There is a need for further education in the broadcast market on the benefits of IP, according to several systems integrators.
Steve Burgess Chief Technology Officer at systems integrator Megahertz says that while “there is clearly a need for further education” he notes that “ the imminent publication of the SMPTE ST2110 family of standards and the work that AMWA is doing on discovery and registration mean that best of breed IP solutions are becoming practical, both to build and to operate”.
He says: “We are having conversations with our customers, who are looking at major infrastructure upgrades and new mobile facilities, about the opportunities that IP opens up, and the fundamental economics of the choice.”
Russell Peirson-Hagger, Managing Director of fellow systems integrator ATG Danmon UK, agrees: “The industry appears to be aligning itself to the adoption of SMPTE 2110 as the standard defining the uncompressed transport of 3G HD-SDI over IP, although the need for compression in some circumstances hasn’t gone away completely.
“Customers look to the systems integrator for their knowledge and ability to determine which new technical trends will most efficiently handle a specific business challenge and budget.
“Currently we see 12G SDI becoming a viable alternative to IP based systems and we have delivered several successful 12G systems,” Peirson-Hagger says.
“Whilst other technologies can offer the bandwidth required for 4K, the fact that 12G offers higher frame rates and simple single cable connectivity is a big advantage.”
In terms of how educated the market is on IP, Marc Risby, Group CTO at Boxer Systems, also says there is a wide difference in awareness amongst customers.
“We’re seeing a large variation within our customer base.
“Most are generally aware of IP but fewer have looked into the detail. An interesting measure is that we focused our yearly technology event, BOXfest, exclusively on IP and saw our best customer response ever. There is definitely a hunger for more information on IP as a topic with customers often seeking a vendor-neutral approach during these early days.”
Yet Risby states there is zero demand for IP itself; the interest lies in the benefits, even if customers do not realise that IP is the answer.
“There isn’t customer demand for IP as such. What there is customer demand for is saving money and increasing flexibility,” - Marc Risby
“Both of which IP enables. For example, IP is a technology enabler for remote production, and remote production means sending fewer people and less equipment to events, which is more time efficient and saves money. Broadcasters are telling us that is what they want.
“What we’ve seen in the file-based world is that the majority of the larger systems that we’ve installed rapidly evolved from their early implementations as the business requirements of the broadcaster changed,” continues Risby.
“Ensuring future flexibility is rapidly becoming a common theme in customer discussions. IP enables flexibility, scale, and the ability to reconfigure systems much easier in the future. This will be important across the board, but will really suit the OB market which, by its very nature, has to service many different use-cases…
”I believe that most customers know that IP is the future direction of broadcast infrastructure and there is defiantly a desire to futureproof and build in flexibility wherever possible. And that’s why we are now primarily talking about IP-based systems with customers.”
IP connectivity is of course, nothing new in broadcast. It has been used for years to move content between post production and servers, and shipping content from producers to broadcasters.
“The current buzz is around the use of IP connectivity for live production, which can only happen when there are clearly established real time standards,” Steve Burgess
He states: “Now these are established, we are seeing growing interest right across the board from single camera newsgathering to the biggest outside broadcast trucks; from studio installations to playout. The core benefits, of simpler cabling, COTS hardware and more powerful routing, appeal to everyone.”
Burgess continues: “The reason that people are moving to IP is to futureproof their operations. An IP facility is inherently flexible and scalable; adding new channels, or a different OTT service, or introducing 4K or HDR Ultra HD is relatively trivial. Building the infrastructure on standard IT hardware also means a continual rise in performance, ready to support that scalability.”
A significant driver in the interest surrounding IP is the perceived economy in terms of capital equipment, claims Peirson-Hagger. “We are watching the development and deployment of IP very closely and will work with our customers to implement IP-based solutions whenever there is a proven financial, technical or operational advantage compared with SDI,” he says.
“We are seeing how IP-based systems are becoming the norm when designing large greenfield new-builds or for major system upgrades. However, for smaller scale systems, IP infrastructure may not offer any operational edge over a traditional architecture, or a cost saving. It is a matter of choosing the right solution for the situation.”
Meanwhile, Burgess comments that in his company’s conversations with customers, it is clear that there is a strong willingness to look at IP for future projects. “Outside broadcast companies see it as a way of reducing the cost of trucks, and broadcasters are looking at IP to reduce costs through more remote productions. News companies are using IP-based DSNGs to improve the economics and to improve the run time. And we have a couple of clients who are refurbishing MCRs and playout facilities, and who are using IP as a way of reducing the costs of the infrastructure.”
Yet a major barrier to broad adoption of IP is the people in the industry themselves, says Burgess.
“It is absolutely inevitable that there is a degree of fear of the unknown. IP connectivity is a completely new animal, requiring a completely different skill set” - Steve Burgess
Broadcast engineers have never needed to consider if a switching network is non-blocking before, for example.
“There is still work to be done on discovery and registration, too. A traditional broadcast infrastructure is inherently plug and play; you connect a source to a destination and the picture will appear. We need to be able to plug a device onto a network and have it recognised, authorised and made available.
“We also need to do that in a secure way, to ensure that non-authorised data does not get onto the network. Security is a huge issue for many broadcasters and production facilities: there is a lot to be said for the motto, “No one ever got hacked over SDI”. There are techniques and technologies to keep content networks safe from intrusion and to keep intellectual property protected. And work is advancing rapidly on registration. There are clear answers to these barriers to adoption,” concludes Burgess.
For Risby, cost and perceived risk tend to be the biggest reservations.
“Right now only the larger IP routing projects are more cost effective than conventional methods, although this delta is coming down rapidly. Risk-wise, customers are tending towards known infrastructure solutions whilst they get familiar with IP I can say that we are seeing great success in pilot projects that will help increase confidence moving forward.”