Following the lead of IBC in 2016, the recent NAB exhibition included a demonstration of IP interoperability. Once again, more than 30 vendors showed streams passing seamlessly between different products.

The goal, as one conference speaker put it, is to achieve the “dematerialised facility”, where all the functionality is virtualised and all storage and processing sits in a data centre or the cloud.

The goal got one step closer recently with the publication, by SMPTE, of the FCD version of its ST 2110 suite of standards. FCD stands for final committee draft, which means that the technology is agreed and the only likely changes will be in the detail of the language.

No dissenting voices

But SMPTE, as an ANSI standard, requires “full consensus”; there cannot be any dissenting voices. So final publication is likely to be later this year.

Despite the wait for the final rubber stamp, research by the industry body Aims suggests that a significant number of vendors will have SMPTE ST2110 compliant products ready to launch at or around this year’s IBC.

Major Latin American broadcaster Telemundo is currently building a $250 million installation in Florida, which it says will be fully IP and fully ST 2110 compliant. It is intending to go live from the new facility in February 2018.

Olivier Suard of Nevion said: “We are seeing a lot of real IP projects now, often driven by events outside the broadcast cycle.

“TV2 Norway, for example, is moving from its existing sites in Bergen and Oslo. It is taking the opportunity to separate its studios and galleries to rationalise its operations, to achieve real distributed production.”

 “No-one’s ever been hacked over SDI” - Thomas Edwards, Fox

The certainty which ST 2110 brings, along with the other standards from bodies like VSF and AES, suggests that the AIMS alliance – conceived and driven by vendors – has achieved its goals. Certainly other proposed routes to IP interconnectivity, including the Aspen group and Sony’s proprietary solution, are seen to be fading, with the leading proponents now also supporting AIMS.

There is still much work to be done, though.

Streams moving seamlessly is an impressive achievement, but it only brings the industry to new challenges.

Discovery and registration

The first is discovery and registration: how does a system know what other devices are on the network, and which are involved in the current workflow?

Tellingly, Dan Turk, chief engineer of leading mobile broadcasting group NEP in the US, revealed that its three IP connected trucks covered this year’s Superbowl. “But it depends on engineers manually setting IP addresses,” he said.

“We get a couple of days to set up a big event. It would be great if we could do that without engineers from multiple vendors.”

Closely linked to the issue of discovery is the even more critical issue of security. The latest IABM broadcaster survey found that 75% see cybersecurity as a key issue for the future. As Thomas Edwards of Fox succinctly put it: “No-one’s ever been hacked over SDI”.

WGBH, the PBS broadcaster based in Boston responsible for many of the network’s most popular productions and co-productions, has recently implemented IP-based systems.

Chris Fournelle is director of post production, and he admitted they did not adhere to best practice. He said: “We knew it was not the way we should do it, but we have to get the show out.”

Work on security is being urgently carried out in a number of research bodies.

Willem Vermost of the European Broadcasting Union said: “There is a real urgency. How are broadcasters going to compete in the modern world? Security could be a real block on future developments.”

Brad Gilmer, executive director of AMWA, the Advanced Media Workflow Association added: “Business requirements like flexibility and shareability might be conflicting with security, which always has to be the top priority.”

AMWA’s technical teams are currently working on the fundamental principle of no packets moving on a media network without prior authorisation. But this imposes a processing overhead, which in turn could cause latency, risking realtime performance.

It is clear that the debate over the transition to IP is far from over.

As Glodina Lostanlen of Imagine Communications put it: “People need to share experiences as they go through the transition.

“It’s in the interest of everyone in the industry to share experiences.”