Broadcast systems are renowned for their high speed and high capacity data demands. Up to recently, they relied on bespoke hardware solutions to deliver the infrastructure required for live real-time uncompressed video. But new advances in IT data storage have now opened the doors for broadcasters to take advantage of this state-of-the-art IT innovation.
Few broadcasters have the benefit of implementing IP in a greenfield site and will instead be slowly and cautiously migrating IP into their existing infrastructures to meet their business demands. Upgrading from analog to SDI had its challenges but could be quickly and easily achieved. And moving from SD to HD SDI was relatively straight forward.
As the industry migrates to IP, broadcasters are thinking about how they will interface their SDI, MADI, and AES systems together. Many see the benefit of IP and one day all devices will be IP-enabled. But until that time arrives, the industry need to understand how to interface new and old together.
Use IT infrastructure
During IP migration, broadcasters can take advantage of fiber infrastructures and connect high speed devices together using proprietary protocols. Broadcasters still benefit from the COTS infrastructures since the technicians installing the cabling for IT can easily install the same cabling for broadcasters. When IP connectivity becomes available for such equipment, patching the fiber into an Ethernet switch is an easy process thus making the broadcast equipment ready for connectivity to the Ethernet network when the vendors make the interfaces available. Two dominant media IP standards have emerged; ST2022-6 and ST2110. Both distribute over IP and can deliver lightweight compressed and uncompressed media.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made its mark on IT and is rapidly advancing into mainstream broadcasting. By employing AI methodologies, specifically machine learning, broadcasters can benefit greatly from the advances in IT infrastructure innovation and advanced storage designs. The key win with AI is that the algorithms are constantly learning and adapting to new operational scenarios in real-time, many of which cannot be simulated in the development lab or tested during manufacture. It is unreasonable to expect vendors of storage systems to test for every possible environmental condition and event that could occur in the work place. This is even more evident with complex storage systems due to the exceptionally high levels of interaction between the storage mediums. Innovation in IT is continuing to benefit broadcasters looking to leverage complex systems and infrastructure. AI, using context-aware algorithms and data-sets is leading the way to help simplify and optimize highly specialized IT storage to constantly balance the user experience, cost, and reliability.
SDI is Already Interoperable
Protocols such as SWP-08 have been upgraded to work over IP and can now benefit from the advantages network delivery offers. That is, broadcasters can use IT infrastructures to facilitate control of connected equipment such as vision mixers, sound consoles, cameras, and lighting systems.
But as we progress to IP, specifically ST2022-6 and ST2110, interoperability is emerging as the new solution to be found. One of the major benefits of SDI, AES, and MADI is that interoperability is built into the specification and inherent in the design.
The manufacturer perspective
Hardware manufacturers who have spent years building SDI products face an even tougher proposition with IP — redesign the entire product line or add IP conversion to and from their baseband video products. Most have chosen the latter, meaning that there are no new efficiencies or bandwidth improvements by using IP with their products, just increased cost to customers in most cases. For these companies, adding 12G-SDI to their product mix makes sense as an incremental change to their manufacturing processes. In the end, they are still processing baseband SDI video, just with a different interface. This situation does create a short-term market for standalone 12G-SDI and IP converters, but manufacturers will have to make hay while the sun shines to recoup their costs and make some money.
Software-based products, on the other hand, are much more flexible with IP. If there is a software version of the IP available, everything can exist in the computer and network domains using native IP streams. Things like virtualization become very easy at this point.
Migration is key
Legacy equipment still proliferates throughout many facilities and the need to provide traditional control will be evident for many years to come.
The beauty of IP systems is that they generally use standard off-the-shelf hardware interfaces such as 10GBASE-T or 25GBASE-T. Although 40GBASE-T and 100GBASE-T network interface cards are expensive, they are readily available from professional IT vendors. Therefore, any advances to the control protocol specifications are easily facilitated in software, thus making the system future proof and highly adaptable.
When looking at the current broadcast technology landscape, it appears that there are several simultaneous pathways to the future in play. When it comes to the selection of SDI or IP video, both customers and manufacturers are locked into decisions by circumstances beyond their control, or an economic reality that is hard to overcome. In the short term, we will see lots of hybrid facilities and implementations, but ultimately IP and IT-based solutions are the end-game for the industry.
The decision to go to IP or stick with SDI is largely driven by economics for today’s broadcasters. For many, SMPTE 2110 may be too expensive with all-new IT infrastructure, new IP products, and additional human resources to manage it all. As largely a replacement for SDI today, many of the benefits of 2110 are still forthcoming. With this current reality, some top-tier broadcasters will implement the SMPTE standard, but mid-level and regional broadcasters may have a hard time justifying the cost.
Network device interface is an alternative option for broadcasters who want to move to IP more affordably. It works on existing network infrastructure, and supports SDI and 2110 I/O for hybrid environments. For others, staying with SDI may make sense, depending on what type of production is required and how future-proof they want to be.