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The Transition From SDI To IP

The IP transition is underway throughout the industry having leveraged the AIMS (Alliance for IP Media Solutions) roadmap to identify and deploy equipment providing with confidence in interoperability. SMPTE has published the SMPTE ST 2110 suite of standards for distributing audio, video, and ancillary data over IP in response to the television industry’s call for interoperability. These successes provide real-world confirmation that production infrastructures built on IP technology operate as intended, delivering benefits over traditional SDI-based facilities.

In general, AIMS has supported the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment especially with respect to IP routers and network switches. This was also heavily factored by the SMPTE ST 2110 standards committee. The roadmap is a living document, providing guidance on technology evolution. The AIMS roadmap reflects the work of the JT-NM providing clear guidance on those standards and specifications which provide the foundation for system level interoperability.

IP is a completely different story. It is becoming increasingly spreading widely because of the substantial benefits it offers. It is popular because it is flexible, because it can improve workflow efficiency and it reduces costs. In many ways, an industry at the forefront of technology, that does not mean that we – collectively and individually – readily embrace change. Change is even harder to accept when it seems like there is no alternative – and, for many, there is no alternative to IP as the industry transitions to 4K – and beyond – HDR and so on. Those features need bandwidth that even 12G-SDI cannot deliver. What IP also brings with it is the opportunity to add new levels of interactivity to media consumption – the interactivity that consumers expect, and increase engagement and customer loyalty.

The challenge, then, for organizations moving towards an IP world is to recognize that there may be fear of disruption, of the new and unknown, of different working practices. One result is real disquiet about what is seen as the creeping IT-ification of the products and technologies.

Another challenge is pacing the migration from SDI to IP. No one in the industry – so far as I know – has ever recommended anything other than a gradual transition from one paradigm to the other. The buzz phrase is hybrid networks, and people talk about islands of IP. Many manufacturers have acknowledged and embraced this reality, developing products that enable mixed SDI/IP environments. Many believe that IP does not really make sense in an HD world, SDI delivers everything needed. It is only when significantly more bits need to be moved that IP becomes imperative, rather than optional.

Today’s standard, in terms of Ethernet transmission and switching speeds in the IP world, is 10 Gbits/second. That is more than adequate for most organizations today. But next year? The year after? The BBC has already successfully trialed 100 Gbits/second Ethernet networks.

IP technology provides a richer tool set for designing facilities which provide every capability of today’s SDI designs. SMPTE ST 2110, SMPTE ST 2059, AES67 and AMWA IS-04, and IS-05 provide key milestones on the AIMS roadmap where standards exist and extensive, successful, interoperability testing has occurred, and more will come. There are many more system design options than before, and as such, it is important that any design start based with fundamental analysis. Perhaps the first decision is whether or not the facility is distributed and whether disaster recovery should to be considered a part of the distributed operational model. Next might be the consideration for endpoint devices. Will they include an IP interface natively, or need a gateway? If virtualized processes will be used, general compute resource requirements should also be included. This overall view should help focus the requirements for synchronization. Finally, the logical broadcast controller presides over the system. Its feature set of capabilities should be clear. And the scale for each of these, or its capacity should also be clear.

It is important to remember, all new technology and solutions must be installed and maintained by humans and require new skills.

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