Resistance Is Futile: How Broadcast and Cable Are Embracing IP

Article Featured Image

“Moving into the unknown—or lesser known— is always fraught with challenges, but often the perception outweighs the actual risks,” Bourdan says. “IP requires a different mindset and significantly, a different skill set, from the engineers working with it. Getting over the hump to deploy and train will be the most difficult.”

SMPTE standard 2022-6 goes some way to address this. It is devised to mirror SDI by synching video over IP in a real-time environment, but it does not unlock the full potential of IP by offering seamless switching between AV and metadata streams. SMPTE and others are working on this, but a new standard is not likely until mid-to-late 2016.

Matters become even more complicated when it comes to 4K. While many greenfield facilities or new outside broadcast scanners are being planned with an IP routing core, some companies are holding out until 4K-over-IP standards (such as working with HDR) are agreed upon.

Working in 4K also requires low-latency compression. Due to the different compression schemes available (TICO Alliance, JPEG2000, open source VC2, Sony’s LLVC and, possibly, V-Nova’s Perseus), this too will require a very open approach between vendors.

However, technology is moving extremely quickly. Pipes of 40GbE and 100GbE are already emerging and Imagine is already testing them internally. Costs are high, but Moore’s Law dictates that capacity will expand while costs decrease.

Meanwhile, there are several demonstrations of live IP showcasing cross-vendor solutions to the IP live puzzle. Systems integrator Gearhouse Broadcast has devised a remote production workflow linking solutions from Hitachi, Riedel, and EVS. The EBU has corralled potential rivals to support its Sandbox LiveIP project, implemented an IP studio at Belgium broadcaster VRT. Participants include Axon EVS, Genelec, Grass Valley, Nevion, Trilogy, and Tektronix.

“Interoperability is the key, and adhering to industry standards is important to ensuring success,” says Ewan Johnston, sales director at intercoms vendor Trilogy. “Customers will need to choose between those vendors who provide standards-based systems, but who really still want to deliver proprietary systems, and those who genuinely embrace the standards-based approach and have open systems in their corporate DNA.”

Gartner predicts that the SDV market will top $10 billion by 2018. It concludes that the benefits of software that have pervaded the IT industry are about to have the same impact on the video industry. Elemental Technologies points out that there will be 15 billion to 20 billion IP-connected screens in use in the next 5 years, a factor that CEO Sam Blackman says “exposes the fact that dedicated hardware can no longer keep pace with changing market dynamics.”

Yet the broadcast industry is inherently conservative. It is also a fraction of the size of the IT market. Sony is only ending production of VTRs this year. According to Futuresource Consulting, 13 percent of professionals still use tape.

“Some organizations are still reliant on tape for production, never mind that a lot of their archive still resides on analog tape,” says Adam Fry, deputy VP of Sony Professional, which is on a drive to market the digitization solutions of storage specialist Memnon, which it acquired earlier this year.

Dependent on public money at a time of belt tightening, the BBC is under economic constraint. “We take strategic opportunities to invest as [areas] become end of life,” Postgate says. “I think we’ll have a large amount of IP activity in 5 years, but in reality the transition from SDI will take a number of years.”

At this point, the focus is on the economic and business transformational benefits of IP, and the editorial possibilities have barely been explored. Remote production delivers cost benefits and the possibility to carry more angles on an event, opening up more personalised content and coverage of niche news, sports, and other live events.

There’s a more visionary concept, being led by BBC R&D. Object-based broadcasting deconstructs video and audio into component parts, mixing them in real time and reconstituting them in a way that makes best use of the consumer’s device and their viewing context.

“I think the idea is profound and little understood,” Postgate says. “Once you move to object-based broadcasting delivered as assets to a smart home connected to the internet of things there are huge creative opportunities and fundamental questions about what role a media organization plays.”

BT’s Hybrid SDI to IP Ultra HD Launch

U.K. telco BT launched Europe’s first live Ultra HD channel on Aug. 2, based on a distribution infrastructure several steps ahead of the technology used in production.

The content is mainly live sports transported over the telco’s Infinity branded fibre-optic broadband to U.K. homes that have upgraded to the package and which own a Ultra HD TV. BT paid £897 million (about $1.3 billion) for exclusive 2015-2018 UEFA Champions League rights and is paying £7.6 million (about $11.83 million) every time it airs an English Premier League game.

This distribution network gives BT first mover advantage over its satellite-based pay TV rival Sky, which (at time of writing) has yet to announce a 4K service. Its BT Sport TV channels are available in more than 5.2 million homes.

However, BT refuses to put a figure on the required bitrates suitable to view its Ultra HD channel and the “Ultra HD” branding disguises the its true nature to a degree.

The resolution might be 4K, but other attributes associated with an Ultra HD spec are not currently available. The frame rate is 50p, with tests being made to increase this up to 100p over time. More significantly, the color space is rec.709, not rec.2020 of Ultra HD. It is not carrying High Dynamic Range, although once again tests to incorporate HDR along the camera chain to final display are being conducted by BT’s outside broadcast suppliers.

This is no criticism of BT, which has pioneered a well-received product in a short period of time, and there’s no doubt that the telco-turned-broadcaster will continue to push the bar.

Fact is, to achieve first mover status, it has compromised on production because the technology is not ready. The outside broadcast production to studio is a standard workflow, albeit as a 3G-SDI chain.

“IP live is not yet ready,” BT Sport COO Jamie Hindaugh says. “We are looking at IP and attributes like HDR, and how that integrates into 4K. Our focus is on being trailblazers and staying out in front.”

BT commissioned Timeline TV to build a mobile facility for its 4K production. This includes IP-ready kits such as a Snell Advanced Media Kahuna vision mixer, Snell Advanced Media Sirius router, and Sony 4300 two-thirds-inch systems cameras that carry an IP interface.

A prime economic consideration for all outside broadcasters and their customers is that facilities and workflow need to accommodate HD and 4K production simultaneously.

It’s still unclear how this is achieved editorially. As with 3D broadcasting, 4K live requires fewer camera angles and fewer cuts because of the higher fidelity immersion, so a way must be found of maintaining the production values of multi-camera HD from a largely 4K original. This includes picture stitching two or more 4K cameras and zooming into the image to take HD cut outs or reframing a single 4K image for HD.

Playout is outsourced to Ericsson-owned Red Bee Media and handled in a traditional way. Red Bee CTO Steve Plunkett is an advocate of playout in the cloud, but hasn’t taken Red Bee down that route yet.

“The components of a broadcast publishing chain are evolving towards deployment in the cloud and public cloud environments are also offering more deterministic performance than previously,” he says. “Both seem to be on a path of convergence, which is a good thing. The true broadcast cloud seems to be on the horizon, but its distance is not yet clear.”

This article appears in the November/December 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Resistance Is Futile.”

Streaming Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues
Related Articles

'Software Chiclets': NCTA Head Says OTT Makes Cable Look Good

When do OTT providers become their own worst enemy? When consumers are so overwhelmed by choice that they prefer the simplicity of pay TV.

NAB 17: Google Panel Talks to Broadcasters in Transition

What was once an asset is now a liability: Big broadcasters race to unlearn old methods, while using new data sources to better serve their viewers.

IP Traffic to Reach 2 Zettabytes by 2019; 80% Will Be Video

Welcome to the zettabyte era, says Cisco. UHD and 360-degree streaming video content will expand dramatically, driving IP traffic.

The Fate of Broadcast TV in 2015: Last Gasp or Second Wind?

While video streaming has increased, so has the number of over-the-air broadcast channels. Can broadcasters stop the planned broadcast spectrum auction?

The State of Media & Entertainment Video 2015

The rapid growth of OTT services and the slow decline of cable seen in the last year portends a breakout 2015, but don't expect massive 4K or TV Everywhere adoption anytime soon

Companies and Suppliers Mentioned