The State of PTZ Over NDI
The Who’s Who
NewTek provided a list of partners for me to reach out to about their use of NDI. Of course, this is just a fraction of the companies that are offering NDI products. Nevertheless, hearing from them will paint a picture of the state of NDI.
To begin with, I spoke with BirdDog CMO Eamon Drew about how his company is capitalizing on NDI in the broadcast gear it produces. BirdDog uses NDI in everything it makes, from the humble converter to PTZ keyboards and cameras. Drew says that BirdDog got into NDI as soon as it was released. In this, it has found success. In April, BirdDog was included in the inaugural Streaming Media Producer 25. There is a strong and steady interest in NDI among U.S. companies, but Drew says that some European interests are going all in with it.
Part of the appeal of NDI is the ability to use nontraditional cameras for live production, such as large-format cinema cameras. One can simply take the existing SDI output and convert it to NDI with an inexpensive converter box. Drew described one customer in Kansas that was shooting basketball games with a three-camera setup. After converting to NDI, the crew was able to reduce its setup time from 3 hours to just 30 minutes.
Part of the appeal of NDI over older systems like SDI is ease and cost. If you’ve ever gone on location for a shoot and found you have a damaged or missing SDI cable, you know it’s virtually impossible to find a replacement that’s immediately available. Since NDI uses standard network category cables, you’re much more likely to be able to solve this problem locally and immediately. Plus, the cable is cheaper and more powerful. A single network cable can now carry audio, video power, and control. Now you’re saving money and weight.
Next, I heard from Jeff Adams, business development manager at multiCAM Systems. The company makes a range of solutions for the broadcast industry, including MULTICAM STUDIO (Figure 3). This product offers a joystick hardware control surface and a unique 23" touchscreen for diverse equipment operation.
Figure 3. multiCAM Systems MULTICAM STUDIO
In addition to supporting NewTek’s NDI protocol in its gear, the company offers a range of other useful features and software packages to enhance the broadcast experience. Its Browser to Broadcast capability allows any guest to connect to a broadcast in progress without any downloads or account registration. Using WebRTC, the company offers this solution in partnership with Gnural Net. Browser to Broadcast allows some of multiCAM Systems’ radio clients to bring on guest callers with the bonus of having a video feed rather than simply audio. Producers can also use Call-In Manager, which lets them screen and queue up video callers before putting them on the air.
Esteban Camp, marketing and communications director at Barcelona, Spain-based AutomaticTV, a production company, says that NDI is a key component for integrating its systems into professional broadcast workflows. It’s flexible and robust, and it removes the need for complex and expensive SDI hardware setups.
AutomaticTV uses NDI in three key ways. First, it mixes NDI sources/cameras with its native SDI cameras, which is valuable especially for remote cameras that may be used for closeups, beauty shots, or anything else the director may want. Second, AutomaticTV’s system can send any video output feed as NDI up to 1080p 60 fps. With this, it can send all of its outputs to external video mixers, encoders, recorders, etc., with almost no loss of image quality, very low latency, and a guarantee that all video feeds are synchronized on the receiving end. Third, external computer graphics (CG) can easily be sent to AutomaticTV’s system by way of a CG NDI input feed with fill/key channels. With this option, the company’s customers can choose to use its built-in graphics engine or use their own CG system, sending the results to AutomaticTV for final composition.
“Overall, we believe NDI is the way to go in the future as it scales very well for our use case,” says Camp. “Thanks to embracing NDI, we have been able to adapt easily to each of our customer needs without having to upgrade their existing hardware. For instance, we can easily serve up to eight simultaneous high-quality FullHD output video feeds without the need of adding SDI output boards in the servers, or allow them to reuse existing SDI cameras in the production just by buying a small SDI-to-NDI converter box.”
Andrey Okunev, co-founder and CEO of Medialooks, says his company is using NDI for its customers in dozens of ways. He claims that more than 80% of its customers have implemented NDI into their products. Noting two examples of how IP-based video is taking over the world, he mentioned how multiCAM Systems has added an IP Box option to its live production systems that uses no SDI or HDMI, but rather IP and NDI only.
There’s also Rushworks, a maker of robotic camera systems, among other things, which created A-LIST Streamster, an IP-only video production system (Figure 4). Dropping the I/O hardware normally required for live production systems allows the company to be more competitive in pricing. Okunev notes that both companies are benefiting from the expanding range of NDI PTZ cameras. At the 2019 NAB Show, Medialooks shared pavilion space with NewTek to show off its Video Transport, which allows broadcasters to remotely connect NDI workflows over the internet.
Figure 4. Rushworks A-LIST Streamster
As Okunev describes, “Basically, if you have an NDI source at a venue in Paris, we can make it available in a studio in Las Vegas with sub-second latency.”
Medialooks has also learned that NDI is becoming an important element in live video game streaming. “It offers a way to deliver the stream from the gaming PC to a separate PC that does the encoding and streaming to Twitch or similar platforms. Without NDI, streamers would have to invest in dedicated I/O hardware,” says Okunev.
Another company that embraced NDI early on is NewBlueFX (Figure 5). Travis White, its VP of products, says, “We funnel our entire NTX data and control API through NDI, enabling customers to not only deliver dynamic broadcast graphics, but also remotely control playback, micro-updates, sequencing, data and design recall and so much more.”
Figure 5. NewBlueFX’s Titler Live
He continues, “Titler Live Broadcast, our flagship product, can receive in NDI sources and map them onto layers within graphic designs, so users can avoid having to deal with manual PIP matching in their switcher of choice. Here in 2019 this even includes Skype remote guests being composited into a 3D design environment as well as live video effects processing for tasks such as correction and keying purposes. And finally, with our 16 channels of NDI out and unlimited graphic layers per channel, NDI has provided a way to deliver multiple graphic results to a number of destinations without the expense of previous video hardware plumbing.”
NDI connectivity and PTZ cameras let producers minimize cable requirements while enhancing opportunities for creativity in camera placement and use. A setup like this can do more with less, and it gives a glimpse into the future of live production.
Here's a look at how 4K-Over-NDI support, hardware-based instant replay, and Skype TX integration can benefit sports broadcasters.
Companies and Suppliers Mentioned