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The End of NDI As We Know It?

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Back in 2020, I wrote that I was All in on NDI in a feature article that covered Birddog, NewTek (now Vizrt), vMix, Panasonic, and others providing camcorders, PTZ cams, encoders, decoders, wireless, switchers, and coms all integrated with NDI for interoperability on a standard computer network. NDI has evolved over time with the promise that new standards would not render your equipment obsolete. I myself bought into NDI early on, and I own numerous HD and 4K NewTek Spark converters, PTZ cams, and the like.

Through the years, NewTek/Vizrt continued to improve the NDI ecosystem, introducing newer NDI|HX2 and NDI|HX3 standards for improved video delivery at low bitrates while continuing to offer Full NDI (also known as High Bitrate NDI). It was repeatedly iterated in a way that new software versions would be backward compatible, implying that early adopters would continue to be able to use their hardware that utilized the HX1 standard.

However, as standards evolve, certain gear can be left behind. For instance, an older TriCaster that was not upgraded with the Advanced Edition 3 software update (a $1,000 update for my TriCaster Mini) would not be able to see or utilize cameras or other hardware utilizing the newer NDI|HX2 standard. But that’s why there was an update—to make that compatibility available.

Interestingly, after some time, the AE3 update was removed from availability. If end users did not purchase and install the optional update when it was available, they are now left with hardware that simply can not be updated to include the HX2 codecs. And it's not a hardware issue—the hardware was, and is, capable. It's just that the AE3 update that enabled HX2 compatibility, and many other features, was taken away.

Legacy NDI Gear Left Behind?

Now, in early 2024, I see several new NDI products coming to market that start to dispense with HX1. This means these companies are choosing what parts of NDI they want to include in their hardware, and what compatibility they don't want to include. I reached out to NDI Support and was told, “support for HX1 specifically (or any format) largely depends on how different vendors and manufacturers choose to implement NDI technology into their products. Some do provide backwards compatibility with support for all flavors of HX while some only limit support to HX2 and/or HX3.”

This has the potential to break the promise of the NDI badge on a product. It will no longer mean the interoperability and reliability it has meant for nearly a decade. Will this NDI tool work with that one? You may have no idea because the NDI licensing group is not enforcing the “standard.” They say they are allowing licensees to pick and choose, to “limit support” to the parts they want to include.

NDI Support goes on to say, “check with the manufacturers of your current HX1 cameras to see if there might be firmware upgrades available to support HX2/HX3.”

What Happened to Standards?

This is not how “standards” are supposed to work.

TV manufacturers that have the HDMI logo on their TV do not get to pick and choose which video resolutions they support—say, dropping capability for that old 720p standard. An Ethernet switch does not get to drop support for older 10/100 standards. Wi-Fi access points do not get to drop 2.4gHz 802.11b, g, or n because they're older and slower. A standard means it's all included. Backward compatible.

This lack of enforcement of the standard could potentially mean that gear bought today may not work with other gear bought today, or tomorrow, because a licensee may not include that segment of compatibility you need. Can you invest in a standard not knowing if your gear will be compatible tomorrow? People will shy away if this becomes the norm. This is what NDI risks by allowing licensees to “limit support” and choose what parts of the NDI standard they want to implement.

Competing Protocols

Moreover, NDI now has competition. While NDI has been the sole interoperable data interchange solution for networked video for many years, Dante and SMPTE are now coming after NDI with “video over IP” standards of their own. Dante AV has a huge established base of audio use as well as proven reliability and robustness. Dante AV delivers video-over-IP that integrates with any of the thousands of Dante audio products already on the market.

SMPTE ST 2110 is a much higher-bandwidth, but established standard for IP video interoperability. The advantage is it being a SMPTE standard that any user can engineer to. Like SMPTE timecode, or SMPTE color bars.  SMPTE 2110 supports uncompressed video, providing superior video quality. SMPTE 2110 separates video, audio, and ancillary data into distinct streams, which enables managing and routing different elements of your production independently.

Dante AV and SMPTE 2110 are much newer and far fewer video tools leverage these standards into their hardware, but video over IP is still at the inception edge of worldwide integration. The vast majority of video production still uses SDI, HDMI, and fiber point-to-point connections.

NDI runs the risk of fumbling the ball on the 20-yard line—squandering the nearly decade lead they have in IP video by not enforcing that licensees integrate all of the standard. I write this in the hope that they re-establish what the NDI standard means: that to license NDI, and display the NDI badge, a product must be 100% compatible.

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