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The State of PTZ Over NDI

This article highlights NDI-based multicam live production, particularly as it involves pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras and integrated PTZ-NDI workflows.

The Network Device Interface (NDI) protocol released by NewTek in 2016 is one of the fastest-growing elements of the live production, streaming, and broadcasting worlds today. Its rapid adoption and development have been astonishing, and it continues to grow into other areas as more and more companies add it into their workflow. And every year, more manufacturers and software developers are integrating it into their product offerings.

NDI is enough of an industry force now that recent developments merit an in-depth look at its current state. I’ve spent the last few weeks researching companies that use NDI in their workflows, manufacturers that integrate it into their product lines, and, of course, NewTek’s continued development of the protocol. What follows is the summary of that research, highlighting NDI-based multicam live production, particularly as it involves pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras and integrated PTZ-NDI workflows.

But before we dig into the details about who’s doing what with NDI, let’s talk about the biggest news about NDI’s creator, NewTek: the company’s recent acquisition by Vizrt.

Vizrt Acquires NewTek

At the 2019 NAB Show, Vizrt (pronounced Viz-R-T) and NewTek announced that the former was acquiring the latter. In many ways, the combining of these two companies makes tremendous sense. Both are software-focused outfits whose offerings complement each other well. Vizrt is tops in broadcast graphics, providing a wide array of tools such as augmented reality, 3D graphics, automation, and virtual sets. NewTek has for years been known primarily as the manufacturer of the wildly popular TriCaster series of live production switchers.

Now that these two companies have joined forces, the plan is to progressively combine their products over time. In a call with NewTek’s Scott Carroll and Brian Olson, both men expressed NewTek’s and Vizrt’s commitment to continued development and expansion of NDI. It’s no mystery why they would continue to push the standard forward. In only 3 years, NDI adoption has exploded. To date, the software development kit (SDK) that enables developers to implement NDI into their products has been downloaded more than 12,000 times. Combine that with dozens of manufacturers that are already using NDI in their products, with many more to follow, and you have a pretty good idea of where this technology is heading.

Recent Changes

NewTek unveiled NDI version 4 at the 2019 NAB Show, and the announcement detailed many significant upgrades. The quality of NDI video was improved without increasing the bitrate. It now transmits 16 bits per pixel, which is good enough for high dynamic range (HDR) content. NDI HX (high-efficiency codec) is now integrated into the SDK rather than requiring a separate plugin. There’s also a discovery server that finds NDI sources without relying on mobile device management software (MDMS). This helps reduce network congestion when there are hundreds of sources all transmitting “I’m here” signals simultaneously and unnecessarily. Multi-Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) mode can now take advantage of hardware network accelerators. NDI native recording can be used to avoid recompressing footage.

Soon there will be a plugin for Adobe Creative Cloud to allow direct recording in apps like Premiere Pro. There’s also a plugin for Unreal Engine 4 to work with virtual reality and virtual sets. And if a camera loses power, the image will hold on the last good frame while recording continues. This way, when power is restored, the recording picks back up and keeps that source in sync with all other sources.

On the hardware side, NewTek introduced new Spark Plus converters to use non-NDI sources with NDI systems. NewTek now offers a 4K 30 fps model for $599 (Figure 1, below) and a 1080p 60 fps model for $499.

Figure 1. NewTek’s Spark SDI to NDI

On top of that, camera and sensor powerhouse Sony introduced a lineup of PTZ cameras integrated with NDI (Figure 2, below). It joins a long list of manufacturers jumping onto the NDI train. Panasonic, Avid, Microsoft Skype, Epic Games, Magewell, Grass Valley, EVS, ChyronHego, Ross Video, and Atomos are all top-tier companies that have gone all in with NDI support.

Figure 2. Sony BRC-X400 PTZ IP 4K camera

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