LONDON—Frustrated by the array of file and tape formats from outside content providers, a number of broadcasters in the United Kingdom formed the Digital Production Partnership with the goal of solving interoperability issues and to meet specific content delivery requirements. That program, which many technologies now comply with, is based on the AS-11 specification, published by the U.S.-based Advanced Media Workflow Association .
The group has devised a compliance test that products would need to meet to be considered as "DPP compliant." Last week, AMWA announced it had completed its work and created an official "AS-11 DPP Compliance Program" that all involved can use as a roadmap for designing and installing technology that works together seamlessly. The group has devised a compliance test that products would need to meet to be considered as "DPP Compliant," in order to improve file-based experience and communication between U.K. broadcasters and manufacturers.
This same U.K. broadcaster initiative would appear to have value for U.S. broadcasters and content creators, according to Brad Gilmer, executive director of the AMWA, who said that U.S. broadcasters could decide to mandate the use of AS-11. However, it would have to include a U.S. “shim” (basically, operating points) which would further define the AS-11 format for use specifically in the United States.
“At this time, there is a Joint Task Force looking into the feasibility of such an activity in the U.S.,” Gilmer said, “but it is far from clear that the task force would ever recommend the use of AS-11.”
The AS-11 spec defines two shims that meet the U.K. broadcasters’ requirements for SD and HD file delivery of finished programs.
“There has been great interest from U.S. manufacturers who supply U.K. broadcasters, in terms of adding specific support in their products,“ said Phil Tudor, a principal engineer at BBC Research & Development, in London. “Production companies internationally, who supply the U.K. broadcasters, would also use the format, where required.”
The idea, Tudor explained, is that “certified” products would make it easier for production companies and broadcasters to buy equipment that will work satisfactorily with the AS-11 DPP format, reducing the possibility of playback or other problems when the broadcaster plays the content out for broadcast.
He said the DPP compliance program is not involved in operations (e.g., testing specific programs at a specific production company or on receipt by a broadcaster. Also, the compliance refers to the format, not the content (pictures and sound). Those typically would be checked operationally, and are the responsibility of individual production companies and broadcasters. The AS-11 DPP certificate applies to a piece of production equipment or software and tells you that it has been tested and is capable of writing or reading a valid format DPP file.
One such broadcast equipment manufacturer that is now developed its news production and asset management products to be DPP compliant is Dalet, based in Paris, France.
“Dalet is proud to be part of The Digital Production Partnership’s achievement in making the AS-11 DPP Compliance Program a reality,” said Bruce Devlin, chief media scientist at the company. “We feel that this is a much-needed industry initiative to encourage vendors like Dalet to meet the formalized needs of the customers defined in the DPP delivery specification.”
Devlin said the essence of the Compliance Program is that it will reduce interoperability issues when creating and using AS-11 DPP files, and it will provide industry assurance by enabling “a consistent expectation of quality and reliability with AS-11 DPP products.
“It’s all about creating a level playing field,” said Devlin in a statement. The DPP specification is derived from the original MXF specification, which Devlin helped develop. “Vendors build generic products to service markets that are bigger than the DPP scope. Against this background, how do we ensure that the constraints that are placed on those generic products fall within the DPP delivery specification limits and meet the operational needs of the end user.”
The goal of the DPP, and of the Compliance Program, is to make sure that broadcasters and facilities always create files that are compliant, even after upgrades of underlying codecs. The partnership is also striving to ensure that equipment inter-operates, even when the specification does not cover every possible interpretation of creating a bitstream.
AMWA has created an official “AS-11 DPP Compliance Program” that all involved can use as a roadmap for designing and installing technology that works together seamlessly. Gilmer said that the real goal of the DPP (and the Compliance Program) is to ensure that broadcasters and facilities always create files that are compliant, even after upgrades of underlying codecs. He added that the partnership also wants to ensure that equipment inter-operates, even when the specification does not cover every possible interpretation of creating a bitstream.
“Ten or 15 years ago, manufacturers would have laughed at me if I suggested that interoperability on this scale was possible,” Devlin said, “but now—thanks to the incredible work of the DPP and the ability of vendors to see the bigger picture—we have achieved it.”
Devlin, who has been involved with DPP since its inception, said he believes that the program might have more far-reaching implications. More generally, how do we ensure decoders behave consistently when faced with a broad range of inputs? And also, how do we ensure encoders create the narrowest range of variations in encoded file parameters to make life easy for the decoders under all operational circumstances?
If the DPP is to meet its self-imposed October deadline, Devlin said, then important decisions such as the Compliance Program need to be made.
“Those manufacturers that have signed up to the Compliance Agreement have gone a long way toward achieving the original goals and objectives of the DPP, which were agreed almost three years ago,” Devlin said. “The U.K.’s ability to agree to these principles puts it out in front of other regions. Could we see a blueprint here that could be adopted elsewhere—for the sake of our global industry, I hope so.”
The Digital Production Partnership was founded in May 2010 to help speed the transition to fully digital production and distribution in television. It is a not-for-profit partnership funded and led by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4; with representation from Sky, Channel 5, S4/C, UKTV and BT Sport.