Two Key Concepts in the Transition to IP Media Workflows
Maintaining a hybrid IP/SDI environment leaves options open for the future
Whether we are talking about the cloud, the shape of our new working lives, or the migration toward IP workflows, one of the main words you will hear around the industry now is "hybrid."
It’s an important concept; while the future of broadcast is based on transitioning to native IP environments, that does not have to be a "big bang" solution. Rather it can be a steady migration, one where the industry moves through several transition stages to reach the goal at the end of the roadmap.
Gracefully Moving Forward
The destination is not in doubt. IP allows broadcasters to scale and adapt easily, quickly spin up new services to meet changing audience demands for content, and flexibly configure and manage devices and workflows. It is where we want to be. However, not everybody is in a position to move at the same speed to this SDI-free future, and so there are distinct benefits to allowing the current hybrid IP/SDI infrastructures that we are seeing taking shape in the industry to flourish.
Maintaining a hybrid IP/SDI environment leaves options open for the future and ensures that broadcasters do not have to commit to an infrastructure investment in what are, by any stretch of the imagination, turbulent times. Once plans coalesce then the move can be consolidated, but if current plans are set for the foreseeable future while longer-term steps are not yet in focus, then SDI co-existing with IP is still a practical solution.
In some respects and in some types of equipment, it is a case of "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." SDI may remain the best choice, for now at least, for certain types of equipment and technologies, or for organizations of certain sizes and budget levels. The use of the SMPTE ST 2110 protocol (the set of SMPTE standards for sending digital media over an IP network) in a hybrid system means it is also easy to manipulate separate video, audio and ancillary data streams, providing IP-style benefits even with legacy setups.
There does, however, need to be a degree of forward-thinking at work here.
Existing SDI-based control systems should be upgradeable to control IP sections in an ideal world as well. If they lie outside this remit, then companies need to determine if that will be handled by an IP control system (for instance, Pebble Control), which would then interface with the legacy SDI system. This type of integrated control solution can bridge the gap between IP and SDI, with both SDI and IP inputs and outputs offered in a single solution to support hybrid infrastructures.
Many organizations are transitioning to IP-based systems using their existing SDI infrastructure, which can create isolated areas of IP. These organizations must consider how to integrate IP into their current infrastructure and bridge between these resulting islands in order to move forward and eventually convert everything to IP. Which brings us to another key concept in the ongoing transition; interoperability.
The Importance of Interoperability
Interoperability is one of the key enablers of a smooth transition to IP workflows. To achieve true IP workflows, interoperability is essential to unlocking the benefits of using off-the-shelf IP networking technology to route signals from any source to any number of destinations on a network.
Interoperability describes the ability of an application or device to interact meaningfully and exchange information with another separately developed application or device. There is a difference between open protocols, proprietary protocols and closed protocols. Some companies add their own protocols, which can increase the difficulty of device integration.
For interoperability where multiple vendors are involved, which is everywhere nowadays as the old model of monolithic single-vendor installations has disappeared in the rearview mirror, sticking to standards and best practices is crucial.
There are two key points to talk about when it comes to accelerating IP deployments: the previously mentioned SMPTE ST 2110 and the AMWA¹ Networked Media Open Specifications (NMOS) suite of protocols. Together, these two advancements further the way IP networks transport media including uncompressed video, PCM audio and ancillary data that are carried over separate routable streams, as well as device connection management on a network.
Essentially, these protocols help join those islands together, now and in the future. Many manufacturers, Pebble included, are working within the SMPTE and NMOS protocols to simplify establishing IP native workflows. Interoperability also requires working with legacy and current systems and in this case, compliance with industry protocols produces definite benefits. For example, the ability to emulate legacy index-based matrices or routers means any IO or container can be connected using an SDI router protocol.
All this makes the hybrid IP/SDI environment possible and provides seamless backwards and future compatibility, regardless of an organization’s scale and scope. It enables an organization to migrate towards the IP future at the speed that suits them rather than having it imposed on them via external factors.
While IP native facilities have been designed and constructed, it is hard to imagine any broadcaster fully transitioning to IP in one leap within an existing facility. While admittedly an increasing number of operations are going IP out of the cameras, often somewhere in the broadcast chain the signal gets turned back to SDI, edited, reproduced, repurposed and then sent for transmission.
All these islands can be managed though. By converting SDI to IP, broadcasters can create a hybrid workflow that allows for the integration of both existing and new technologies as part of a gradual transition. This is the benefit of a hybrid infrastructure; the ability to integrate existing workflows and technologies with new devices and technologies as part of a managed transition at a pace that suits the business imperatives of the organization concerned.
And, in a hybrid world, this is going to be an approach that will continue to appeal for some years yet to come.
¹ AMWA is Advanced Media Workflow Association, which focuses on the industry’s move to IP-based architectures. Pebble works closely with AMWA and is significantly contributing towards a number of activities with them. By working with AMWA in this way Pebble is showing its commitment to championing open standards and interoperability.
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Having been in the industry for 20 years, Miroslav joined Pebble in 2017 as the Senior Technical Architect for Dolphin (Integrated Channel) and Orca (Integrated Channel – Virtualised). He subsequently took on the role of Head of Software Architecture, and now, as CTO, he has responsibility for setting the development roadmap and inputting into the strategic direction of Pebble as the company seeks to support broadcasters and media companies in their transition to IP-based technologies.
Miroslav is an active participant in technology working groups focussed on the development of new standards, including AMWA, where he was closely involved in the development of the IS-07 standard and currently chairs the NMOS modelling activity which aims to ensure immediate operability of installed IP devices. He joined Pebble from Broadstream (formerly ON-AIR Systems / OASYS) where he held the position of SVP Research and Development and was responsible for the entire playout application. A dedicated, focussed and driven technologist, Miroslav is committed to nurturing the next generation of developers, and his passion for the industry, along with his enthusiasm for collaborating with other vendors, deliver huge benefits as the company works on the solutions of the future.