The broadcast industry is understandably focusing on the infrastructure of the future, which, without a doubt, will be based on IP. IP has already been used for many years for the purposes of broadcast contribution over wide area networks (WANs) and now the technology is also beginning to be used in local area network (LAN) environments for transporting broadcast signals within studio and campus facilities. However, as broadcasters have invested heavily in baseband technology for many years, there is simply no business case for replacing all of their existing equipment for their IP-equivalent, unless its functionality needs an upgrade. Yet, we are seeing a growing number of broadcasters looking to move to IP or at least introducing some elements of IP into their network, but what’s driving this?
MOVING TO NEW FACILITIES
Many of the early adopters of IP have had one thing in common—needing to move facilities. In that situation, broadcasters have found that laying down a baseband infrastructure in the new location, which involves a large amount of cabling, doesn’t make sense when the future lies in IP.
For these early adopters, the move could have been risky, as IP was still largely unproven and standards like SMPTE ST 2110 didn’t yet exist. However, for the majority of broadcasters, the gamble paid off.
Broadcasters looking to move premises now don’t have to be as concerned with the shift to IP as it’s much safer. This is partly due to them being able to learn from the experience of early adopters and the progress made by the industry as a whole. Additionally, IP can now be put in place within a matter of weeks, as demonstrated by Nevion’s work with Sýn (Vodafone Iceland) to implement an IP media network for its new facilities in Reykjavik, which was ready for production in just six weeks.
Another factor driving the move to IP has been the need for broadcasters to cover one-off large events, such as the World Cup, or more regular local ones, like horse racing. Often these cases have been the catalyst that inspires broadcasters to investigate replacing outside broadcast (OB) production with a centralized, remote-production approach based on IP.
While these situations don’t tend to trigger a move to IP in the central facilities, they do introduce some elements of IP-based production both on-site and on the edge of the core facilities. With this approach, broadcasters can assess the possibility of an eventual move to IP in their core facilities, but within what is essentially a contained experimental environment.
Another, often overlooked potential driver for a move to IP, is capacity issues in the SDI network. For example, central routers may be running out of available ports to connect additional equipment, new studios or a control room or a move to high definition.
While some broadcasters may opt to buy a larger SDI router, another approach opened to broadcasters is to use this as an opportunity to build extra capacity using IP. This allows new equipment to be added or capacity to be freed up on existing routers. Rather than being a wholesale replacement of the baseband network, as you might see when broadcasters move premises, this results in the creation of a mixed SDI and IP network that can in time move to a full IP media network infrastructure.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Firstly, as we can see, moving to IP doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision. In fact, with the right equipment and control software, broadcasters can make the move gradually, which will allow them to spread out the costs and continue to use parts of their existing infrastructure until it becomes redundant. This also means that broadcasters can choose equipment based on functionality and cost, rather than SDI or IP connectivity.
While the price of IP technology is currently of the same order as broadcast specific baseband technology, costs will fall over time. This is primarily because IP can easily handle any existing and new video and audio technology—think HD, 4K/UHD, HDR and 8K, for example—since everything is transported as data (IP packets). IP also offers the prospect of media, control and data all being carried by the same network providing savings through multiple usages (economies of scope) that do not exist in baseband.
Furthermore, IP brings the opportunity to harmonize local and long-distance media networks around a single technology—so-called IP LAN/WAN (local and wide area network) convergence. This means that it becomes much easier to share equipment, studios and control rooms, and even production staff, across locations—bringing further savings and much greater production flexibility than is possible with existing technology. IP is an agile, flexible and scalable infrastructure solution that allows broadcasters to future-proof themselves while—most importantly—maintaining, and even increasing, reliability and maximum uptime.
However, currently, no broadcaster operates in an all-IP environment. At most, they will have a mixture of SDI and IP equipment connected to an IP network. In fact, broadcast production networks will remain mixed SDI/IP environments for many years to come. Fortunately, over time, IP technology is expected to get cheaper. Until then, broadcasters must focus on gradually building out an IP media network that will provide the greatest benefits in terms of costs-savings and workflow transformation, while futureproofing their network.
Olivier Suard is the vice president of marketing for Nevion.