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IBC: Where is the hardware going?

Another IBC is over, and it’s time to look back. I have lost count of the number of people who have asked me what the big theme was. What did I see that was really new? But IBC has always played second place for product launches, with NAB being the focus that most vendors aim for. Much of the releases at IBC were, “It’s shipping now,” or even, “We’ve got it working now.” Others, no doubt, were, “It wasn’t ready to show at NAB.”

However, the very nature of products has changed, with the value being more in software than hardware. Also, more products are platforms rather than the “shrink wrap box” products of the past. Character generators have been replaced by graphics production systems, and VTRs with server farms.

I have been to enough NAB Shows to remember people standing 20-deep to watch Bill Carpenter present the latest tape machine or cart from Ampex; that was show biz. Software products rarely create that buzz. Since many are platforms, development is incremental — a tweak here, a new feature there. It is rarer to see a complete new platform launched.

With many software releases, it is difficult to adequately present the new features at a show. Take the move from 32 bits to 64 bits; you have to use the software in anger to see the difference. A carefully built presentation with specially chosen demo files doesn’t really cut it.

I think it evident that the big draws are still new hardware. Just watch the crowds drawn to a quadcopter carrying a GoPro. It’s the spectacle, but how many are going to use that contraption in their work? It’s the little boy in many an engineer: “I wish I had a toy like that when I was younger.”

Beyond the razzmatazz of products demos, IBC is really about face-to-face meetings to discuss a new system, networking and discovery — finding that new company or product that is hopefully going to transform your workflow.

One thing that did strike me was the feeling that we are reaching a tipping point where streaming live video over the industry-specific SDI interface is being replaced by IP as the carrier. Even that last bastion of SDI, the production switcher, is beginning to spawn IP connections. This opens the way for file-based operations to mix with streams, all using the same commodity infrastructure. I use the term “commodity” loosely. Uncompressed 4K at 60p is too high a data rate for 10GigE, and 40GigE or 100GigE are hardly a commodity formats.

However, SD and HD video, especially when compressed with mezzanine or delivery codecs, are easily handled by 10GigE. Right now, there is no cost advantage for uncompressed video, especially 4K, but for program distribution of compressed streams, we are at a crossover.

So where does that leave all the “big iron” vendors I saw at IBC — scrabbling to move more product value to software. I’m sure we will see even more change by NAB, and it is going to be difficult for some companies to adapt. One day, the only specialist hardware will be control surfaces (leaving aside production gear such as cameras and lighting).

A stroll through the connected world zone at IBC was like another planet. The only hardware on display was the tables and chairs on the booths, plus some LCD displays. This is a vibrant world of new, upcoming companies. Sure, some will fail — there are just too many of them — but some will be the household names of our industry in a few years.

IBC definitely showed signs of the big changes in technology we have all been expecting. It’s a new world typified by OTT.

David Austerberry, editor