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Live Standards Conversion in the Cloud: Making it Work Today

October 18, 2021

In October’s issue of The SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal, Paola Hobson, Managing Director of the UK’s InSync Technology Ltd., addresses the question, “Is Live Standards Conversion in the Cloud Ready to Be Used?” She notes that many parts of the broadcast workflow, like playout and transcoding, have successfully migrated to the cloud, and media asset management vendors now routinely deliver their products in a software-as-a-service model. However, migration of live production into the cloud is happening more slowly. While cloud service providers are tackling key issues such as bandwidth, security, and availability, broadcasters are addressing the challenge in reinventing standards conversion as a live cloud-based service.

Broadcasters and media companies engaged in live international content distribution are familiar with the need for standards conversion. Multiple broadcast frame rates and formats are in use throughout the world, with an ever-growing number of standards being developed to support mobile and streaming. The current hardware-based solution is well-refined, with easy connection and control of standards converters, but using an on-premises converter can be both daunting and expensive. Live standards conversion in the cloud is what’s needed for the workflow to be entirely cloud-based. With a software-based solution, not only can the converter become a shared global resource, available 24/7 from any location in the broadcaster’s network, but it allows the capital expenditure required for permanent physical hardware to be replaced by an operating expense -- which is charged only when conversion is needed.

Recent technology developments have brought the creation of cloud-based conversion services much nearer to reality by meeting four key challenges:

  1. In a live cloud-based standards conversion, inputs and outputs include streamed audio, video, and metadata which are multiplexed within the transport stream and controlled by a streaming service protocol. So consideration must be given to the availability of sufficient bandwidth to guarantee content movement through the workflow, preventing network congestion, link failures, jitter, packet loss and bandwidth fluctuations. The SRT (Secure Reliable Transport) protocol provides a good solution for most services.
  2. Processing Resources. Achieving the high-quality, real-time parallel processing capabilities broadcasters expect from hardware converters is a challenge for software-only solutions, however several options now exist for file-based pay-per-use conversion in the cloud. The keys are Resource Provisioning, with input buffering to ensure that the converter always has frames to process, and output buffering to manage the correct sequencing. Buffering must be carefully balanced to minimize overall latency, which is especially important for live sports. In addition, intelligent Task Management is required to take advantage of available parallel processing resources running at maximum efficiency, while still satisfying the required tasks.
  3. Control and Monitoring. The operator requires equipment for measuring and monitoring the video and audio quality, conformance of the output to relevant standards, and correctness of the metadata. Moving the converter to the cloud removes the operator from the proximity of the converter. This increases their reliance on automated set-up and monitoring tools, which may be preconfigured by the service provider, or via an end-user portal. This software equivalent of a waveform monitor is now available from a number of vendors, allowing control and monitoring to be added into the workflow.
  4. Commercial Models. Budgeting is a critical issue, and broadcasters need to know far in advance how much they will need to spend on conversion. In a cloud-based pay-per-use workflow, the broadcaster only needs to estimate the number of hours of service they expect to use for their forecast. A high-quality motion-compensated standards converter can be spun up on cloud processing platforms at short notice, provisioning for expected use as well as live breaking events or disaster recovery.

The paper concludes that these four challenges to migrating standards conversion into cloud workflows have been met. And in fact, a major sports network has already evaluated a cloud model for their international OTT workflow in order to take advantage of the huge efficiency savings. The practical and technical challenges of reinventing standards conversion as a live cloud-based service have been overcome. The technology is ready, and the services are also available. To take a deeper dive into Hobson’s analysis, read the complete technical paper in the 2021 October issue of The SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal

Tag(s): Featured , Cloud , News

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