Hot Button Discussion
VoIP for Professional Media Networks
By Michael Goldman
As the Video over Internet Protocol (VoIP) revolution marches on in the different sectors of the media content creation, distribution, and consumption sectors, it is helpful to consider what the term VoIP means to broadcasters as they push to evolve their facilities for the file-based era. From their point of view, in terms of adopting IT tools and principles, the SMPTE 32NF-60 Working Group is focusing on VoIP specifically as it relates to professional media networks--the professional use of live video over IP.
In this category, there are new and exciting developments, thanks to the rapid advancement of Ethernet-based switches and other tools. Many industry professionals feel the most significant steps are now being taken toward an inevitable, industry-wide movement to replace SDI with Ethernet at major broadcast facilities. In fact, according to Thomas Edwards, vice president of engineering and development at Fox Network Engineering and Operations, and a member of the ongoing Joint Task Force on Networked Media, the coming year is expected to be particularly crucial in this push. Moreover, in the next two to three years, major professional broadcast systems that rely on Ethernet carriage of live video will be in operation.
Why is all this necessary when SDI has satisfactorily served the broadcast industry for so long? There are, Edwards said, several reasons why the Ethernet-for-broadcast movement is gathering steam.
"The overall reason is that we feel this move can dramatically increase flexibility and agility of our broadcast plants, both in the ability to virtualize and pool video processing resources, and also to enhance current operations," Edwards says. For example, he stated that when a studio camera is plugged into an Ethernet switch the production system can immediately read over the network that is plugged into that specific camera. It is able to determine the camera's stage, current focus and iris settings, among other things. "All that is instantly available to the entire production system, which of course, can talk over IP."
"This is a major step forward, but we can also carry video over that same bandwidth. Edwards said. "Over one cable, not only can we carry video, but if we need additional audio pairs, or [on-set monitoring, cuing, or communications systems] or video return, we can do all that. If we want to carry 4K or possibly 8K over that same infrastructure, we can do that. Or we can carry compressed streams of JPEG 2000 or MPEG-2 or H.264 material--it can all be carried over the same Ethernet wire assuming, of course, that you have proper bandwidth. And we can do it in a bi-directional fashion, whereas SDI has only been a unidirectional way of carrying video signals."
Edwards adds that the broadcast industry "hopes to see the same benefits from converting to live video on Ethernet that the Telephony industry got from moving from dedicated copper wires to Ethernet and VoIP." He points out that "virtually the entire rest of the world" has already incorporated Ethernet for data transfer applications across all industries beyond broadcasting. Since such technology has long been standard in the IT world, that reality brings with it built-in cost-saving opportunities for broadcasters, he says.
"In some areas, we can adopt common, off-shelf technology that companies of all different sizes already use," Edwards says. "Companies in almost every industry utilize Ethernet switches and have, in many cases, large Ethernet networking infrastructures, whereas, we broadcasters are the only ones using SDI. So I suspect that we can benefit from economies of scale by using common off-shelf hardware in some cases."
Edwards also points to the practical financial and logistical savings that implementation of an Ethernet foundation would potentially provide to broadcasters once Ethernet is proven practical for live broadcast, which he thinks is inevitable.
"At IBC this year, a company called Axon showed off a system they call Neuron, for live production built around IP-based technology," Edwards states. "Their demo showed them taking four bidirectional HD/SDI connections out over 10 GbE Ethernet, which would go over a hybrid fiber camera cable into an outside broadcast truck. The logical next step would be a 10 GbE Ethernet switcher in that truck, and then attaching Ethernet connected video processing devices to that switch. There are lots of other examples of these kinds of developments going on right now."
According to Edwards, those applications could potentially reduce the amount of cabling in broadcast plants, and just as importantly, in broadcast trucks. "If I could reduce the amount of heavy copper cabling in my truck by a sixth or a 24th, suddenly that translates into real savings. It is one thing to be able to pack all those cables into a facility like the Fox lot in Los Angeles, where I work, but it's another to pack them all into a truck, where you might have hundreds of video signals and copper cabling going everywhere today. Just the weight savings in the truck alone would increase fuel efficiency greatly."
Edwards points to numerous demonstrations of how Ethernet can now be employed to move lightly compressed or uncompressed video material, including live signals, in efficient fashion. One example was a Cisco demonstration at the recent Cisco Media and Broadcast Customer Summit in which that company moved a live 4K 60p image from a Sony F55 camera by converting four 3G SDI outputs to uncompressed video over IP and deliver it via a single 40 GbE copper Ethernet cable.
Perhaps the biggest reason the transition looks so promising to many on the engineering side of the broadcast industry is that it can lead to "more format agnostic plants," Edwards says. By that, he means that Ethernet dangles the potential for, at long last, future-proofed broadcast facilities running on software applications and IT-based hardware systems, rather than on lots of expensive, broadcast-specific, SDI-based hardware as a foundation-hardware that routinely needs updating or replacing to keep up with new formats and other breakthroughs.
With a single, two-way Ethernet pipe, the looming possibilities for the practical transport of 4K or even 8K imagery, and material with higher frame rates, better dynamic range, or larger color gamut imagery through such facilities is tantalizing, Edwards says. "An agnostic system could adopt any and all new formats for the foreseeable future. Sure there are bandwidth challenges when you go to 8K today-that would challenge today's Ethernet technology. But that is far down the road in terms of when 8K might become viable, and by then, we will have Ethernet bandwidth to handle it," he says.
Edwards concedes there may be some "blind alleys" along the way to a ubiquitous implementation of Ethernet in the broadcast world, just as the industry experienced on the path to SDI."Basically, the challenge we have now is to prove it all works properly for the [unique] needs of broadcasters. Today, new networks are already being launched using completely file-based workflows for non-live content, which moves nicely through Ethernet as file transfers. The issue is hard live content-synchronous transmission of video signals. This is not an area where Ethernet has excelled in the past, mainly because it is a relatively new requirement for broadcasters. That's why, right now, live content production remains SDI-based. We've basically gone halfway with professional networking with files, and now we have to take the next jump to get professional media networking for live content, as well. But our partners in the networking industry believe they can make it work correctly with existing devices," Edwards says.
"Everyone understands that Ethernet will be the underlying part of the solution in the end, but the fine details of how we are going to achieve this are still to be determined," Edwards says. "That said, in the past year 10 GbE per second Ethernet has become affordable and we expect 40 and 100 GbE
per second Ethernet to become affordable for enterprise quality switches. Then, it will be easy to move low-latency uncompressed HD video on Ethernet inside the broadcast plant."
The quest to develop standards and deal with all those "fine details" is heating up with work being done around the industry, particularly with the Joint Task Force on Networked Media, as discussed in the August 2013 issue of SMPTE Newswatch. [INSERT URL FOR AUGUST NEWSWATCH] Edwards expects the Task Force to publish a gap analysis in December between the user requirements it solicited earlier this year, and the technologies submitted by vendors in response to a Request for Technology (RTF)--a development that should give more shape to the drive to incorporate existing IT technologies into Ethernet's broadcast-related equation.
The industry underwent a similar transition when professional broadcast infrastructures moved from analog to digital, Edwards explains. "We are hoping we can arrange to develop standards to make this deployable within the next two to three years. Meanwhile, everyone is trying different proofs of concept along the way-things we hope will be part of the eventual solution."
Fox collaborated with other vendors to present such proofs of concept in October at the SMPTE 2013 Annual Technical Conference & Exposition, in Hollywood. The network and Xilinx Inc. demonstrated an IP-based broadcast video processing system relying on several video-processing tools from Xilinx and other companies, including a 10 GbE Ethernet IP connected video processing board. Fox also teamed with Arista Networks at SMPTE 2013, to demonstrate a proposed solution for frame-accurate switching of uncompressed HD video over IP. Edwards fully expects the industry to offer more demonstrations in the coming months.
"We are all working to solidify the edges of the problem even as we recognize there is a lot more to be analyzed before it all becomes real," Edwards says. "I have a feeling that in the coming year, network and broadcast vendors will take up the cause and show us lots of real-world demos for how we can actually do all this in a working fashion, to scale up to hundreds of live video streams moving through a plant with no loss of video and low latency. We have to prove this to the industry, and then we have to agree on standards. We need interoperability between all the vendors [as with SDI]. [This] is one of the great things about SDI, and I expect in the next two to three years, we will get there with Ethernet."
Year of CALM
TV Technology recently published a comprehensive look at the state of the implementation of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM) now that its regulations for moderating loudness in television commercials have been in place for about a year. The CALM Act is built on the foundation of the ATSC Recommended Practice A/85. The article notes that, since the law took effect, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted more than 150 waivers for broadcasters who could prove financial hardship. Additionally, the FCC has intentionally avoided fining anyone, giving the industry time to adjust to the new requirements. Currently, most TV stations surveyed are compliant. However, the article also notes that CALM Act standards continue to evolve as there has never been a universal study of loudness parameters in commercials. New technologies and methodologies are being developed to allow broadcasters to better measure and control such audio signals. In fact, the FCC has already made a minor adjustment to the rules, calling for "an improved loudness measurement algorithm" to better conform to the International Telecommunications Union's (ITU's) measurement algorithm for greater consistency. More tweaks are expected as the regulation enters its second year.
Annual Look at 4K Cameras
It was noted in this space a year ago, that the Studio Daily website publishes, at the end of each year, a detailed examination of the state-of-the-art in 4K camera systems and related technology. This year's roundup of the 4K camera landscape, once again penned by Bryant Frazer, suggests that some of the excitement over 4K acquisition is over, and that there was not "the storm surge of interest" that was anticipated about a year ago. That said, he states that there was "action" in 4K, again this year, particularly with 4K televisions hitting the market, creating new incentives for tools to produce for 4K content. Frazer's analysis looks at the products that were announced a year ago, whether they delivered on initial promise, and a host of other developments. One interesting trend is that 4K sensors are starting to show up in prosumer and even consumer level cameras. Frazer examines specifications, options, and prices, and offers his annual chart comparing 19 cameras from 10 manufacturers.
NHK 8K Buzz
The buzz about 8K, or NHK's Super Hi-Vision, continues to percolate, now that NHK is moving forward with its agenda to film and screen material in 8K, as it recently did at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Rumors continue to circulate about possible plans to broadcast live World Cup Soccer in 8K at the 2020 Olympic games. Kaleem Aftab of Filmmaker Magazine attended the 8K screening of a short film, The Chorus, at the Tokyo Festival, and then cornered high-ranking NHK engineering officials at the event for a lengthy interview about the potential of 8K broadcasting and NHK's plans. You can read the interview here at the Filmmaker Magazine site.