Among the many new product launches and announcements at NAB this year, there were a couple of things that struck me as interesting indicators of up and coming technology that are well worth keeping an eye on.
Sony showed the production version of the NXLIP55 IP Live Production Unit, which enables multiple video data streams to be transmitted over an IP Local Area Network (LAN). The unit enables multi-camera shoots with up to 3 video streams. The system maintains broadcast quality full HD video over the IP network, equivalent to the picture quality of the traditional HSC-300 and HXC-100 HD cameras, though it works with any video signal.
As well as transmitting three camera signals, the IP55 handles up to 10 audio channels, including intercom, control signals, Tally, General Purpose I/O and genlock. Sony claim it is the only product that supports genlock across IP, and they say the delay from the encode to decode across the network is about 1/2 frame.
What I felt is significant about this is not that they could stream video across an IP network- that's not rocket-science these days- but that they are proposing this as a workflow going forward to enable remote production across a wide-area network. For instance, they discussed the ability to bring one encoder to a remote location, and bring all the signals back to a control room located at HQ- potentially saving the expense and complexity of sending an OB truck to an event- depending on the event size of course, and depending on having suitably reliable links!
Another example might be on a golf course, where you could locate one box at the green, with three cameras connected via the NXL box, so you would only need to send one fibre (or network) cable out to the green, potentially providing a significant saving in cable costs and manpower. There's a good article on Sony's web site, http://www.sony.co.uk/pro/article/broadcast-nxl-ip55-1301 worth a look.
Taken with the recent announcement of a joint task-force on networked media from the EBU/SMPTE/VSF to establish a set of standards for the exchange of professional media across networks, and developments from manufacturers such as Snell, it's clear that the future direction of professional broadcast equipment lies in the IT domain, and the days of dedicated hardware for media processing may well be numbered. Will we still be using HD-SDI and other dedicated signal transmission technologies for video infrastructure in the future?
Once clear protocols, standards, and topologies are established, with sufficient quality and latency, it's hard to see why you'd develop dedicated hardware for any but the most specialised applications.
TVB Europe have a good article describing the objectives of the task force in their May issue, (see it here http://content.yudu.com/A20m01/May13/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.tvbeurope.com%2F ) and the Press Release from the EBU is available here- http://www3.ebu.ch/cms/en/sites/ebu/contents/knowledge/technology/news/201304/call-for-participation-in-networ.html
There are many challenges to be overcome before this could become a reality, but it's fair to assume that it will only be a matter of time before these are sorted out and we start to see systems built around networked systems.
Whilst file-based workflows have become the norm for post-production, graphics, and playout, live production has to date not been a practical candidate for networked media, due to bandwidth, latency, and usability. TV studios and OB trucks have had to rely on the real-time dependability of HD-SDI to transmit and mix the video signals of cameras, and Presentation Suites have been built around traditional signal types with all the attendant dedicated hardware associated with HD-SDI. However, once live signals can be carried across IP networks with sufficiently low delay, and once vision mixers, audio processors, and other infrastructural elements are developed to handle networked signals, the potential to completely redefine the broadcast facility becomes inevitable.
Imagine a broadcast facility where the studio cameras are networked, rather than tied to a particular gallery control room, and where the traditional video router becomes a data router- albeit maybe a specialised one- and the possibilities start to become intriguing. For instance, imagine a studio complex where all the studio floors are located conveniently at the back of the block, with all the control rooms built in a central office space, with dynamically-assigned facilities.
Or a remote studio might have the cameras on robotic heads, with the vision control operated from a central studio control block located at a headquarters building located anywhere Whilst this is possible now with adequate links, it's not hard to imagine a scenario where a standard national IP network replaces the dedicated links network. Similarly, and as shown in Sony's trials on the NXLIP55, it would be likely that OB facilities would build central control areas back at base, and just send a minimal crew with cameras to the location, rather than the existing marathon logistical task of send trucks, with all the associated costs. Not of course for every event, and its hard to see it working for major sporting events, but maybe for smaller events, concerts and so-on it would be perfectly practical.
When the day comes that you can use a low-cost network card to connect broadcast equipment in place of expensive dedicated video cards, then the cost of the specialised hardware system are numbered. The major manufacturers are of course tuned in to this, and at NAB, several were showing future technology that could show the way forward. Snell and Harris showed prototype routers with data routing for broadcast, Sony had the NXL as described earlier, BBC Technology showed their Stagebox IP-based camera back, and even smaller companies such as Broadcast Pix were showing the integration of cloud-based media with live camera feeds in their switchers.
Sp what does all this mean for those of us in the business? Well for the TV studios & OB companies, I think it points to a future where the cost of entry to the major league is likely to fall dramatically, and as has happened in the post-production market, rates are likely to tumble as new lower-cost players enter the market. For broadcasters, the new architectures should provide a degree of nimbleness and flexibility that might help counter some of the pressures they are under from the new media competitors, and maybe help them provide live programming at lower cost.
However, having said all that, I don't think this is all going to happen tomorrow- as with any new shifts in fundamental technology, it's going to take a while to iron out the bugs, agree the interconnectivity, and replace relatively recent infrastructure, so my best guess would be it's a 4-5 year timescale at a minimum for most facilities, since they'll also need to recoup their current investments, though I'm sure pockets of users will appear in the meantime.
And as always, I am looking at this with the eye of a systems integrator and distributor- what does it mean for us and our industry colleagues? Well, we need to keep on top of the developments, learn the new standards, and educate our customers, and help them transition to the brave new world as it appears. It will be more about providing consultancy and design, rather than making our money on the hardware as in the past.
As for 4K? Well networked media, given sufficient bandwidth, doesn't care, so it could well be a driver in both directions.... take a file from the 4k camera, into the networked switcher, through the networked Presentation desk, into the networked encoder, out to the transmission network, and into the set top box in the home, without ever converting to baseband- there are a lot of attractions to such a chain.
Since originally publishing this post, there have been rapid developments in this area- these will be the subject of an upcoming blog, but the proposed standardisations under SMPTE-2022 and it's variations, along with proposals from Evertz and their ASPEN initiatives, and the establishment of the AIMS partnership, point the way to a rapid (in standardisation terms) establishment of inter-operable standards across the industry.
Till next time, as always comments are welcome.
This blog was first published on Kevin Moore's own blog site, Kevin Moore's Broadcast Blog, in 2013.
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