For most people operating outside of broadcast circles, the transition to IP is increasingly seen as ancient history with telcos long leading the way and leaving broadcasters in their wake. So why is it that many years later, the concept of embracing and pioneering IP in a broadcast landscape remains a substantial roadblock?
Back at NAB, we reported from an interesting panel discussion where we heard trials and tribulations right from the horse’s mouth in the form of the BBC and Cisco, so it was a fitting follow up to hear a different perspective from one of the smaller vendors in the scene. Faultline Online Reporter spoke with Norway’s Nevion, a supplier of real-time video monitoring and management technology geared towards IP contribution for high quality live production.
“When I moved over from the telco industry to broadcast 5 years ago, I was amazed that the hottest thing in broadcast was IP,” said Olivier Suard, Nevion’s VP of Marketing. “It’s because broadcast production technology is so well suited to the job in hand, that change is a big challenge for broadcasters.”
What Nevion does is bridge the gap between the likes of Cisco, which has marked its territory everywhere and anywhere, and those broadcasters who continue to wax lyrical about signals, according to Suard. The vendor has two flagship products, VideoIPath, a convergent orchestration and SDN control software system, and Virtuoso, a virtualized software-defined media node capable of performing real-time functions in the converged IP LAN/WAN network.
“There is a real need for transformation, where companies need to do more with less,” said Suard.
Last year, Nevion was recruited alongside Ateme by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to help revamp its BISS (Basic Interoperable Scrambling Standard) protocol for protecting satellite contribution to support live content transmission with conditional access across both broadcast and IP networks. Nevion’s selection was a sign of the times, with neither of the French firms known as security specialists, with Nevion recruited for its skills managing SDNs controlled via the Openflow protocol, separating control and forwarding of data through commodity virtualized devices.
Ateme’s role was to ensure interoperability between the CA controller in the network and compliant encoders or decoders from any vendor. Success of the extended BISS-CA protocol therefore relies on support from at least the principal encoder vendors, with Ateme naturally being the first to implement it in its Titan and Kyrion products. Suard noted that Nevion continues to work closely with the EBU, chiefly around developing standards and most recently supporting the broadcast of Eurovision.
Suard cited his company’s work with the SMPTE 2110 standard which has emerged more recently as a way of specifying carriage, synchronization and description of separate so-called elementary essence streams over IP for real-time production, playout and associated media applications.
That is why SMPTE conceived 2110 as a new mode of transportation designed from the ground up for IP. It does not affect the way video or for that matter audio and data are created at source or processed at destination, but just changes the packaging. The receiving device simply strips the payload, whether video, audio or VANC, from the IP packet stream, but this time without SDI. SMPTE 2110 therefore has to impose timing.
“Around 4 years ago there were no standards and avoiding vendor lock-in was a big challenge for broadcasters. Urgency has meant the development of standards has happened quickly so as to avoid incompatible standards,” noted Suard. The prize is the ability to use standard IP networks and IT infrastructure across the end to end video chain, blurring the distinction at the production and contribution end between studios and remote facilities including outside broadcast set ups.
Nevion, a 130-person vendor with ballpark annual revenues of $50 million, boasts customers including China Central Television and France Television in the broadcast space, plus British Telecom for which it provides connectivity between studios. In the post-production space, it lists Disney as a customer and also has a significant presence in governmental deployments, with Suard name dropping NASA.
Describing his company’s Virtuoso product, Suard said, “Big vendors like Cisco are in charge of the IP packets. The next step up is what are these packets doing? We handle the video and audio data, for example you might want to separate them out, and we do processing and preparation in the right formats.”
But while vendors like Nevion and the development of standards are helping smooth over the technological challenges in IP contribution workflows, there is a cultural issue in the broadcast sector which remains rife. This mindset is changing at a much slower pace than the technology around us, whereby teams of broadcast engineers are reluctant to relearn their trade, while network engineers are in high-demand and will take a toll on the pay roll as a result.