Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

22 September 2022

SRT boosts remote and virtual production at IBC

IBC 2022 was a good bellwether for the spike in interest surrounding virtual and remote production that came with Covid-19. It seems that providing capabilities for both workflows is now essential for any vendor in the space, with more companies than ever looking to the SRT (Secure Reliable Transport) protocol to do the heavy lifting.

What else became evident at the latest IBC Show is how the timing of Haivision’s SRTHub launch, at NAB in April 2019, two years after the protocol was open sourced by the SRT Alliance, was a masterstroke of timing. More than three years of phenomenal SRT uptake later, it’s as if we returned to brick-and-mortar events to see the SRT buzzword come of age – looking more like an industry standard than a fledgling transport technology for unpredictable networks.

Spanish video services platform provider Agile Content is viewing production as an increasingly essential means of getting entangled in the content ecosystem. “We realized you need an end-user-centric approach – distribution is good at that, but content is the key asset,” explained CTO, Johan Bolin, in Amsterdam last week.

A recent project with Swedish broadcaster SVT saw Agile Content ditch as much traditional broadcasting gear as possible to enable remote workers. “We realized a SMPTE 2110 feed with loads of megabits just does not make sense. At the venue you need SDI or NDI ingested into hardware,” explained Mikael Wangrenn, Innovation Product Owner.

Agile Content can ingest raw video feeds, timestamps, and encode the feed, before sending it to the cloud, allowing remote personnel to produce the content. Intel GPUs handle ingest, while Nvidia GPUs host all work in the cloud.

Time management is key, as content feeds need to be time stamped at the ingest and then re-aligned at the production stage. This proved difficult with 2110 as it required the Precision Time Protocol (PTP), which Wangrenn says was hard to distribute across the network.

With many of its clients increasingly using SRT to upload raw feeds to the cloud, Agile Content responded with a new protocol for synchronizing time stamps to replace MPEG-TS. “MPEG-TS was great for interoperability for older gear, but it has a load of quirks that you just don’t need anymore,” said Tobjorn Einarsson, Expert of Media Protocols and Codecs.

Enter the elastic frame protocol (EFP), which can transport absolute timestamps via RIST and SRT. “We no longer need to recover the clock. We can just sync as the internet is a duplex world,” Einarsson explained, referencing the dual pipeline that the EFP runs upon.

A low-quality feed runs to editors and mixers, while a mission-critical higher quality feed replicates post-production commands on the playout feed.

Agile Content has since open-sourced EFP, two years on from launch.

When Faultline spoke to Agile Content at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, the vendor seemed acquisition hungry, teasing a potential look-in at recommendations vendors. However, Bolin seemed more satiated. “There are some gaps in our portfolio for acquisitions, but we are not desperate,” he told us.

“We want to avoid the media and entertainment legacy model of entirely in-house build – it is exactly why operators have struggled to move to IP,” Bolin cautioned. “We do R&D in-house, but we like partners, too.”

Another production vendor singing the praises of SRT is Avid. “It’s our way of getting content in and out of our systems,” explained Product Evangelist for Video and Media, Craig Evans. Avid’s Media Central Stream ingest offering can take an SRT stream and convert it into production codecs, like JPEG-XS, or editing wrappers such as OP Atom or OP1A.

Media Central Stream can also ingest RTMP, which Evans says is mainly used for gaming, as well as LiveU feeds. SRT is exclusively used for playout, however. The platform is also software agnostic, meaning that production teams can feed in assets to competing editing suites, such as Premier Pro.

Avid launched the Nexus F-Series in July, which finally brings the company’s Nexus storage system to a public cloud environment. Considering Avid’s huge focus on remote production since the pandemic, we are amazed it has taken this long to get its flagship storage product in the cloud. Storage is likely the question and the answer.

Cloud flexibility allows Avid to provide its storage on a subscription basis, which Evans says is in keeping with more general consumer demand for more agile pricing models. The move has caught the attention of big spenders, too, with both Amazon Studios and Paramount Global now using Avid’s products to produce shows in the cloud.

But on-prem hardware still serves its purpose, Evans tells us, especially for remote production. Here, Avid’s Nexus Edge is being used to maintain on-prem workflows from remote environments, with a notable example being NBC’s coverage of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

With pressures on content production consistently rising to meet consumer demand, large organizations can make use of their global workforce to pursue a ‘follow the sun’ strategy, whereby remote teams can pass the baton onto the next time zone keep production constant.

Avid already has a couple of customers pursuing this strategy. “There is huge appetite for experimentation,” Evans told us, with many currently trying to pin down their total cost of ownership (TCO) so that they can rein in unnecessary spending. “Cloud migration alone may not see TCO benefits. You need a complete rethink of management and workflows.”

Just one day later, we saw Avid’s TCO posturing completely flipped on its head by Blackbird’s CEO, Ian McDonough.

The virtual editing vendor’s boss referenced a whitepaper commissioned last year that demonstrated a 30% saving in TCO compared to traditional non-linear editing (NLE) platforms such as Avid and Adobe.

“Avid requires on-prem hardware and storage, which results in unnecessary duplication of files. Our bandwidth and computing requirements are lower,” McDonough explained.

Blackbird also claims to be four times faster than traditional NLE systems for post-production crew. Shaving down edit times means that studios can fully monetize time-sensitive content with multiple edits – goals in a soccer match, for example. “An editor can now create four times the amount of content in the same timeframe,” said McDonough.

Of course, one of the key stimuli for the growth in remote production is the sustainability drive that is sweeping our industry. McDonough confirmed that alongside UK carbon calculator albert, Blackbird would be joining the American initiatives for sustainability in production – PEACH (Production Environmental Actions Checklist) and its sister PEAR (Production Environmental Accounting Report).

The proposed savings in carbon, energy, cost, and active editing time has earned Blackbird a lot of new customers in a relatively short space of time. It already serves US networks like CBS and A&E, as well as over 70 news organizations, but McDonough teased a new client hailing from the production realm.

Following a nine-month integration, a large European vendor (the clue is three-letter acronym – we guess EVS) has onboarded Blackbird’s editing platform within its wider production suite. The combined offering is currently being rolled out to a top tier US broadcaster.

As for where the company is headed next, McDonough says that making Blackbird’s core offering self-serve is top priority. This requires the company to move into the domain of public cloud, with talks underway to decide a chosen cloud provider. “Our Blackbird cloud has been more than capable until now, but we need to scale. It is the next iterative stage,” he shared.

Coming full circle, Blackbird should note that Haivision’s SRTHub – the media routing cloud service for low latency live streaming and fast file transfer – started out life running on Microsoft Azure routing media from IoT-connected video encoders to production facilities.

The decision to embrace public cloud was a pivotal turning point in Haivision’s trajectory, as people “lost their minds” over SRT. Two years later, in March 2021, AWS followed suit, finally reacting to popular demand to add native SRT support to AWS Elemental MediaConnect, a delayed decision which cost AWS money. Don’t wait around.