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IP and broadcast; an industry in transition

As part of our special report into the industry's transition to IP standards and workflows, TVBEurope spoke to Thomas Bause Mason, director of standards development at SMPTE, to gauge the industry's current relationship with IP, the challenges that lie ahead, and SMPTE's latest work on standards

Firstly, do you think the industry is better informed about the transition/evolution to IP from SDI, or are there still questions and concerns that are preventing some media companies from embracing the change? 
Thomas Bause Mason

I think there are still gaps in understanding which parts are needed to build a fully IP-based infrastructure, especially which parts can be addressed through open standards and specifications. That said there have been many efforts to close these gaps. For example, the AIMS IP Showcase, which is routinely held at IBC and NAB (which SMPTE is a part of), and the documentation of necessary IP infrastructure parts like transport, control and timing as outlined by the SMPTE cofounded JT-NM in JT-NM TR 1001-1. 

Another reason why companies haven’t yet fully embraced IP as an infrastructure is that current open standards and specification-based IP solutions are not plug-and-play. There is a certain amount of setup needed which requires skilled staff which may be at short supply. This missing plug-and-play capability is especially difficult for smaller scale IP infrastructure.

Other reasons are the lack of IP native equipment like cameras, switchers, monitors; the limited availability of diagnostic tools; the lack of knowledge of IT technologies among a broadcasters staff; and the security concerns which haven’t been quite addressed yet. 

Certainly in the earlier days of the IP discussion, some of the reticence to change was because IP was seen as a threat. Do you think it’s important for the industry to think of IP as an evolutionary advance rather than anything more threatening, especially as hybrid environments are likely to exist for some time? 

Yes, definitely. I think it will be mandatory for a broadcaster to move to IP sooner than later to stay competitive. Yes, it will be some time until all equipment needed will be IP native, but it will come. The media industry is in a transformation, which will eventually embrace a sharing economy like what we have seen in lodging with AirBnB, transportation with Uber, or crafts with Etsy. IP infrastructure is a fundamental component of that shift and the media sharing economy. This transformation was only accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis, which forced broadcasters and production companies to adopt distributed production that allows for remote work through cloud systems and workflows. Underlying all this is IP infrastructure. It is forcing broadcasters to move away from location-based equipment rooms to centralised data centres that allow for better resource sharing between different production locations, but also for the monetisation of underutilised resources and distributed production.

For the uninitiated, could you describe the role of the SMPTE ST 2110 suite of standards and its importance in helping to define a pathway for IP adoption and implementation… 

The SMPTE ST 2110 suite is solely focused on the transport of video, audio, and data over IP connections in single essence streams for live TV production. This means that each video, audio, or data signal is transported in a separate RTP stream instead of bundled as it is done in SMPTE ST 2022. It also defines the methods to ensure that this transport is reliable as well as deterministic and that streams can be identified. It does not address device control or define the technology for synchronisation between network devices. 

SMPTE ST 2110 is one piece of the pre-step to move away from specialised interfaces like SDI to commodity IP-based hardware, which is a prerequisite to move infrastructure into centralised data centres and eventually in the cloud. It supports the move away from hardware systems to software-only solutions that can be virtualised for an effective use in a data centre and eventually in the cloud.

SMPTE offers virtual classroom courses on a variety of subjects, one of which offers a guide to SMPTE ST 2110. Talk us through these courses and their benefits to members… 

The SMPTE ST 2110 virtual classroom course is helping engineers and technologist to understand the background and the concepts of the SMPTE ST 2110 suite of standards in greater depth. It provides a background on why SMPTE ST 2110 was developed, what came before it and what are the most important parts of SMPTE ST 2110. It looks at the encapsulation of video, audio, and data into RTP packages/streams, how the synchronisation between different SMPTE ST 2110 network devices works, and how RTP streams and their essences can be identified by receiving devices. It will also look at SMPTE ST 2110 traffic shaping and delivery timing to enable reliable, low latency, and deterministic transport of professional media over IP. At the end of the course a participant will understand the inner workings of SMPTE ST 2110. The course is instructor-led with in-person training sessions and tests.

Have you seen an increase in the number of people seeking further reading or insight on the role of IP during the lockdown period, and do you think the pandemic period will have accelerated media companies’ thinking around IP, particularly those that have been slower to embrace the change? 

The Covid-19 Crisis accelerated the move to remote work for distributed production utilising cloud system and infrastructure that is build on IP infrastructure. While this does not necessarily concern SMPTE ST 2110 it does push broadcasters and media companies into an IP thinking and with that into the adoption of IP infrastructure and with it SMPTE ST 2110 but also SMPTE ST 2059, which is SMPTE’s standard for synchronisation of network devices in SMPTE ST 2110 infrastructure. 

We can see an increased interest in SMPTE ST 2110 as its documents are consistently in the top 10 of downloaded documents in our IEEE digital library. Our SMPTE ST 2110 virtual classroom course is our top selling course and we see a lot of interest by engineers to understand SMPTE ST 2110. There have been also quite a few SMPTE presentations and papers on either in-progress IP facility build in the US and Europe. There is much more experience with IP-based and SMPTE ST 2110 infrastructure out there than there has been a couple of years ago.

What is the latest IP standards-based work being carried out by SMPTE? 

With regard to SMPTE ST 2110, the group is currently working on revision of some of their documents (so called ‘one year review’) to fix some errors and to clarify some text. Part 22 is done now, which deals with compressed video over RTP/UDP/IP and the group now moved on to new efforts for high bandwidth streams (as in 8K video) over multiple network interfaces. Basically splitting one huge video stream into multiple smaller once for IP networks with links which do not have the bandwidth to accommodate the stream. The group is also working on standards (Part 41 and Part 42) for a general way to transfer general purpose metadata over IP. Similar to video and audio, this mechanism will allow the transport of any metadata in a single RTP stream without the ANC construct taken from SDI as described in SMPTE ST 2110-40. Lastly, there is an effort to look specifically at uncompressed standard definition (SD) video transport over IP (Part 24).   

Regarding other IP standards in SMPTE, we are working through a revision of the SMPTE ST 2059 standards and there has been quite a bit of interop testing (pre Covid-19) to make sure different system from different vendors are working together. We also started looking into work regarding API between media microservices to ensure interoperability there (we started two projects here). 

From SMPTE’s perspective, what appear to be the biggest challenges and pain points currently for media companies that are transitioning portions of their operations to IP? 

There are a few pain points that either need to be addressed or are currently being addressed by SMPTE or the industry at large:

  • Making SMPTE ST 2110 (and in extension SMPTE ST 2059) work in a unicast network like you have in the cloud. Progress has been made by using VPNs but more has to be done
  • SMPTE ST 2110 can probably improved to make it more usable and plug-and-play in small scale implementations 
  • Investigate what applicability SMPTE ST 2110 has in pro-AV 
  • Improve security for IP infrastructure. A lot is already available, and a lot is being done in the industry and SMPTE started looking at security for SMPTE ST 2059
  • Solve the problem of offering a full set of open standards and specifications that address all the needs of an IP infrastructure implementation similar to what IPMX from AIMS has done
  • IT skills for broadcast staff needs to be improved to enable implementation of IP infrastructure
Finally, what is your outlook for the widespread adoption of IP in the market – it feels like the industry conversation is far more mature, and the work of the likes of SMPTE, AIMS, AMWA, et al has really driven the agenda around capability and purpose, but is there still work to be done in terms of education and messaging before the industry gets fully behind this evolution? 

Yes, absolutely. There are now quite a few real-life full IP facility builds (in the US, Canada and Europe) which are either completed or underway. We do have IP OB trucks for production remote location and more native IP equipment is available. Some system integrators have IP roadshows to educate their clients on professional media over IP and SMPTE ST 2110 in particular. Switch manufacturers developed equipment which can work media facilities and they provide expertise. 

That said, while the industry is moving forward and while we are in a better spot in terms IP expertise and adoption compared to a few years ago, we do not see widespread adoption yet. There is still work to be done to communicate to the industry what is needed for a full IP implementation. There is still a need to implement open standards or specifications for device control like AMWA NMOS by vendors. But for that to happen these standards and open specifications need to more full featured and address the need equipment users are asking for, and all this needs to be well documented. 

The available standards and specifications have to be evolved to allow a plug-and-play setup especially for small scale implementations. Once that is all done this has to be communicated to the industry.

This interview is a full extract of Thomas Bause Mason’s contribution to our IP roundtable in the September edition of TVBEurope, which you can read here.