2016 is a crucial year for the TV tech industry
As the first round of trade shows comes to end, David Phillips, business development director, SI, at Gearhouse Broadcast sees a TV industry ready to embrace change
The overriding message to come out of this spring's TV industry trade shows was that the future of IP within a broadcast infrastructure has made good progress since last year's IBC show. Although a single set of standards are still not agreed - there are different flavours from different manufacturers - we’re seeing IP standards and products moving in a more consistent direction.
Mixed essence over IP
At last year's IBC2015 there was a lot of talk about IP needing to be more than just video signals over IP. Now there’s a definite shift towards mixed essence over an IP infrastructure. Put simply, mixed essence enables the isolation of individual elements such as audio and metadata, meaning they can be treated separately, so only what’s needed gets moved. It’s a far more efficient way to send media across a network as you don’t have to push around a massive payload each time.
The move to IP for baseband signals, not just baseband video, is similar to the digital workflows we saw emerge around ten years ago. It was not enough to simply switch from tapes to files. The smart companies analysed the potential benefits of a file-based workflow, and adapted their production workflows accordingly. This process is exactly what’s needed with IP, and starting at February's BVE show in London, we saw a lot of this positive movement.
A crucial year for the industry
Interoperability between systems is critical. While many companies have already directed considerable investment in their own approach to IP, this R&D doesn’t need to go to waste. Interfaces can be developed to link into other technologies and standards. This is why we’re seeing the emergence of standards groups such as the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS), established to bring manufacturers together. For successful industry adoption, it’s vital that bodies like AIMS ensure what’s being delivered is what the customer actually wants, as opposed to what vendors want to sell.
2016 is a crucial year for our industry, and it will be interesting to see whether a coherent set of standards can be agreed. I expect to see the results of this work more clearly displayed at NAB in 2017. The NAB Shows are the big opportunity for manufacturers to demonstrate to end users and systems integrators the value of their work.
As a systems integrator, we want choice and interoperability. We don’t want to be forced down the route of some proprietary technology because a manufacturer believes they know best. The more coherent the policy and the standards, the better for us, the better for our customers, and the better for the industry as a whole.
Moving on to UHD?Going IP will make managing 4K and beyond a lot easier. Right now, getting 4K delivery down to a single interface instead of quad HD infrastructure, is critical to its adoption. Few broadcasters and content creators can afford to invest in the huge routers and vision mixers needed for 4K, when they’ll only use 25% of a system’s capacity for their current HD operations.
Building the right system infrastructure to meet these needs now and in the future is crucial. For example, we actually held talks with a customer recently about 8K because they want to have a future-proofed infrastructure. The only way of delivering media of that size is over IP. Indeed, some see 4K as a temporary format because once the standards are in place to make 4K over IP work, 8K is a natural progression. It could be argued that we’re now at the stage where moving to IP is like the switch from analogue to digital, and the move from 4K to 8K is the equivalent of going SD to HD. Yes, there will be complications and the inevitable interoperability issues, but we’re going to see a much easier transition with IP at the heart of this transformation.
Laying the foundations?
There’s still considerable work to do to prepare for the arrival of a full IP infrastructure and UHD. But it’s reassuring to see the building blocks being put in place, and the market mood far more optimistic.
The formation of industry alliances to define standards is a big step forward. These will help ensure that systems integrators like ourselves can build our customers the right, futureproofed infrastructure, allowing them to benefit from new production workflows that an IP infrastructure brings.