Arena Television and Axon Digital discuss ‘fluid and flexible’ IP conversion requirement for latest-generation OB trucks

As the brave new world of IP-based broadcast production continues to take shape, one of the overriding expectations to have been consistently underlined is for conversion between different formats within the IP domain to be as quick and painless as possible. Arena Television’s Deputy Director of Operations, Dafydd Rees, confirms that this requirement underpins the ongoing development of its IP-based 4K trucks, and has informed the continuation of a long-term association with signal processing and conversion technology specialist Axon Digital Design.

Rees says that as work on Arena’s IP trucks – which include OB12, OBX, OBY and the forthcoming OBZ – have progressed, his team has “been able to identify some gaps in different manufacturer product lines with regard to what we wanted to achieve. So, for example, there were some functions where we had to have a number of IP cards bolted together to undertake what should be fairly simple processing.” As Arena moved away from the ethos of ‘one manufacturer’, truck-encompassing solutions towards different brands for different areas of the infrastructure, the need for seamless conversion inevitably became more acute.

Having benefited from a positive association with Axon for many years – “it’s a good positive dialogue that we have, and they have always been very responsive when we have asked for new features” – it was a logical step for Arena to start a further conversation with the Dutch-based company in mid-2016. As a consequence Axon has contributed its feedback to, and become one of the earliest adopters of, a steady stream of new Axon IP conversion products, including the NIO440 – a 4-channel bi-directional Ethernet/SDI bridge – and, most recently, two new Synapse cards (NUG220 and NGU220) designed to resolve conversion within IP and 4K.  

To dive down into the details a little, the NUG220 can bridge up to 2x 4K/UHD TiCo Compressed streams into a dual 1080i/p SDI stream or a dual 4K/UHD four-wire stream. It features a down-converter that bridges the TiCo compressed workflow to an HD (1080i or 1080p) workflow. The NGU220 can bridge up to 2 x 4K/UHD (four-wire) into a single 10Gb/s Ethernet using TiCo compression, and features an up-converter that also allows 1080i signals to be included in a 4K UHD TiCo compressed workflow.  

OB12 was the first Arena OB truck to benefit from the Synapse cards, which have seen heavy use throughout the last 12 months as the vehicle has toured the UK covering Premier League matches for BT Sport. Coming right up to date they will also handle IP conversion in OBZ, Arena’s latest vehicle that will cover both sport and a variety of entertainment events when it hits the road this summer. “We will be putting the finishing touches to OBZ over the next couple of weeks,” confirms Rees.

Reflecting on these developments, Rees says that Arena has “greatly benefited from their team’s strong customer focus and pragmatic approach. Through our latest collaboration, we have created working IP solutions where native IP products are simply not yet available and that integrate with the technologies we’ve deployed. This has enabled us to drive IP production forward.”

‘Density, reliability and flexibility’

Axon CTO Peter Schut tells SVG Europe that there are three primary benefits of implementing Synapse cards in the OB environment, namely “density, reliability and flexibility. All Synapse cards fit in the same 4RU and 2RU frames, meaning that the system can be fully optimised without the drawback of half-empty frames (which is what happens with many of our colleagues who have several processing platforms). With Synapse, every processing need will fit, including multiview, UHD HDR to SDR processing and back. A lot of specialised audio processes like Dolby and Soundfield also fit the same frame.” 

Schut proffers several other examples of the Synapse cards’ support for versatile ops. “The flexibility of the system allows hardware platforms to be re-used for different functions. An example is the NIO550 SDI/Ethernet bridge that can be re-programmed into a NUG220 or NGU220 Ethernet bridge with a dual TiCo codec,” he says.

The flexibility of control, meanwhile, is “greatly enhanced by Cortex, one of the best free control and monitoring software packages in the industry. Cortex is a daughter of Cerebrum, our flagship control software that is used in many trucks and mobile applications. If you just need to control Synapse you can use Cortex. If you need to also control a lot of third party products then you use Cerebrum, which has Cortex built-in.”

Early adopters

Schut acknowledges the pace-setting role Arena has played in establishing IP production as a realistic option, remarking that “every technology step-change relies on early adopters, and Arena is a pioneer with a vision leading the way into IP production. Arena has dealt first-hand with issues in this new environment, found out the hard way what works and what needed adjustment, and they have readily shared their experience. This enables us to develop and deliver conversion solutions that make their workflow more efficient and reduce the number of conversion stages significantly.”

Aside from Arena Television, Schut cites a raft of other broadcasters and service providers who have added Synapse products to their OB truck, flyaways and broadcast centres in recent times. Among those who now have Axon Synapse on board are: CTV, Timeline and Telegenic in the UK; United and NEP DutchView in the Netherlands; Videohouse in Belgium; Studio Berlin in Germany; Reckord TV in the Czech Republic; Sweetwater in the USA; Panaroma in Russia; RTM in Malaysia; HD Resources in Sweden; and Shaanxibc, Guangxi, Guansu, Lianing TV and Hebei Radio and TV, all of which are located in China.

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