Go hard or go Home: Lawo goes in-depth on its mc² DSP Audio Processing block

German broadcast specialist Lawo launched its Home platform back in 2020, and in April this year it added the mc² DSP Audio Processing block to Home’s range of connectivity, security and management services. Four years after Home’s debut it feels like a big step, but this was always on the cards says Henry Bourne, senior director, experience and design at Lawo’s CTO Office.


Live broadcasting has been leaning into the cloud more and more over the last five years, but it has always been somewhat cautious when it comes to audio. Live broadcast audio in the cloud has a broad definition and it is often whatever people want to hear; it has been described as cloud control of on-prem servers, remote control of edge devices, and virtual machines running on a web-app, but pure cloud-native processing running at scale in environments like AWS and Google? Not so much.

Which is why when Lawo introduced the mc² DSP onto its Home platform, it sounded like a bit of a step change for the industry. With the intention of providing scalable, containerised audio processing where no physical processing core is available, it seemed to tick many boxes. But it’s always been part of the plan.

“What we have now was always the goal with Home,” says Bourne. “When we first launched Home it was as a user interface to manage streams and set up devices, but what we were actually doing was building a platform which can host any number of different microservices and apps.”

The company made a big noise about it at NAB. Although the Home mc² DSP app made its debut there, Lawo’s Home was also part of the Nvidia demo on the Dell stand as part of Nvidia’s Holoscan for Media demo. Holoscan for Media is also a media-focused compute platform which can run locally, in the cloud or as a hybrid; it too uses containers to build different applications and it is similarly built on broadcast industry standards.

It is a good fit, and Lawo’s new mc² DSP processing app works in a similar way, utilising Home’s containerised infrastructure to spin up services on the fly.

Different approach

Bourne says: “Home has a number of containers that we have developed, like a 2110 receiver, an NDI receiver, a video compositor or an audio processing block. When a user creates an app, Home pulls together the containers it needs and creates a chain of all these separate components to build that app.

“It is a very different approach to building one virtual machine and running that in a cloud environment; a split microservice container-based architecture gives users the ability to build things on the fly and remix them to suit their needs, and it only pulls together what it needs to support the application. In this way an architecture like Home delivers greater scalability and flexibility.”

“Whatever we like to think, manufacturers in the broadcast industry can’t commit to turning out new versions of processing hardware every year”

This approach also means that when something new is introduced to the platform, like an audio mixer for example, then it automatically gets technology that already exists in the Home platform, such as a 2110 receiver, for free.

“Because all Lawo’s Home apps are built into the same platform, everything we add can take advantage of the services that we’ve already designed, but it also futureproofs the system because when a more efficient technology is introduced, like NDI 6, every single app in the platform will benefit.”

Henry Bourne, senior director, experience and design at Lawo’s CTO Office

Quick to develop

But what about all that caution we were talking about earlier? The stakes are high for live sports, and live audio is famously challenging to get right with latencies, timing issues and redundancies all making depressing reading.

Lawo was already halfway there, with broadcasters having already used its multiviewers and stream transcoders live on air for some time. According to Bourne, all Lawo has done is add a new function onto that that same platform.

“Admittedly, there are different challenges in developing audio apps compared to video because of the differences in the way video and audio are processed, but Lawo has been doing audio for a long time, so we understand how to do it well,” he says. “The challenge was to take all that knowledge and assemble it in this new framework.

“Developing the mc² DSP app benefited from everything we’d already done in Home because we had already developed the ability for the platform to build an app, create the processing chain, deploy it and manage the life cycle; we already had a bunch of senders and receivers in place and the workflow for plumbing all these bits together. From that point of view, this was an easier development because all that was already in place.”

 

But what about latency and redundancy? While Bourne says that there is no difference in processing latency between the mc² DSP app and Lawo’s physical A__UHD Core, it doesn’t mean that latency isn’t an issue.

But the challenges are the same irrespective of where – or how – the processing is done.

“With remotely-processed Home Apps, broadcasters face exactly the same challenges as they would with a remotely-located physical core. Network latency is always more critical than processing latency, and as all modern physical cores are IP-based, irrespective of manufacturer, it means network latencies are all identical regardless.

“The fact is, wherever in the world you’ve set up your processing, there is no difference to the user whether they are using a physical A__UHD Core or an mc² DSP app; in fact, there’s no difference in sound, functionality or latency.

“For redundancy, you can run two apps in parallel in the same way you would for hardware, but media applications running in a compute environment provide more possibilities than just having two separate pieces of hardware running in parallel, where one is sitting in isolation ready to take over from the other.

“In a compute infrastructure you don’t need to build for peak use like you do with hardware. Its scalability means you can scale apps up and down as you need and only run them when you need them to be running. It also means you don’t need two things running in parallel all the time because you can spin things up when required rather than having to provide the same compute power twice over.

“It means that broadcasters are only paying for what they need.”

Future developments

In its launch video, Lawo’s senior director of workflow and integration, Lucas Zwicker, described Home as “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

“We built the Home platform to naturally scale with the advancements of the IT industry,” he said. “CPU capabilities are increasing nearly every quarter opening up entirely new dimensions. The mc² DSP app automatically scales with such advancements letting you grow from a few processing channels up to thousands.”

For Bourne, it is the only practical way for broadcast manufacturers to help broadcasters meet future requirements. “Whatever we like to think, manufacturers in the broadcast industry can’t commit to turning out new versions of processing hardware every year,” he admits. “Development cycles can take years and are difficult developments to complete. Now we can run mixers on a bigger scale than we’ve ever done on dedicated hardware, and whenever someone like Dell or Nvidia releases more powerful hardware we can take advantage of that compute instantly.

“The same goes for network interfaces. A 100Gb interface seems overkill for audio, but it might remove the requirement for additional services running on that server alongside the audio, and it might enable the simplification of the network infrastructure.

“That’s the other thing that really interesting to us; it’s not just about audio. We can now run on audio mixer on the same server as a multi-viewer and a bunch of transcoding apps, and deliver everything together from anywhere using a browser.

“We think there are huge advantages to being able to do all this on the same platform.”

 

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters