Guest Opinion: Live 4K and the rise of IP in production by Adam Cox, FutureSource

While 4K has been abuzz at recent trade shows, another game-changing technology was also gathering pace: IP. It’s nothing new, and has been used in parts of the broadcast industry for years, but its potential is now starting to be realised within the world of live production, writes Adam Cox, Futuresource Consulting Head of Broadcast Equipment.

The emergence of 4K is acting as an enabler for IP. The two areas that are cornerstones for any new technology such as 4K are movies and sports. These genres are the standard bearers for new technologies and lead the way as Pay-TV industries invest in the latest innovations in order to keep their content offering relevant. This was the case for HD, it was the case for 3D, and it will be the case for 4K.

Live production of 4K: the barriers

4K in movies has now reached a certain level of maturity, but 4K live production is another matter. One of the most formidable barriers to the success of live 4K production is the bandwidth requirement. The current solution requires the use of four synchronised 3G-SDI cables to transport video around facilities, but this is far from ideal for a variety of reasons including reliability and cost, both of which stem from the simultaneous use of four cables for one video signal.

Enter IP. IP within broadcast has been used for archive, file transfer, contribution and distribution amongst other applications for a considerable length of time. IP within production is another thing entirely; in many ways live production is the last bastion of SDI.

Although 10GigE IP networks have a comparable bandwidth to quad 3G-SDI networks or even the new 12G-SDI standard, the benefits of IP far outweigh those of the incumbent technology. Scalability is one of the most important words when it comes to the reasons why IP will be so important to live production. Over the years, each new technology has required the next small step in infrastructure to accommodate the new bandwidth, culminating in 3G-SDI used to handle the bandwidth of 1080p50/60. The replacement of existing infrastructure required by each upgrade involves tremendous disruption as new equipment is installed and cables are laid.

Alongside scalability, flexibility is also a huge plus when it comes to live IP production. In essence, the flexibility of an IP network is derived from the fact that any part of the network can communicate to any other part. Instead of a point-to-point style like a traditional SDI architecture, an integrated IP network means that content can immediately be passed on to multiple stakeholders (video servers, archive rights holders and the like) that have access to the network and are not necessarily in the same geographic location.

Remote production

This opens up the possibilities of remote production and the efficiencies associated with it. Despite many people on the creative side of live production being against remote productions, there is a lot of logic behind them. Using resources remotely cuts down on travel costs and allows resources to be used efficiently.

For example, the remote production of a sporting event such as the World Cup in Brazil means that the talent and crew doesn’t have to be flown out, fed or accommodated while studios and production equipment that would ordinarily not be in use can be utilised.

The move to adopt IP within live broadcast is potentially a complex and initially costly decision, but it does seem inevitable when considering the factors listed above. However, this transition — and therefore the adoption of live 4K — faces a key barrier.

It isn’t a technological or commercial factor, it’s a human factor. The broadcast market is incredibly traditionalist and where working practices and technological principles have been in place for a good length of time, shifting people’s entrenched views takes some doing.

The world of broadcast is one of creativity, but in a strange paradox, in many cases the innovation and willingness to try new things — that is prevalent on the creative side — is much reduced on the technical side. This is understandable in many ways; live content is the most precious of all content and is the last place you want to take risks.

IP has made the leap into other areas of broadcast and now a point is being reached where the leap of faith needs to be made in the live production world in order to move to 4K.

How big, how soon?

So, how far away is mainstream adoption of IP within live production? The consensus seems to be that within two to three years the industry will start to see a real shift begin towards the technology, although we will start to see more trials and initial implementations before this.

Large scale adoption is further away still, dependent on a number of other variables such as availability of equipment and upgrade cycles. For example, the investment been in OB trucks over the past few years means the transition to IP is unlikely to take place in this key market for another four to five years.

For further information, visit the Futuresource Consulting website to download a detailed whitepaper, which delves deeper into the subject.

Subscribe and Get SVG Europe Newsletters