IP live promises radical redesign of the outside broadcast TV business
The days of the super-sized outside broadcast vehicle look numbered as video over IP routing systems promise greater flexibility and reduced cost of live production. Catch-22 for OB suppliers though, is judging whether to invest in 4K-ready vehicles with a legacy SDI base, or more flexible all-IP wired mobile units, or to wait until technology capable of 4K over IP arrives.
“ESPN, Fox, NBC, all of the major networks are looking at this type of thing,” reports Imagine Communications CTO Kerry Wheeles. “OB suppliers want to design whole new trucks and make them all-IP because their customers are asking for this.”
“OB companies would be foolish not to think about it,” confirms Mark Grinyer, Sony’s Programme Manager for World Cup 2014. “The key on their part is making sure that there’s enough of a product set that gives them that capability. We’ll start to see that product coming online around IBC time.”
A chief advantage of live IP production built on standard IT components rather than broadcast specific SDI connectors, is that the capital expenditure can be dramatically reduced. Part of this cost reduction lies in a reduced weight of cabling. Since Ethernet fibre optics can carry multiple signals the amount of cabling per truck can be reduced by at least a quarter.
“Some of the advantages of IP routing are lower cable costs and smaller sizes,” explains Robert Rowe, live TV manager at Snell. “You’re looking at something with much more capacity at about a quarter of the size. When you put these routers into a production facility or an OB truck, you can imagine the cost savings.”
Today’s 10 Gigabit connectivity can easily accommodate HD for backhaul so less and less production kit and personnel is required onsite, in turn leading OB suppliers to adapt existing vehicles or to design future trucks differently.
Wheeles says that US firms are already using the truck space freed by remote production by building “wine and dine” areas as hospitality for clients. Others, he says, are taking several smaller OB kits to venues and tying them together with IP transport.
At last year’s Wimbledon Sony-owned division Hawkeye began tests on what it dubs ‘intelligent production’ where a single operator is able to control coverage for an entire court. Grinyer, who is tasked by Sony with researching the impact of IP in an OB environment, suggests this work will be fed into the bigger picture of live IP production under development at the company.
With HD-SDI and other data like tally and talkback converted by devices like Stagebox and Sony’s NXL-IP55 into packets, cameras no longer need to be manned; they can be controlled from, and their outputs fed to, anywhere with a decent internet connection. In some circumstances, OB trucks can be eliminated and within large studio complexes there’s no need to have staff at every camera location.
“We will see a move from OB trucks to OB vans, particularly among OB suppliers who do not have the large-scale sports contracts,” says David Atkins, technical director at Suitcase TV, a partner in the Stagebox project. “We’ll see more niche live event sports brought to multi-screens.”
The truck Sony is currently building for CTV has been designed so that equipment and personnel can be swapped into different layouts. “With IP, the design of mobile units will become far more flexible so that you can configure seats for vision or EVS and so on very easily depending on the job,” says Grinyer.
Four times 3G means a 12G pipe
The dilemma for outside broadcast suppliers keen to equip themselves for a rush of Ultra-HD live production in 2015 is whether to kit out with legacy SDI equipment for quad 4K switching or opt for commodity IT systems overlain with IP control panels from the likes of Imagine, Sony or Snell. The catch is that none of these systems is yet available.
The data for 4K 60p is too great even for a single 10Gig pipe so trade-offs need to made between going with 10Gig and a mild [mezzanine] form of compression, or investing in greater capacity, but more expensive, 40Gig links.
“It’s one of the frustrating things that the 4K standard will be 50hz or above rather than 25hz [which will fit snugly into 10Gig ethernet],” says Wheeles. “4K at 50-60hz is effectively four times 3G which requires a 12G pipe.
“What nobody anywhere is going to do going forward is to work with four HD-SDI links [quad 4K]. That is a temporary solution. The industry will probably need to work out which compression scheme is best for 4K live in a mobile facility.”
Wheeles suggests J2000 is the frontrunner because it has most widespread usage today. Stagebox uses AVC-I and Sony, interestingly, has devised its own compression scheme which it is promoting to the EBU/SMPTE Joint Task Force on Networked Media [JT-NM)] and says it is making openly available to third parties in a bid to make it core to the emerging video over IP standard.
Snell, meanwhile, advocates VC2, the codec developed by the BBC R&D as dirac. Rowe explains Snell’s thinking like this: “The routing cost of SDI scales with the number of ports. So if you have a 1000 port router the cost scales by 1000. Video over IP on the other hand scales with bandwidth. The better the compression or the choice of compression, the more cost effective the core IP routing can be.
“A rough and ready reckoner for the cost of a fully redundant small SDI router is around $300 per port/signal,” he continues. “The equivalent in the IP world for uncompressed video is $150, but when you start to play with compression to get more signals through the IP router the cost of compression can dwarf the cost of IP routing infrastructure in the first place.
“In our view, if you use JPEG2000 or AVC-I in a facility the cost of compression and decoding outweighs the cost of the IP routing infrastructure and you arrive back at a cost of $300 per signal. However, if you use lightweight compression like VC2 the cost for video over IP reduces from around $150 to $75.”
Equipment tests are being conducted at US and UK broadcasters this summer after which Sony, Snell (partnered with Cisco), Grass Valley and Imagine among other key vendors promise to flesh out their live video over IP products and reveal the results at IBC. After that, outside broadcast suppliers have some serious decisions to make.