Sony IP Live: Interoperable production is all about partnerships
With the opening of Sony’s new IP Live Studio at Pinewood Film Studios, and its new participation in the Networked Media Incubator project of the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), Sony hopes to demonstrate that it really is serious about interoperability as the heart of IP production.
Indeed, at its official launch in Pinewood, Sony invited along some of the 50 partners it has in its IP Live Alliance, as well as Hans Hoffmann, senior manager, Media Production Technologies, EBU, to help put the case for interoperability.
“The IP that we developed is ready. However, for the future we need to be more open,” explained Toshihiko Ohnishi, deputy president, PSG, Sony Professional. Sony already offers full, end-to-end production (in association with some of its partners), but for the future “we need to communicate [with other manufacturers] in order to make interoperability possible,” added Ohnishi.
“Remember, MXF was supposed to be a means for every manufacturer to be able to be interoperable,” but without doing extensive testing, “it was very difficult,” and the industry needs to learn from that experience, he added.
Whether through the IP Live Alliance, or with organisations like ASPEN and AIMS, he said that: “As long as we exchange information very openly, there are few issues remaining,” said Ohnishi.
Already, few hardware issues remain; it is more a matter of incorporating software into the systems. The main barrier to achieving interoperability is that some manufacturers feel they have the best solution and are reluctant to compromise. “Frankly, all of them are right — within some applications, but in order for the entire world to be more IP nice, we need to work together,” he said.
The inevitable transition to IP will eventually mean moving baseband products to software, according to Paula Bargery, Imagine Communications’ sales director UKISA, but to get there it will have to move to hybrid SDI/IP products first. “It’s a new world for us too. We’re working with very different partners than we were two years ago,” she said.
Evertz has been shipping IP-enabled products for two years. “The problem we’ve faced in the industry is the lack of product from other manufacturers. That’s all been held back by the lack of standardisation. In a way, at the moment, we have too many standards, so we’ve recently joined the AIMS consortium, and the hope is that more people are getting behind that particular standard and start to focus it. We do have our own standard, ASPEN, that we’ve been delivering for a number of years, we also support the SMPTE 2022 standard, which was good for early adopters and playout installations,” said Simon Reed, Evertz UK, Managing Director.
“IP is one of the three strategic areas we are focusing on, alongside better workflows and images,” said Olivier Bovis, Head of AV Media, Sony Professional Europe, and broadcasters investing now in IP should still be sure that everything will work as expected and be interoperable in four or five years time. As Ohnishi pointed out, some Sony customers have already invested in IP-based contribution, data centre or production islands, and each will insist on this investment remaining viable, so each manufacturer has to commit itself to honour that. “In the case of Sony, we are committing. In the production environment, we are already delivering this system to customers. This system will, of course, be usable with the other systems,” he promised.
Lawo (which is providing control systems and an audio console for Sony’s IP Studio) is already an IP-native company, especially when it comes to video (“not having an SDI legacy”), having undergone the transition already with audio, and then added the VSM control and video transport over IP to its portfolio, explained Andreas Hilmer, its director of marketing.
“This is not fantasy any more, this IP stuff. It’s out there and it’s bringing benefits, and these benefits are not because the technology is cheaper (if you compare it to baseband), but because of the workflows, the operational costs involved and the creativity it allows you,” he said.
VSM’s user interface remains the same whatever technology is used. “A user of VSM in an SDI truck or IP truck won’t see any difference, and that’s what we need to bring as manufacturers to the market: not only new technologies and new workflows, but a user interface that can be transferred for the user,” said Norbert Paquet, Strategic Marketing Manager, Sony Professional Europe, in charge of live production. “A director must see no difference and only benefits. And that is where VSM is a critical point for us to integrate, and that is already working here.”
The key to interoperability
The industry has focused a lot on media transport (such as SMPTE 2022-6 or ASPEN), but there are many other components that have to be aligned in order to be truly interoperable. Paquet likened it to a key, where all the pins (the EBU’s required layers — media transport, timing, identity, discovery and registration, flow control, flow switching, and compression) have to match precisely if it is to unlock an open workflow. “One single pin not aligned will not provide interoperability,” he said.
SMPTE 2022-6 was designed for contribution rather than the IP production. “It was targeting the wide area network,” explained Hoffmann, but at least it gave the industry a standard, “how we can tunnel SDI over IP. Let’s use that, because nothing else was there, also for early implementations for production in the studio. But, this can only be an intermediate stage, and work has continued to separate now the elemental flows that you have in SDI,” which will lead to TR-03 and TR-4, which allows flows to be separated or combined for transport over IP.
“Tunnelling over IP is an important step, where we get to know the technology of IP, but actually we need to go a step further.” Hoffmann believes that there will be products supporting this early next year.
“The industry has been very focused on the concept of IP – ‘how do I put a video signal down an IP cable’. That’s really only a stepping stone. What IP is really going to be is a big enabler for things like virtualisation, cloud-based services, and at NAB we were beginning to see companies that were demonstrating working, cloud-based solutions for television channel playout,” said Reed.
“We know that the vast majority of installations over the next ten years are going to be some form of hybrid. There will be a traditional SDI element – everyone is not going to throw that out immediately – as well as the IP elements,” pointed out Daniel Bailey, product manager, Tallyman, TSL Products.
IP does offer some real advantages, particularly on control, such as auto discovery of devices, metadata, device and connection control and management. “But as soon as you go into a hybrid world, all that gets stripped away,” he added. To operate SDI islands with IP means using gateways “and devices are going to be blind to everything [SDI] before that gateway.” However, TSL has a lot of legacy information, which it will be able to collate and pass on to the IP environment. “It is a crucial part of building an IP system and will be for the next 10-15 years or so.”
No more proprietary solutions
“SDI was simple. The SDI standard was 32 pages. If you would print the Ethernet standard, plus all the additions to it, it will be a full pack of paper. The complexity is huge,” said Hoffmann, which makes achieving interoperability more difficult, and makes training even more important — not just for engineers, but also for creative people. “To show them what they can do with the new technologies.”
He sees several areas of interoperability where there are still questions to be resolved, particularly compression, identity, device control, flow control and flow switching, although such areas as connection management, discovery and registration, essence encapsulation, and timing are fairly settled.
The Joint Taskforce on Networked Media (JT-NM) began discussions on Phase 3 in Geneva last week, to co-ordinate the evolution of standards and develop a common roadmap, to make it easier for broadcasters to move from just SDI over IP to managed flows and virtualisation over the next four or five years. The JT-NM recently took on the AMWA, because it needed more software engineers involved. It is also working with AES, because it has solved many issues with audio over IP.
“We don’t want proprietary solutions. The time is over for that. We need to have fundamental agreements, but also we want to have innovation amongst the manufacturers. This is the balance we try to realise, to identify the issues and blockers, providing opportunities for co-ordination,” said Hoffmann.
“The interest in the industry is huge, but the questions are also huge,” he added.
“One of the problems we’ve seen in the early systems is, in a way, too many standards,” said Reed. “We’re having to do conversions between all these different standards and it makes it quite difficult to build a system, because one particular box comes in, maybe a graphics engine working on a different standard. You’ve then got to start converting in and out of that box, which adds complexity to the system.” With about four IP transport standards and a further four compression standards, that is 16 possible formats to deal with for input and output, which is a big problem for something like a 32-input multiviewer, which has to have a lot of decompression engines, resulting in greater power use and more heat. “Every time that compressed video hits another device, that device has to understand that compression,” he said.
“We should use compression where it is absolutely necessary, but not roll it out as a universal format just to solve a short-term problem of bandwidth. Bandwidth can be addressed in other ways — building bigger networks, changing 10gig links to 25gig to 100gig links.”