SVG Europe Analysis: ASPEN builds community to support IP rollout
ASPEN (Adaptive Sample Picture ENcapsulation) is an open framework that should allow users to build adaptable, scalable and more efficient IP facilities. It allows video, audio and metadata to be carried on individual IP multicast streams to provide greater flexibility for transport, production, and playout.
It is built on existing MPEG2-TS standards, and is claimed to offer a robust format for encapsulating uncompressed Ultra HD, 3G, HD or SD (and other future formats) over MPEG-2 transport streams, with very little latency.
Since its introduction by Evertz at NAB this year, it has garnered considerable support, and the new ASPEN Community, announced at IBC, already has numerous members, including manufacturers, broadcasters and outside broadcast companies.
“The ASPEN format is the first solution that makes sense to our end customers. It can be seen as the first IP standard available on the broadcast market,” commented Laurent Renard, CEO, I-MOVIX
“The industry is moving to a transition to an IP-based infrastructure. ASPEN has become a choice for several of our customers and that fact in itself is enough for us to support ASPEN,” added Petter Ole Jakobsen, CTO, Vizrt.
Ross Video has chosen to support ASPEN for similar reasons. “Evertz has the largest currently installed base of IP media infrastructures, we chose to become an ASPEN partner for the first IP interfaces to our Acuity production switchers. This allows Evertz customers a direct interface to production switchers without the need for ‘top of rack’ conversion gateways and aggregation devices,” said Nigel Spratling, its marketing product manager – Communications, Switchers & openTruck.
Sony sees its Networked Media Interface as “a total solution approach that not only covers the packetization of audio and video data, but also contains everything necessary for a full IP live production,” according to Nicolas Moreau, Product Marketing Manager IP Live Production & Workflows at Sony Professional. However, “given the existing standards, Sony has decided to support current packetization methods. This is on top of Sony’s proposal to the Joint Taskforce for Networked Media, which is based on essence-independent mapping of audio, video and metadata. This will enable compressed and uncompressed video in any resolution or frame rate.” As ASPEN also supports essence-independent mapping of audio, video and metadata, but encapsulated on MPEG2 transport streams, Moreau sees it as a useful tool for live production.
“ASPEN offers a number of benefits for live broadcasting. The key benefit is the separation of video, audio, and ancillary data (or metadata) into individual multicast flows. These individual multicast flows provide enormous flexibility in live production for video and audio source selection, audio breakaway and mixing from various sources. For example, operators can select video from a camera, and audio from another source without the need for external embedders/de-embedders (a model used in SDI) or loss of port bandwidth,” explained Mo Goyal, Director of Product Marketing, Evertz and co-chair of the ASPEN Community.
It also benefits from the use of MPEG-2 TS “with its inherent capability for stream and content identity (PAT/PMT) including synchronization and timing (PCR/PTS). The ASPEN framework is also future-proof. Today it maps uncompressed UHD (4K or 8K)/3G/HD/SD signals into TS, however it has provisions to add other formats (compressed or uncompressed). This protects the broadcaster’s investment in their IP infrastructure.”
The fact that it is a true end-to-end system, usable across “the complete value chain of live broadcasting; i.e., which is going to be available from the capture side to the production side including infrastructure and even beyond,” appeals to Renard.
Since the launch of the Community “we can already see that key suppliers and end broadcasters are willing to support this new technology and to move forward with this kind of open standard for transport. Being part of this new technological trend is clearly a way for us to be ready for the next future of broadcasting,” he added.
“Unlike SMPTE 2022-6, ASPEN carries audio, video and metadata as separately packetized essences, this makes it ideal in a live environment where often those signals need to be managed separately, whereas SMPTE 2022-6 (which is a good transport stream for inter-site connectivity) has audio, video and metadata carried as combined essences which makes routing and management complex,” said Spratling.
“The added flexibility with regards to access to signals anywhere within an IP based – or ASPEN based infrastructure gives the broadcaster new opportunity for their live (or non-live production),” added Jakobsen.
Key to ASPEN’s acceptance will be whether it saves money, makes broadcaster’s lives easier or enables a simpler transition to UHD.
“IP technology in live production systems offers a lot of advantages, from better scalability of the system to reduced OPEX by using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components,” said Moreau. “Adoption of IP technology in live production also leads to new workflows, where scalable remote production becomes a reality, providing minimal latency of real-time feeds from the field to the programme headquarters, allowing for a simplified workflow.”
Because ASPEN is based on MPEG-2 TS “it leverages years of knowledge and proven tools that broadcasters already have and are familiar with,” explained Goyal. “When mapped into IP (using SMPTE 2022-2), broadcasters can realize the additional benefits of workflow optimization with the goal to lower the cost of creating and delivering content.”
However, “no new connectivity scheme will achieve any of those goals in the near term, adding IP infrastructure requires new skills and software management systems,” countered Spratling. But, “in the longer term a fully IP infrastructure will be more flexible, scale more gracefully and accommodate change more easily than a traditional SDI/AES system.”
“Compressed video (MPEG-2, H.264, JPEG-2K) over IP has been done for years using MPEG-2 TS over IP with SMPTE 2022-2. ASPEN completes the missing element by mapping uncompressed video over MPEG-2 TS,” said Goyal. “When combined with SMPTE 302M (AES audio over TS) and SMPTE 2038M (ANC data over TS) and mapping into separate IP multicast streams, an ideal solution for the live production environment is achieved.” This provides for separate IP flows of video, audio and metadata that formats like SMPTE 2022-6 (essentially SDI over IP) do not (without the use of additional equipment). “Because ASPEN is MPEG-2 TS based, many existing measurement tools for testing these streams can be used. ASPEN-specific test capabilities are also currently available in third-party off-the-shelf test equipment for interoperability and compliance testing.”
“ASPEN is the first scheme to separate audio, video and metadata and was created by a leading industry manufacturer of infrastructure who implemented this scheme into very large scale signal management systems,” added Spratling. “It was cleverly designed to allow individual essences to be managed in an IP environment in much the same way as signals in a traditional digital baseband system. It can be used to managed compressed and uncompressed data streams and offers tremendous signal routing flexibility.”
ASPEN support is already available in some products, with more on the horizon. “Our Acuity production switchers are available with fully compatible ASPEN IP interfaces. These were introduced at IBC 2015 and a number of sports producers are currently evaluating these products,” said Spratling
“ASPEN has not yet been implemented in our ultra motion cameras, but will be soon, and we will certainly be ready to demonstrate this new capability at NAB 2016,” said Renard. Some demonstrations are planned this month.
“We are actively implementing support for ASPEN in our core Viz engine, which is used for compositing video and graphics in both sports and other productions. We expect to be on-air with the first system Q2 2016,” said Jakobsen.
“The majority of our IP product offerings are ASPEN enabled,” added Goyal. “Products like our 570IPG (Video IP Gateway) and 3067VIP10G (10G Multiviewer), with ASPEN support, are already in use at large production facilities. For example, NEP is using ASPEN for its latest IP truck. We also expect to have more announcements in the near future of other sports production facilities using ASPEN.”
Sony is “currently studying the implementation of ASPEN in our Networked Media Interface products and solutions for next year,” said Moreau.
“We’re currently involved with some of the biggest sports leagues in the world to make remote production come alive via ASPEN combined with some other technologies,” said Renard. “The added value of ASPEN with those technologies will allow broadcasters to get more for less and to spread out our cameras all over their stadiums thanks to the ASPEN compliant infrastructure.” I-MOVIX has been working with IP since early this year as part of major sports leagues projects. “As always, end-customers are enriching our R&D developments by the evolution of their needs,” he added.
“Our industry is at the beginning of a transition from fixed SDI/AES connection schemes to IP infrastructures that could offer greater scalability and flexibility. There are a number of encapsulation methods under discussion, including VSF TR 03, which is gaining a great deal of industry support. At Ross we are committed to supporting customer needs by developing products that can accommodate them. Our adoption of ASPEN encapsulation allows our products to directly interface to Evertz and other ASPEN Partner products readily. As integrated IP systems develop we shall undoubtedly be adding additional IP interfaces, gateways and conversion devices,” said Spratling
“We are happy to see the progress of ASPEN as it opens up for new opportunities as a result of moving to an IP-based infrastructure at an early point in time. We are convinced that we will see new and innovative production methods coming out of these efforts. ASPEN is one of the early opportunities for our customers and we are happy to be a central part of this,” added Jakobsen.
“ASPEN is getting a lot of traction in the industry. The ASPEN Community is continually growing with new vendors and end users being added,” said Goyal. “In fact, we’ve had a number of members remark how quickly they are able to deploy ASPEN on their products since it uses the existing TS ecosystem. This should give the industry some comfort that ASPEN is a smart and safe choice for facilities moving to IP and there’s a growing group of vendors supporting it.”