SVG Europe Sit-Down: sonoVTS’ Toby Kronenwett on the challenges of an all-IP truck and the outlook for HDR

Toby Kronenwett, Head of Business Development, sonoVTS

Headquartered in Munich, Germany with offices in Frankfurt, Cologne, Eglhausen, sonoVTS was founded in 2013 by the merger of VTS Studiotechnik GmbH and sono Studiotechnik GmbH. The company has been involved in many high profile installations recently, including The Confederation Cup, G20 Hamburg Summit, TCP IP Truck, eSports and Zambia Parliament. And as Toby Kronenwett, Head of Business Development reveals, the recent IBC exhibition provided an opportunity to make some important announcements…

At IBC you showcased improvements to the HDQLINE modular videowall and launched a new family of IP-optimised broadcast displays. What makes these special – and how were they received in Amsterdam?

A major differentiator for the HDQLINE is that is has enormous processing power – four times our previous models. “More power” is always desirous in technology, and particularly in processing – if it can be done intelligently and economically. With the advent of 4K/UHD and beyond, powerful yet elegant processing to handle that data is almost certainly to become the norm, but we’re there already.

What makes this particular range ideal for sport is that it is exceptionally scalable, adaptable, and lightweight; and is easy to transport and assemble. A single monitor can be replaced with no need to remove any others. It’s the result very intelligent design by our engineering team.

What benefits will the deal with CyanView announced at IBC bring to your clients?

We enjoy working with emerging players in the industry, and CyanView has some very clever ideas and exceptionally useful technologies. Moreover, we found early in our relationship that, on top of their very exciting IP-based “Cy-Stem” camera-control range, their work ethic tracks very closely with our own. The benefits of working with people you like, who have great ideas and proven technologies, always accrue directly to our clients.

You recently announced the first totally pure IP truck. What were the challenges?

An all-IP truck – in this case for Television Production Centre (TPC), the production company founded by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation –  was not necessarily what you would expect to be a challenge. We have designed and built many OB trucks, some including IP capabilities.

What was a huge challenge was the fact that this is the first designed to run totally uncompressed data over IP, which required a whole new design, planning, and implementation mind set. As a systems integrator, our primary challenge was that, when compared to a “normal” OB truck, almost everything has to be changed in an IP world – compressed or uncompressed – right down to the air conditioning.

But first things first. Uncompressed 4K requires extremely high, and continuous, data transfer rates, basically around 12Gb/s per signal. That, in turn, requires new interface protocols that, fortunately, Imagine Communications had recently developed, which can handle 100 Gb/s.

Scaling from SD to HD, or HD to UHD is actually pretty easy, but going to all-IP, particularly uncompressed IP, is a very different species. For example, because huge amounts of data are being processed very rapidly, the devices used to process them, although typically pretty small, are working very hard, and usually pretty close together, and therefore and can get very hot. That suddenly makes the design of the cooling systems for both the technology and the actual work environment more critical than usual.

This, coupled with other factors, also means that all-IP truck requires a completely new layout. What I mean by that is that actual work spaces can meet relatively familiar expectations, but how the infrastructure required for an IP-based workflow is imported into a truck is radically different than with traditional vehicles.

Finally, the planning for such a unique truck is extremely challenging, for two reasons. One, it’s never been done before, so essentially you’re starting in many cases from scratch. Many of the old rules no longer apply, so there’s a learning curve, albeit a curve that’s a lot of fun.

Second, as planning necessarily takes place far ahead of the build, it allows time for the technology to advance, which requires frequent – and sometimes challenging – adaptations along the way, occasionally requiring major technical revisions, or fundamental changes in the entire approach.

Fortunately, TPC is extremely forward-thinking. We have worked with them on various projects for many years and they are always very keen to push the boundaries of what’s technically possible. So, we did a lot of parallel planning with a variety of possible technical solutions to ensure that whatever final decision was made would not delay progress on the overall build.

It worked, and so does the truck!

How would you like to see IP technology developing over the next twelve months with regards sports broadcasting?

As IP-based production continues its inexorable rise for both studio-based and remote sports productions, the key from where I sit is to arrive at solid, proven standards upon which everyone can sing from the same basic standards and protocols. As I understand it, we’re nearly there.

The need for UHD – and in some cases HDR – technologies and services have added greatly to the complexity of production workflows, especially when you have to deliver a standard HD feed as well. The development of new products that can deal with that complexity is not only moving forward rapidly, but are areas that we actively seek out, investigate, and trial to ensure that they might ultimately benefit our customers.

Having said that, companies like sonoVTS must also stay well informed about developments in baseband, which will be around for quite some time to come. I guess what I’m saying is that there is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a lot to learn to ensure we continue to provide the best possible service and advice.

Has the increase in remote production had an impact on your business?

Definitely, and it will continue as the excitement around its possibilities gains further currency. No matter where you want to be, you still have to get there. We get our clients “there”.

Where do you think we will be with HDR by the middle of 2018?  Or should we be looking further ahead for significant take-up?

It’s difficult to say with a high degree of certainty at the moment. There are those who have reservations about the take-up of HDR, and an equal number of strong advocates. I can only base our projections on the interest and demand for HDR capabilities we experienced as a result of providing technologies for the World Cup in Brazil last year, which was strong. In any case, a major part of our job is to assist in the implementation of whatever our clients want, which means being ready for any trend or technical eventuality. The rest is up to market forces.

If there is one thing you’d like to see equipment manufacturers design in 2018, what would that be?

An agnostic IP control environment that would give customers independence from manufacturers.

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