SVGE FutureSport: IP, Ethernet Set to Transform Sports Production

The FutureSport Europe Summit at The Kia Oval in London yesterday (3 December) took a look at the increasing trend of using IP-based transport and fibre pipes to simplify remote production by either allowing production teams to work far removed from an actual venue or by allowing trucks to move to new internal signal transport technologies.

Laurent Petit, EVS, market solutions manager OB & live production, said the most important thing for anyone looking to move to IP-based transport is to find out what kind of problems are trying to be solved.

“If you want to integrate the video and data into a more IT-centric infrastructure you need the right solution for the problem you are trying to solve,” he said.

“Is this going to replace traditional OBs and production?,” asked Malcolm Robinson, Broadcast Networks, director media & broadcast Ssolutions. “Is remote production good for this type of environment? That depends on the broadcasters themselves.”

And even then, he added, what they think they may want may not ultimately be what works. In Switzerland, for example SRG placed fiber up and down a mountain so that production staff did not have to have trucks moved to the top of the mountain. But the quality of the product suffered.

“It cannot solve all of the problems,” he added. “You can cover a big football match remotely but then you don’t feel the buildup and atmosphere.”

Sport production professionals working in Scandinavia, he added, are blessed with very strong fibre networks so countries like Norway continue to rely more and more on pipes to allow for long-distance production that removes the need for OB trucks to travel vast distances from the top to bottom of the country.

But not all nations are as well connected as Scandinavia. Phil Govan, Tata Communications, head of sales EMEA, said that costs can vary wildly on a country by country basis but both competition and regulation can drive down prices of connectivity.

“But it is still cheaper to send signals from London to Singapore than it is to send the signal over the last kilometer in Singapore,” he added. “So what is driving usage is if it is affordable to get connectivity into a venue for an event.”

That said, the trend is that connectivity, over time, continues to become less expensive. Andy Rayner, Nevion, VP of Engineering, says his company is seeing an uptick in remote production as the key enabler is bandwidth with the kind of latency needed to support live production.”

“Five years ago many in our industry would buy an SDM1 connection at 155 Mbps and now they are paying less for a 10 Gbps circuit. So suddenly even if you don’t want to compress a signal it is viable to transport it over a fairly wide-area environment.”

Raynor added that static network deployments are preferred and if bandwidth considerations are a concern than light spatial compression of about 4 or 10 to 1 means that a 1 Gbps pipe can still do several channels of video.

And IP is also playing a more integral part within the OB environment as well. But moving from traditional SDI to IP-based transport is not without its challenges, said Jan Eveleens, Axon Digital Design, CEO.

“All of the problems like synchronisation or latency are not so easily solved in the IP domain without additional help,” he explained.

Audio Video Bridging AVB) standards developed by the IEEE are definitely helping make it possible to carry compressed or uncompressed signals over an Ethernet network as they address issues related to synchronisation and latency.

“Ethernet is important and the coax and SDI environments will disappear in the next 10 years,” he added. “And AVB is a very good mechanism for the transport of AV signals.”

But Raynor added that the jury is still out on some uses of Ethernet, in particular when it is used outside of the studio or OB walls. And even within the walls there are still plenty of challenges, according to Petit.

“When you go through an IP router you have to set up an address and also check that it is configured properly,” he explained. “If not the trouble starts.”

The problem, added Eveleens, is IP addresses, something you don’t have when simply using Ethernet connectivity.

“It can be a plug-and-play environment but if you don’t supply control surfaces that mimic how people work today it won’t fly,” he added. “And there is a control element built into the AVB protocol and that is a big step to bring power to the operator. We need to provide a bridge from SDI to the Ethernet world.”

Despite the challenges expect the transition within studio and broadcast facilities to make the transition to IP in the next five or 10 years. Petit said that the growing need to take a live signal and quickly repurpose it for multiple devices and platforms will benefit the most from new workflows.

“It gives more flexibility in creating content for the viewer,” he added.

Said Govan: “IP is the future, in terms of the opportunities it brings.”

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