Ultra-dense IP gateways are the future of full-IP workflows for live sports

By Renaud Lavoie, senior vice president technology, Riedel

The migration to IP across the broadcast industry was already well under way by the start of 2020, but the move has been accelerated by the pandemic and the industry’s sudden need to embrace remote production models. The benefits of IP-based remote production are compelling, and especially so in the current crisis.

Broadcasters and production companies are deploying IP-based infrastructure to realise greater agility and scalability, simplify remote production, improve their monitoring capabilities and reduce space, power and cabling requirements. IP simplifies remote control from anywhere in the world and supports live production workflows with less equipment installed and connected on site. As a result, setup takes less time, more of the production workflow can be managed from a central site and production teams enjoy greater flexibility in signal routing, as well as a lower cost per path.

Live sports production has been at the leading edge of IP adoption. Seeing the benefits that IP-based infrastructure and workflows offer them and their broadcast partners, and needing to invest in technologies that will remain current in coming years, forward-looking mobile production companies have necessarily been ahead of the curve in deploying IP-based solutions. Even as they move forward, however, these companies must continue to bridge the gap between traditional SDI sources and newer IP infrastructure.

All of these factors are driving implementation of ultra-dense IP gateway solutions in sports coverage.

Ultra-dense gateways

Modern broadcast facilities designed to be future-proof are typically built on an IP core deployment, but they often connect with legacy SDI sources and systems. As a result, conversion devices are critical to interfacing with source and destination media devices that are not yet IP-native.

Today’s software-defined, SFP-based IP gateways are compact, lightweight, high-density solutions that bring field-updatable signal processing into IP switch ports. In the near term, they can be used to enable convergence of SDI sources into the IP network. As the migration to full IP continues, they also can support IP-to-IP processing functions within an all-IP environment.

With conversion and processing functions situated inside the IP switch, broadcasters and mobile production companies benefit from more cost-effective integration within the existing switch footprint. With space for IP infrastructure already at a premium in mobile facilities, and in many fixed facilities too, this approach to high-density processing is a key enabler of IP-based workflows in live sports production.

High density IP gateways in action

Over the past couple of years, Game Creek Video has completed builds on quite a few 4K/HDR-capable IP mobile units. These trucks, their users and their applications include Columbia (2019): CBS Sports, NFL and college basketball; Bravo (2019): FOX Sports and NFL; Celtic (2020): CBS Sports and NFL; Gotham (2020): MSG Network, New York Rangers and New York Knicks; and Gridiron (2020): FOX Sports, college football and XFL.

For all of these mobile units, Game Creek has incorporated SFP-based IP gateways into a custom truck-to-truck interface, dubbed T2T, that supports 32×32 video paths on a single cable. With 16 miniaturised IP gateways installed across two 2RU rack-mount brackets and four CWDM wavelength SFPs in each of the 16 gateways, T2T has a pair of 16-channel muxes and a pair of 16-channel demuxes as part of the system. The interface allows Game Creek to interconnect any of its SMPTE ST 2110-based facilities (trucks) with another ST 2110-based facility or a traditional baseband-based facility.

Prior to creating and deploying T2T, the company’s production team needed to convert SDI video on copper to SDI as optical at a CWDM wavelength, and then move it through a mux and across fibre to another truck, where the process is reversed to convert from optical back to electrical to feed a monitor, router, switch, etc. Game Creek found that this convoluted model boosted the cost per path, making gateways a large piece of the overall spend on its new IP-based truck builds.

With its deployment of high-density IP gateways in T2T, though, the company has realised a much more efficient and cost-effective approach — and a complete solution, too. Engineers on Game Creek mobile units can now take a signal that is already on the network as an ST 2110 stream, move it via the 25-gig interface on the miniaturised rack-mount UHD SDI-IP gateways, output the video signal as CWDM wavelength SDI right on that box, perform muxing and send the signal across. In doing so, the company has condensed its truck-to-truck signal transport requirements down to four pieces of fibre on one cable.

With T2T and its high-density IP gateways, Game Creek can roll any truck — baseband SDI-based or ST 2110-based — up next to Bravo, Columbia, Gridiron, Celtic, or Gotham; run a single cable; and get video flowing back and forth. In addition to simplifying interconnections and significantly reducing the weight and space associated with cabling, this approach accelerates deployment and reduces the possibility of failure for video transmission between trucks.

By maintaining compatibility between the very different worlds of SDI and IP, Game Creek’s T2T helps the company take advantage a major promise of ST 2110 IP: the opportunity to use COTS hardware. With the ability to bridge the SDI and IP realms smoothly, the company can work with its preferred best-of-breed solutions rather than be locked into a single-vendor ecosystem.

In actual practice, Game Creek typically uses T2T and its IP gateways to ship all video from the host facility to another facility — most often a ‘B’ unit, where replay operators, a graphics team and other personnel need to be able to work with video as if they were located in the host ‘A’ unit along with the rest of the crew.

The all-IP future

Whether for all-IP workflows or for hybrid SDI/IP workflows, high-density IP gateways deliver essential functionality along with space, weight and time savings that contribute to more efficient mobile and remote productions for live sports. Production teams enjoy greater flexibility in handling sources and signals, more physical space and creative freedom, and future-proof processing capabilities that will continue to support the latest production techniques and formats.

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