Four key hot topics weaved through the 2019 SMPTE Florida Technical Conference program. This technology session for broadcast engineers was jam-packed with notable media industry thought leaders sharing the latest technology and best practices. The theme, From video to AI: where do we go from here infused topics ranging from video over IP to the future of television networking.

The transition from SDI to IP is gaining momentum, but we can’t forget what drives it.

Whether we are a customer internally looking for funding for a 2110 project, or a vendor looking to sell the solution, we have to remember what drives decisions to spend money on new technology. The net of it is, business leaders are looking for one or more of 3 things, how to make money, how to save money, and how to reduce risk.

A great example discussed by John Mailhot, CTO Imagine Communications, was the Outside Broadcast truck. When you think of an OB truck using SDI technology, it requires a considerable number of cables, and those cables have a tremendous amount of weight. Considering the transition to IP where a single fiber can carry 100 Gb/s vs. a 3G-SDI cable, which carries 3 Gb/s, the weight reduction is huge! The cost attributed to gas, wear, and tear on the truck is considerable and, for the customer in his example, drove the transition to IP. It wasn’t about the technology, but how technology positively impacted the business.

There is a continued effort toward interoperability within the media ecosystem.

Robert Erickson, Technology Director for Grass Valley, talked about Networked Media Open Specifications (NMOS), specifically IS-06. The goal of NMOS is to provide standards for interoperability in a multi-vendor environment so that end users can more easily build best of breed environments. IS-06 deals specifically with network control. The challenge today is, a vendor such as Grass Valley who wants to interface their broadcast controller to a Cisco IP Fabric for Media(IPFM), must adhere to the syntax and architecture of the Cisco APIs and control points, specifically on the DCNM controller and/or NX-OS running on Nexus switches. If Grass Valley then wanted to integrate with another switching vendor, they would have to develop a completely different integration for that vendor since each vendor’s implementation of APIs and control points will differ to some degree. The goal of IS-06 is to standardize this integration, such that an end-user could pick a broadcast controller from vendor A or B, and a switching fabric from X or Y and it would all interoperate. If history repeats itself, based on what has happened in other industry verticals, more standardization will be adopted over time.

The Systems Integrator is super important in the transition to IP

Users should not attempt the transition from SDI to IP on their own, was reiterated in many sessions. There are numerous considerations in the design of a 2110 network related to multicast, precision time protocol (PTP), bandwidth, compression, management, and troubleshooting that are significantly different than traditional SDI. In a video broadcast environment where no packet can be lost and has to be timed precisely, there is no margin for error in the design. Although the industry uses the term Common Off The Shelf (COTS) in reference to the IP switch hardware, it is anything but. For example, in Cisco’s IPFM solution, there are numerous innovations such as Non-Blocking Multicast (NBM), PTP scalability, PTP, and RTP monitoring that are critical to ensure proper operation and management of the IP broadcast network. The net of it is that a systems integrator (SI) with strong expertise in Media and IP can be instrumental in ensuring a media company realizes their expected ROI as they transition from SDI to IP.

Full network convergence is perceived as very risky, and because bandwidth is cheap, there is less risk keeping broadcast networks separate

For the network purist, this is blasphemy. But remember the first learning, business leaders want to mitigate risk, not introduce more. Leveraging the 2110 network that is core to revenue generation for the media business, for adjacent use cases that are not, would undoubtedly keep many CTOs up at night. Considering the cost savings of network convergence versus running a parallel shared services network, and considering the cost of bandwidth, it is less risky to keep the networks separate.

There is so much to know and learn in this fast-paced industry. These four takeaways are just a subset of the breadth of subjects that were covered at the conference. They give insight into what is happening in the industry and how media customers and vendors are thinking about it.