Lesson 1

IP (Internet Protocol) and File Based Technology

  

Welcome to the first steps to understanding broadcasting and its inner workings. First of all, let’s start with an overall look on the process of delivering media to the end user. 


Broadcast facilities are now commencing what many believe will be a global transition from current digital (SDI) infrastructures to an all “IP-based (network)” facility. Not since the migration from analog to digital in the 1990s, has the industry experienced such a change.


On the surface, the transition seems logical, expected, and maybe even straightforward, given the level of IP/IT-integration already present at many facilities. Yet under the hood, both IT and broadcast technical professionals are in for a paradigm shift in concept, facility design and support practices.

  

It is an end-to-end workflow, from ingest to playout, where digital media is contained in files (unlike digital videotape which only records media digitally, but not as a file). While broadcasters have been moving to file-based workflows for more than 10 years, the challenges in managing this transition are more than technological in nature. The primary hurdles to achieving a true file-based infrastructure and reaping its benefits are people and process. 


Broadcasters employ hundreds of employees who have skill sets specific to each phase of the workflow. Using a file-based workflow allows broadcasters to increase productivity, increase flexibility in creating content for multichannel distribution, and focus resources on defining new revenue-generating business models, with the same number of staff, or potentially less. 


The primary operational benefit of file-based workflows is the collaboration it enables between all users and the speed it gives those users in doing their assigned tasks. These users range from journalists to editors to graphics to producers and directors. For some, this cross-functional access to the workflow is disconcerting as the workflow now incorporates both production functions as well as business applications. The exposure of content to these non-technical resources raises concerns about who and why different users can access content. 


However, the efficiencies gained through easy access to centralized assets used for both production and other purposes outweigh these concerns. An effective workflow will incorporate access management rules and network security. Access management will control read, write, copy, and edit access to stored assets. The availability of both high-resolution and proxy files minimizes requirements to copy and move large media files. Storage management will help determine the location of assets in online, near-line, or offline storage and version control of these assets. Shared storage increases operational flexibility as it reduces the time to transfer assets between applications. As users access, edit, and create content, a defined approval process alerts those responsible for review and approval. 


Again, incremental efficiencies are gained through the ease of access to content and the presence of all approvers within the defined workflow. In the digital domain, broadcasters are now able to build content for linear and nonlinear channels simultaneously. A safe assumption is that content will be distributed across a variety of networks (e.g., broadcast, cable, Internet, and mobile) to a wider variety of devices (e.g., TV, desktop computer, tablet, and smartphone). Incorporating distribution needs into the workflow allows broadcasters to produce content in multiple formats while reducing or eliminating the high cost of repurposing content. How can broadcasters manage the digital transition and its demand for a file-based workflow? They need to focus on their business needs and goals. Are they presenting live news, live sports, or entertainment programming? Who and where is their audience? How will they acquire, manage, and prepare content for playout, distribution, and consumption? The key is understanding current operations, and assessing roles, responsibilities, and workflows to identify areas for improvement.


IP and the broadcast industry:


Technological change is forcing broadcast, media and entertainment production professionals to take a new approach to how they deploy applications and infrastructure. Past transitions from black-and-white to color and from standard definition to high definition took place over years, allowing broadcasters ample time to evolve from one form of infrastructure to another. By contrast, today’s move from high definition to 4K/UHD, as well as future moves to 8K and HDR/wide gamut, will take place at a much more rapid pace. Broadcasters need a new approach to building essential production applications, networks and storage systems. This new infrastructure will have to be easy to expand and upgrade, as well as extremely cost-effective to deploy. In short, it will need to be based on Internet Protocol (IP). Common sense indicates that older centralized systems will have to give way to a distributed infrastructure that enables fast, affordable expansion and adoption of new technologies. It’s happened in many other industries. Now, it’s broadcast and media production’s turn. As part of this updating process, dedicated application transport mechanisms will need to be replaced by a converged IP-based infrastructure. 


In short, broadcast, media and entertainment production is moving from dedicated equipment, in which specific functions take place on a single piece of equipment and content is moved from device to device, to a virtual environment, in which production can take place anywhere and content can be stored anywhere. In doing so, the broadcast industry will finally gain the benefits of Cloud-based computing, in which the power of rapid, standards based network infrastructure and Cloud-based storage and applications increase productivity and agility while dramatically lessening capital expenditure costs.


Three key drivers have made this transition inevitable:

  • Ever-increasing video bit rate requirements. A single uncompressed HD video streaming the limit of the current SDI technology connection. Ultra HD (4K, 8K) bit rates far exceed this capacity, and cannot be carried by existing infrastructure.
  • New standards that break down reliance on proprietary (and expensive) techniques and platforms. Compliance with industry standards, such as the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE)-2022 suite, and other standards and recommended practices in the works from SMPTE, Video Services Forum (VSF), and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), allows all parts of the system developed by different venders to interoperate, and assures that the system will meet quality of service and scale requirements.
  • 10 Gigabit Ethernet maturity. High-speed Ethernet infrastructure is now widely available at commodity pricing, making it possible to move and retrieve huge amounts of video data instantly and inexpensively – in effect, moving broadcast into the Cloud, just like retail, Big Data or any other business entity or initiative. An ecosystem of compatible equipment exists, and Ethernet is already integrated into a wide range of devices. Further, IP-based networking at 40-Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) and100-Gbps is already available. 400Gbps is in the works, and 1-Terabit-per-second (Tbps) is being discussed, ensuring a long future for this technology.

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