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Cut costs & CO2: IP remote production here to stay — it’s the path to developing cost-efficient infrastructures

By Shaun Lim

In line with its diversity as a region, Asia-Pacific is displaying a range of varied adoption levels when it comes to IP remote production. Identifying Australia as a leader in IP remote production in the region, Gregor Erlitz, Head of Sales APAC, Lawo, told APB+, “Australia has already embraced remote production due to its large distances and relative sparse population, and the need for cost-efficient broadcasting solutions.”

He noted, “The country’s telco infrastructure supports this technology well, and Australian broadcast service providers are offering these services across the APAC region.”

Erlitz also sees Japan as holding “significant potential” for adopting remote production as more broadcasters seek to migrate to IP technology. Major networks like NHK are exploring these technologies, and he expects major IP installations to emerge in 2025 and beyond, thus increasing the acceptance of remote production concepts in Japan.

He said, “At the end, each country’s unique situation, from geographic challenges to tech transitions and WAN infrastructure, plays a role in how remote production technologies are being adopted and utilised.”

Like all technology migrations in the professional broadcast industry, the deployment of new technologies must go hand-in-hand with operational changes, maintained Kevin Salvidge, Sales Engineering Manager, Leader Europe.

He told APB+, “IP remote production will no doubt offer significant operational savings, but they have to be managed in conjunction with operational practices and not compromise the quality of the production to their clients and the end-customer.

However, Salvidge was quick to remind us that IP remote production is not a one-size-fits-all solution. He is predicting that in 2024 many broadcasters will be evaluating new networking technologies, including SRT, JPEG XS and NDI, to find which one best meets their operational and production requirements, including supporting back-to-back productions.

The IP remote production trend in the Asia-Pacific region is continuing at a stable rate after the accelerated push during the Covid-19 pandemic; however, the traditional remote production model, which was more of a ‘venue’ to a central facility, is an outdated one.

Speaking with APB+, Fintan McKiernan, CEO, Ideal Systems, South East Asia, explained, “The current trend in remote production is the usage of cloud as the central facility and operators can be placed anywhere that has a decent internet connection or a central facility if required. This provides optimal flexibility. 

“The trend is enabled by next-generation cloud infrastructure. Users have already started moving away from traditional fixed infrastructure to cloud-based systems such as vision mixers like Vizrt’s TriCaster Vectar, which provides anywhere-access to software-based enterprise-grade 4K switching in the cloud.”

Cloud vision mixers like Vizrt’s TriCaster Vectar reduce production costs, adapt well to changing production needs, and can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud, or as a hybrid solution depending on requirements.

According to McKiernan, production quality can be further improved by letting operators incorporate unlimited NDI sources and scale to any event size.

He continued, “Cloud systems also reduce travel, accommodation and equipment transport costs, as well as reducing CO2 emissions. While larger scale and increased redundancy can be delivered by spinning up new production capacity to meet temporary and permanent changes in demand.”

As for the inherent technology challenges for IP remote production, McKiernan identified a lack of reliable fixed line high-speed network connectivity, especially to stadiums. Previously, this challenge was circumnavigated with DSNG satellite connections from outside broadcast (OB) trucks, which were then replaced by the far more cost-effective bonded cellular packs. 

“However, even with the added bandwidth of 5G now being available, using bonded cellular for live sports still adds significant latency over a fixed line connection,” he said.

IP remote production can significantly lower the need for large on-site teams and the associated costs of transporting staff and equipment to event locations. This, said Lawo’s Erlitz, is particularly beneficial in the Asia-Pacific region, where events can be spread across large geographical distances. 

He added, “In parallel, this technology allows for the more effective use of existing broadcast infrastructure and equipment, which can be centralised rather than transported to various locations, resulting in lower cost and less wear and tear.

“Plus, fixed production environments can offer better conditions for high-quality productions than smaller OB vans or mobile units. This is particularly true for new production formats such as 3D audio, which may require more specialised production environments that are easier to achieve in a fixed environment.”

From a technology standpoint, Erlitz sees a significant maturity level for the tools and systems for IP remote production that are offering reliable solutions for the most critical live events. The challenge, he said, often lies in the commercial and infrastructure aspects.

“In many parts of the APAC region, the necessary wide area network (WAN) infrastructure required for IP remote production is not readily accessible or optimised for broadcast requirements. Additionally, the costs associated with these connections can be prohibitive, especially for smaller-scale productions.”

The search for the standard to meet APAC’s production needs 

As Leader’s Salvidge pointed out, many broadcasters are evaluating new networking technologies to find the one that best meets their operational and production requirements. Where IP remote production is concerned, the growth of various standards highlights the democratisation of IP technology in the professional broadcast industry, he suggested.

“Because of the network usage fees associated with uncompressed SMPTE ST2110 being expensive, this has resulted in only Tier 1 productions considering ST2110. While the growth of JPEG XS will help with the adoption of ST 2110, SRT and NDI will appeal to more budget sensitive productions.”

However, Ideal Systems’ McKiernan is convinced that NDI will offer the best value for money for live sports production in the South-east Asian countries that typically work with lower budgets. “NDI is a professional video standard and has an ever-growing ecosystem of equipment manufacturers supplying equipment at significantly lower costs than was previously available.”

Describing NDI as a “Swiss Army” technology, he highlighted how the technology serves a multitude of purposes, from usage in pro-AV, non-broadcast video production, semi-professional video production, up to international broadcast 4K production level, all with strong support for cloud integration.

This is not to say that NDI cannot be approved upon, as McKiernan acknowledged, “NDI is still missing some defined broadcast standards for additional data within the streams for sync, subtitles, and SCTE triggers, which are better covered in NDI’s more expensive big brother, ST2110.”

Unlike NDI, ST 2110 can prove to be cost prohibitive to many, bar well-funded broadcasters and high-end production studios. McKiernan also refutes that ST2110 is the gold standard for IP video, despite many heralding it as such.

“ST2110 purely addresses uncompressed video usage within a production studio or facility, and was never envisaged, nor is suitable for long distance usage over WAN or cloud infrastructure. The additional technical complexity and significant extra cost in deploying and maintaining 2110-based solutions mandates very careful consideration of the benefits to justify its use over NDI.”

While recognising that there are use cases that favour ST2110, particularly for broadcasters with deep pockets, he maintains that NDI remains the logical solution for many broadcasters. “Faced with competition from over-the-top (OTT) operators and social media, especially in the SEA region, broadcasters want one or both of the following from their broadcast technology investment – a reduction in operating costs or an increase in revenue.”

While ST2110 is designed for professional grade and large-scale productions in environments that demand strict standards compliance and are prepared to invest in the necessary network infrastructure, NDI is gaining traction for its efficiency and cost effectiveness, and is particularly useful for applications that require flexibility and ease of use, assessed Lawo’s Erlitz.

He elaborated, “The current trend toward using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based processing in live production infrastructures is facilitating a more flexible adoption and interoperability among different standards, including ST2110, NDI, and also SRT. This shift is particularly relevant as we see broadcast infrastructures evolve to be more software-centric, where core processing functions like decoding and transcoding are more integrated. 

“This integration will enable easier handling of different formats, allowing for a seamless mix-and-match approach. Ultimately, the choice between ST2110 and NDI in the APAC region will be defined by the specific facility requirements. The ongoing evolution of broadcast technology infrastructure towards more adaptable and software-driven solutions will likely enhance the coexistence and functional overlap of these standards.”

And it is likely to be the ongoing transition to software-based processing in live production environments that will prove to be the next game changer for remote productions, predicted Erlitz.

Utilising COTS technology, he explained, will facilitate the dynamic allocation of processing functions on demand, making these functions accessible anywhere within the network, while certain processing functions can be physically set up in locations that make sense, for example to address latency issues in remote setups.

Within this context, optional cloud-based processing will also introduce the flexibility to adapt to production demands as they change, while OPEX-based subscription models offer a scalable and efficient way to deploy and expand production infrastructures when needed.

“This technology shift signifies a move away from traditional hardware-dependent setups, towards a more agile and cost-effective model that can adapt to the varying requirements of remote production environments,” said Erlitz.

For Leader’s Salvidge, cloud is likely to play a pivotal role in supercharging remote production, as he described, “Cloud-based IP Remote Production is evolving rapidly and the adoption of NDI, SRT and JPEG XS for compressed productions is now being complemented by Amazon’s Cloud Digital Interface (CDI) for uncompressed. The growth of 5G using public networks is well documented, especially with broadcasters using it for major global events.”

The future of remote production will be symbolised by a fraction of the physical hardware that is currently being used, and their costs will only be paid when they are in use, said Ideal Systems’ McKiernan. 

“Spinning up virtual vision mixers, graphics systems, audio mixers, and glue products in the cloud when you need them is a total game changer. All that will be needed to go to events is cameras, mics, some camera and audio people, as some cameras will be remote controlled and soon AI controlled, and some talent to do interviews on site.

“Cloud-enabled remote production will allow production to be in a single remote facility or distributed. Once all this content and production is in the cloud, the next step will be further streamlining and automation of workflows using AI,” he concluded.

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