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Towards the fully virtualised broadcast control room

John Hickey, KVM product director of Black Box, elaborates how broadcasters will evolve into becoming orchestrators and content aggregators with the help of KVM technology

As we look beyond 2020, we can see a world where cloud utility model will make broadcasting a software-driven business – often with the leading broadcasters becoming broadcast orchestrators in a larger ecosystem. Broadcast orchestrators will own few of the assets. Instead, they will own the platform that delivers aggregated content or services – and a great experience – to customers.

Virtualisation is core to this new model. Virtualisation, which first emerged in the 1960s, is the idea of creating an environment where independent applications and/or services can appear to own the same server when, in fact, they share it. Keyboard, video, mouse (KVM) technology was used as an initial mechanism to break the link of physical access and having to be at the device – essentially a first step in virtualisation of access.

KVM switches have been integral to media facilities ever since, allowing broadcasters to locate computers away from their production environments. Virtualisation of servers and networks in the cloud takes this to the next step. Virtualisation hardware frees applications and services from specific machines, and allows workloads to be “portable”.

Streaming up to 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) video over IP, rather than as HD SDI over fixed cabling, provides the flexibility to change workflow and video stream routes quickly in response to changing circumstances.

The move to leverage the cloud as the content storage and distribution platform with IP-connected commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) servers and software-defined workflows means “the virtual master control” room can be used to automate and deliver workflow processes and technologies in a more agile and scalable way.

This further reduces the need for traditional master control operations, and reduces the need for task-specific hardware, helping to lower capital expenditures. The outcome of this process will see broadcast networks operate along similar lines to data centre-based systems common in IT.

The transition is already under way. Major broadcasters have moved their TV channels to a cloud-based virtual master control. Audio file storage, mixing and playout are provided from a single data centre, granting local stations IP access to these centralised resources so that the stations can create and transmit their on-air programming.

While there is a compelling business case for IP-based virtualised broadcast production, there are significant hurdles to moving completely to this new model. For example, there is a lack of industry-supported standards for virtualised production over IP.

The SMPTE ST 2022-6 standard is a good start, but it is not sufficient to create a fully functional end-to-end solution. Such solutions need to handle traditional sources such as SDI and physical servers’ DVI/DisplayPort outputs as well as the new protocols of SMPTE video and virtual machine access.

A core component of the evolution is KVM technology, which needs to provide “virtual access” to physical resources as well as newer virtual resources. KVM technology can, and should, enable many users to connect to multiple computers or virtual desktops over IP, so that the user has the same experience as if sitting directly at the PC.

Broadcasters building out new infrastructure need to consider this – even if initially they do not have virtualisation on their plan. They need to consider solutions that provide future-proofing as the world moves to virtualisation while supporting today’s needs of virtual access to physical servers.

Find out more about the Black Box KVM-for-broadcast solutions here.

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