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Networks 2023: Will 5G revolutionise broadcast production as SRT becomes the dominant transport protocol?

By Shaun Lim

The Internet has replaced satellite links and dedicated fibre networks as the primary route for transporting live contribution feeds, with 86% of broadcasters using the Internet in 2023 to contribute live video content.

In terms of streaming codecs, AVC/H.264 remains the favoured choice of broadcasters (81%), followed by HEVC.H.265 (61%), according to Haivision’s 2023 Broadcast Transformation Report, which examines the state of technology adoption in the broadcast industry.

When it comes to video transport protocols, Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) is still widely used for many live production workflows, although Secure Reliable Transport (SRT), an open source video transport protocol developed by Haivision, is now the most used streaming protocol for live video transport over the Internet.

According to Haivisions’s Mark Horchler, Marketing Director, Products & Solutions, and Marcus Schioler, Vice-President, Marketing, “SRT is positioned as the dominant transport protocol as it supports reliable and secure streaming over the Internet for live video contribution. SRT’s wide industry adoption, by broadcasters and technology vendors alike, is a result of Haivision’s pioneering efforts and an open-source community dedicated to the needs of broadcast engineers.”

As more broadcasters adopt HEVC/H.265 to support 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) content, SRT’s low latency packet loss recovery technology, built-in encryption, and content-agnostic quality, will see its popularity continue to rise to support more workflows, including cloud and IP, Haivision predicted.

As broadcasters search for greater efficiencies in live production workflows, 53% of broadcasters are already planning to start using 5G for their broadcast productions within the next two years. This is on top of the 20% of broadcasters who are already putting the technology to use.

What then, does 5G bring to the broadcast production table?

Greater bandwidth is the top benefit offered by 5G. Once standalone 5G architecture is in place with virtualised and cloud-based network cores, bandwidth availability will expand even further, enabling it to support higher resolutions, greater picture quality, and more camera angles.

The next key benefit identified by respondents to Haivision’s survey is the lower latency that 5G can offer, compared to 3G and 4G cellular networks. 5G, said Haivision, can enable multi-camera remote production workflows and real-time remote collaboration between camera operators, field talent, and decentralised production staff using both broadcast and return feeds over a single network connection. 

Last but not least, broadcasters are looking to 5G for more reliability and greater versatility. Field units that support network aggregation and packet loss recovery are adding another layer of reliability on top of 5G networks.

The agility and flexibility of 5G, especially in standalone mode for private and public networks, is potentially opening many more possibilities for live production workflows, Haivision added.

Transition to IP and cloud continues to gain pace

Although 88% of broadcasters continue to use SDI in their facilities, enabling remote production and transitioning to IP has emerged as a top priority for the next 12 months. 

For broadcasters who are already leveraging IP infrastructures, NDI is the most common IP-based networking technology deployed (49%), followed by ST 2110 (37%).

Horchler and Schioler maintained, “While SDI remains widely used for transporting video within broadcast facilities, the internet and mobile networks are playing a significant role in fuelling production workflows (in conjunction with SDI). Meanwhile, the ST 2110 and NDI IP standards continue to make inroads especially in newer broadcast facilities and outside broadcast (OB) trucks, while cloud services are facilitating hybrid workflows and providing access to broadcast production content and tools from anywhere.”

It is noted that 39% of broadcasters have also indicated that their video infrastructure uses both SDI and IP/cloud, even though 60% of broadcasters rely on cloud for less than a quarter of their workflows. This, explained Haivision, indicates that on-premise operations remain critical to live video. 

The main uses for cloud technology, Haivision added, include encoding/transcoding, as well as stream routing and live production, followed by media asset storage and management, and facilitating remote collaboration.

As to why broadcasters will increasingly turn to cloud and IP, the answer may be found in the fact that 92% of broadcasters have hybrid or remote work models that require connectivity. However, factors that may continue to hinder widespread adoption of these technologies include bandwidth availability (48%), budget limitations (45%), and lack of IP or cloud knowledge (33%).

“For production workflows to remain dynamic, broadcasters must acknowledge the expansion of new technologies such as 5G, cloud, and IP and adjust their technology mix accordingly,” Horchler and Schioler advised.

“Ultimately, leveraging today’s technology means selecting the building blocks that allow production teams to effectively achieve broadcast objectives through faster, more powerful means. As cloud technology improves efficiency and more 5G innovation unfolds, we look forward to the ways in which the next-generation technology can support live video.”

Away from the technologies that will continue to shape the broadcast industry, sustainability is also becoming a priority for broadcasters. It is good to learn that 73% of broadcasters say that corporate sustainability is included in their strategy, though to varying degrees. However, over one-third of these broadcasters indicated that their organisation imposes sustainability requirements on suppliers, and overall, 53% broadcasters say they are willing to pay more for a product that is environmentally friendly.

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