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Remote IP production: Successful deployment calls for greater reliance on IT teams than traditional broadcast engineers?

By Shaun Lim

As broadcasters and media companies continue to navigate the challenges posed by the current mediascape, remote production models are offering more efficient workflows and more flexible infrastructures, suggested Chris Merrill, Director of Strategic Marketing, Grass Valley.

Besides reducing costs by transporting less equipment and people and having less setup time on site, remote production also allows better resource utilisation, as Merrill told APB+, “When equipment and creative teams regularly work in a known environment, equipment has fewer problems associated with transport and configuration, and creative teams can spend more time actively developing content.”

Many remote productions today are also based around IP networks, which allows operators to benefit from the centralisation of production staff, said Tim Banner, Senior Solutions Specialist, Magna Systems & Engineering. 

He highlighted, “Without having to travel, staff can be far more efficient and achieve more from their workflows. You also gain the ability to share hardware between different teams and productions without having to leave the same building.”

When on-premises production facilities are centralised, hosted on the cloud, or in a hybrid manner, they breed creative versatility. With a remotely distributed workflow, only the components needed for capture and communication need to be on site. 

Liam Hayter, Product Manager, NewTek, Vizrt Group, explained, “Through a distributed IP production model, connectivity is addressed from a distance perspective, along with interoperability, ease of deployment, and creative flexibility. These enable new ways of working and allow content to be the producer’s focus.” 

According to Magna Systems’ Banner, remote IP production is still a nascent process for many organisations; it is perhaps not surprising that challenges remain, including the cost of suitable and sufficient bandwidth.

 Banner said, “IP production has many benefits but it is not always straightforward to implement, so working with key, trusted, and experienced technology partners is vital. IP production must be managed and there is a far greater reliance on IT teams and their experience, as opposed to just traditional broadcast engineers.”

Start off by ascertaining the kind of IP-enabled remote production that is to be implemented, as compressed or uncompressed come with different challenges, Banner highlighted. “Then, key things to look out for include whether there is enough bandwidth, whether you have a suitable network and if not, whether you can use the Internet, and if it is reliable and secure

“Latency is another key thing to look out for, particularly when implementing compressed IP-enabled remote production.”

For Grass Valley, designing a remote IP production strategy comes down to the 5 Cs, as Merrill described.

Connectivity: What is the underlying physical structure that ties together all the resources involved in creating, storing and distribution content? Where does it make sense to locate processing?

Computation: After receiving inputs to the cloud system fabric, how are these modified before distributing them as finished assets? How much processing will your applications require and can this be done at the edge of the network?

Control: How many people will access this system and where can they be located? What type of applications can they access and do they need role-based access control?

Comfort: What skills sets are needed to manage the new platform and do you already have staff with these skills?

Cost: What are the financial models available how do you calculate the total cost of ownership and maximise ROI?

When planning for remote IP productions, visualise signal flows within the network as though each signal is a traditional baseband connection before mapping that to the network topology. “It’s a layer of abstraction that can be overlooked when transitioning from a traditional infrastructure model,” cautioned NewTek’s Hayter.

Planning, he added, also includes asking questions such as the nature of the content, and how it will look, sound and feel.

Hayter said, “How to create content with IP feeds is a crucial consideration, because it’s a choice of which software-defined tools will help you achieve that outcome and what baseband technologies can complement it. 

“In considering who the remote guests are for your production, who the audience is, and to what extent they will interact, you can find the right solutions that allow you to reach your vision.”

When implementing remote IP production, one must consider interoperability, redundancy, quality, latency, and bandwidth limitations, said Anthony Kable, Group Manager CCS for Sony Australia, who also highlighted the importance of standards.

“By utilising industry standards, you can ensure that equipment is able to be interoperated. Ensure that you trust the companies that you are purchasing products from and working with, as it is extremely likely that standards may evolve over the lifetime of your products and updates may be required,” he added.

NDI the game changer for remote IP production?

When it comes to standards, one company has decided that Network Device Interface (NDI) is the way to go for remote IP production.

Built in collaboration with YouKu, a Chinese online video and streaming service platform, Kiloview’s NDI OBV is said to be the world’s first outside broadcast (OB) truck to be completely based on NDI workflows.

Since being delivered to YouKu in November 2022, the NDI OBV, which can process up to 70 channels of HD video signals or 20 channels of 4K video, has been deployed to produce several reality TV programmes with YouKu, reported Judy Zuo, VP for Marketing & Sales, Kiloview.

She told APB+ that besides reducing the cost of space, cable, staff, equipment, transition and deployment fees, the NDI-powered OB truck also offers workflow flexibility that allows interconnectivity between NDI OBV and various multimedia platforms.

Built around native NDI workflows, NDI OBV consists of a Kiloview ecosystem that covers encoding/decoding, transmission, routing, monitoring, recording, as well as managing and handling of any video input or output, anytime and anywhere, according to Zuo.

She added, “More content creators are demanding broadcast levels of video production. NDI OBV provides a low-cost total package of NDI video transmission solutions to cut down on overall costs and help create more compelling content by supporting the transition to broadcast IP.”

Broadcast vendors who have thrown their support behind NDI include Grass Valley, who integrated NDI within its Agile Media Processing Platform (AMPP) in April 2022. Merrill explained, “By supporting NDI as an AMPP input or output format, we are able to use NDI-enabled equipment as edge devices in an AMPP workflow without requiring the delays or signal degradation that can happen with format transcoding.

“NDI signals can be mixed with signals of other formats in the same production and with the final content output either as NDI or in a different format.”

While NDI can support smaller systems and applications where simpler configurations are utilised, it may not be suitable for very large distributed systems where redundancy and interoperability with the widest range of equipment is required, assessed Sony Australia’s Anthony Kable.

“For high-end remote production deployments, open industry standards such as ST2110 are more appropriate and can more easily scale to the thousands of streams that are commonly utilised,” he said.

Also sounding a note of caution over NDI was Magna Systems’ Banner. While highlighting how NDI is particularly conducive for the monitoring side of an IP workflow, he suggested that NDI is not always the best solution where redundancy and resilience are concerned. “I would suggest that NDI isn’t the technology you would use at the core of your network but more so on the periphery of it.”

It is not just NDI that makes remote and distributed workflows possible. Instead, it is a software-defined ecosystem and software-lead approach that provide the flexibility in productions and workflows, said NewTek’s Hayter.

NewTek, of course, was the company that developed NDI with the goal of enabling video-compatible products to communicate, deliver, and receive HD video over a computer network in a high-quality, low-latency manner that is frame accurate and suitable for switching in a live production environment.

Reflecting on the deployment of NDI since its introduction in 2015, Hayter added, “NDI has been crucial to the successful adoption and move towards hybrid remote production, and high-quality compression in real time is the critical ingredient in successful distributed live production.”

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