IP Video: If You Build It, Will They Come?

Existing technologies are being used to test the world’s first IP live TV studio
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As broadcasters and technologists arrived in Amsterdam for IBC2015 last week, there was a growing consensus that Internet-protocol video will be the basis of the next generation of television.

Here, much progress has already been made. IP video is widely used in areas such as newsroom systems, editing, file-based workflows, distribution of feeds from news crews back to the studio and of course streaming video over the Internet.

But a number of hurdles still remain as the industry tries to take IP video further into its infrastructure. Serial digital interface (SDI), first standardized by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers in 1989, is still almost exclusively used for live production in the TV industry, thanks to its time-tested reliability, quality and compatibility with existing equipment and workflows.

That makes an effort by the European Broadcast Union, the Belgium pubcaster VRT and a variety of vendors to test what they call “the world’s first live IP studio” in the next few months particularly notable.

Visitors to IBC got a look at a scaled-down version of the full studio, which was under construction between April and August this year at the VRT offices in Brussels. The full studio in Brussels includes equipment and products from Axon, Dwesam, EVS, Genelec, Grass Valley, Lawo, LSB, Nevion, Tektronix and Trilogy.

Michael De Wolf, director at Dwesam Engineering, who came up with the idea for the project, said he began talking about the idea last year with vendors and broadcasters. Vendors were looking for a way to see if their IP-based equipment would work with other equipment and “broadcasters were saying that they would like to adopt [IP infrastructures] and could see a lot of advantages,” he said.

Those advantages, according to those involved, include greater flexibility, lower costs, the ability to scale operators to handle new formats such as 4K, more efficient operations and most important, the prospect of using one infrastructure for both broadcast and digital operations.

PUSHING THE DIGITAL SHIFT

“We are doing this to enable the digital shift, and its new ways of creating content, to provide the ability and scalability of IP and to prove it can do more with less,” explained, Karel De Bondt, project manager at VRT.

The IP studio is part of a larger effort with the EBU and iMinds to launch the VRT Sandbox technology accelerator program where the broadcaster does short-term tests of ideas and products from start-ups.

The all-IP studio is being tested by VRT production crews but isn’t currently being used to produce live programs for the broadcaster’s schedule, De Bondt noted, though it will help them prepare for the transition.

The participants have completed phase 1, which consisted of building the IP system and getting it to work. Phase 2, scheduled to be completed in October, will consist of producing a prerecorded multi-camera talk show. In the final phase 3, running from October 2015 to January 2016, they will produce a live TV show, with six cameras and live-streaming.

“We chose a practical approach with what is available today [and showed] it is possible in a short time line thanks to great collaboration with diverse vendors and hard work at VRT,” said Félix Poulin, senior project manager, networked media production, technology and innovation at the EBU.

A key part of the system development has been the use of existing standards. “On the video transport we have chosen SMPTE 2022-6, for the audio layer we put AES-67/Ravenna and on the timing we decided for the PTP [picture transfer protocol],” De Wolf explained in a webinar about the technical infrastructure.

But as the work continues, the effort could also help improve standards, Poulin said.

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