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Designing Virtual Media Supply Chains

Journal Article from Pebble

Fri 02, 07 2021

Miroslav Jeras

CTO, Pebble


While it is generally acknowledged that the broadcast industry roadmap leads to a fully IP-based infrastructure, there is still plenty of uncertainty regarding the exact route that will be taken to get there. Currently the industry can be characterised as being in an extended implementation phase which concurrently overlaps with the R&D efforts necessary to make IP workflows optimised throughout an organisation.

There are several areas of uncertainty surrounding IP deployments as a result, and one of the chief ones resides in IP assignment and the way that broadcast engineers can connect and disconnect devices to IP-based broadcast networks. This becomes a significant task in the move from SDI to IP, with several vital stages that have to be completed. Connecting devices to a switch might be relatively straightforward, but each device requires an IP address so that it’s visible to the network. Then, for each output on each device, a multicast address and a multicast port for video, for audio, and for ancillary data need to be allocated. Additionally, in an IP environment it’s also more difficult to lock and synchronise all these sources together, requiring PTP (precision time protocol) parameters to be set for each device.

This is why we developed Pebble Control; to solve these problems and to do it in an independent and cost-effective way that retains interoperability and does not require any lock in to a specific manufacturer’s ecosystem. As a result Pebble Control is a connection management system that assists in the transition to becoming a vendor-agnostic IP facility without the need to deploy a bespoke enterprise solution and get caught up in all the configuration, consultation, and potentially large expense that that process involves.

This is a very natural progression for Pebble as a company. From our early pioneering playout systems we have always been champions for the power of automation with best of breed components and its ability to reduce operational complexity. With Pebble Control we are simply applying that philosophy to the problems of adding devices to an IP network.

Rather than go down a proprietary route, Pebble Control provides full support for the increasingly popular NMOS (Networked Media Open Specifications) suite of protocols that have been produced by the AMWA (Advanced Media Workflow Association) specifically to help IP workflow deployments. It also interfaces with NMOS-enabled devices from multiple vendors on the network. This allows for the crucial automatic discovery of devices, provides secure resource management, and gives immediate feedback and alerts if critical elements of the broadcast chain go offline.

There is also a new integration with VideoIPath, Nevion’s orchestration and SDN (software defined network) control software. This integration enables users to control SDNs, in addition to the traditional IGMP-based networks. Pebble Control can discover devices in the VideoIPath system and issue connection requests based on the user input. Furthermore, VideoIPath customers can now benefit from Pebble Control’s advanced features, such as its container logic concept.

Pebble Control operates on web-based UIs for maximum flexibility, especially when it comes to remote network configuration and monitoring. NMOS IS-07 software and hardware panels can be easily integrated to perform actions and display critical information, while Pebble’s own software panels provide configurable functionality and quick access to key features.

Provisioning the multicast settings for NMOS senders is easily done through a responsive tabular interface, while the ability to export and import configuration data means users can delegate and quickly restore settings. Full support for NMOS IS-05 v1.1, alongside the flexibility of defining custom logical views and containers, means connection management is a streamlined and focused experience analogous to connecting SDI signals. It has also been designed for security from the outset with a design approach that has embraced modern access control methodologies from the ground up. Authentication and granular authorisation through attribute-based workflows means broadcasters have the flexibility to shape user access as required.

Helping to ease deployment issues, it is also extremely scalable. The software can run on a single machine (physical or virtual), or on many networked machines. The database it uses is also scalable, allowing broadcasters to start with a simple test system — let’s say as simple as a camera and a monitor — and then scale that to a system with thousands of devices as they roll out a deployment.

Crucially, and acknowledging the very necessary role that hybrid deployments will have in the industry over the coming years, it also features legacy router emulation. By emulating legacy index-based matrices or routers, any I/O or container can be connected using the well-known SW-P-08 protocol, allowing Pebble Control to be remotely controlled in turn by systems that support this protocol (including Pebble Automation). Therefore, Pebble Control can enable any application – even those that are not IP-enabled – to make connections in an IP environment.

We’re also working hard on the support side to make sure deployment is as easy as possible, offering comprehensive online help and a series of tutorial videos. The result is that IP routing and switching is within the grasp of any broadcaster looking to make the transition, and, as long as the components they use to build out their ecosystem are NMOS-compliant, they can continue to use and specify the individual devices that best suit their business needs at all points in the chain.

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