Suzana Brady, Chair, RIST Forum
The ongoing surge in content demand has forced the media industry to adapt its workflows and find efficient ways to deliver high-quality content at lower costs. The utilisation of IP for contribution and distribution offers evident advantages to users, and the technology is evolving all the time. IP has proven to be cost-effective, adaptable, and quick to set-up. Many broadcasters are finding that resources are easier to manage, due to broadcast environments being spun-up or down to meet capacity requirements.
Technology vendors have risen to the challenges faced by broadcasters and content owners and continue to deliver new IP features that streamline content delivery. These innovations have been implemented across a wide range of hardware and software solutions, offering more choice and flexibility. We are now moving into an interesting era for IP, where innovation and insights can be consolidated and leveraged to benefit the whole media industry.
Expectations and Challenges
In addition to the obvious advantages of affordability and flexibility, the integration of IP has brought several workflow benefits to media organisations. Many media companies have migrated their post-production and playout platforms to the cloud. This means workflows are becoming better connected throughout the chain, and so there is less risk of content being siloed and or arriving in an incorrect format. But transporting video over IP is not without its challenges, particularly when there are so many moving parts at play.
The consistent delivery of high-quality, broadcast-grade video can be challenging when using IP, mainly due to the variability of Internet performance. This becomes particularly problematic for contribution purposes when there is a lack of guaranteed packet delivery. Video streams, especially compressed ones, can be severely disrupted by lost data packets and this causes significant problems in a broadcasting environment. Latency and packet-loss were big concerns for early adopters of IP transport, but technical experts have made huge steps forward in resolving these issues.
Technical Leaps Forward
Visual and audio signal impairments, signal interruptions and even the complete disruption of a stream can be caused by the loss of a single packet. But recent developments in packet-loss recovery have changed the way that the industry views this technology. The use of Automatic Repeat Request (ARQ) in multi-vendor scenarios, provides selective retransmission of lost packets so that any information lost in transport, between sender and receiver can be recovered and latency kept to an absolute minimum.
Point-to-multipoint and IP multicast enable broadcasters to efficiently deliver transmissions to multiple places. Bonding allows the user to combine multiple links in parallel to protect content delivery. When used in conjunction with seamless switching, users can send two or more copies of the stream over redundant IP links. This is particularly important for high-value content. It means that an interruption to one link doesn’t impact media delivery, because the content is mirrored on another stream.
The overall reliability of IP video transmission can also be improved using networking support for multiple ISPs. Retransmissions can also then be sent on both of the ISP’s connections to safeguard the reliability of a stream. Then the receiver combines both streams to produce a single stream, dynamically removing duplicates as they arrive. This is vital for the transport of gold star content, such as tier one live sports, and gives broadcasters additional peace of mind.
Maintaining High Standards
So how has IP transport development made such significant progress in such a relatively short space of time? Standardisation has a huge part to play. By creating clear, open-source standards in the first instance, a bar for technical quality is set – and it is set very high. Vendors are then able to innovate with their own implementations and unique solutions, learning from each other during the process. This standards-based approach provides a platform for collaborative development work that a diverse group of technical experts can contribute to.
By joining forces to work on an open-source project, engineers collectively contribute hundreds of years of real-world experience to the specifications. Moreover, if the initial project is built on a foundation of established RFC standards, then the development will leverage a wealth of knowledge and lessons from previous sources. This collective approach to defining standards and innovating on them offers the influence of more real-world experiences than any single vendor could hope to provide.
Collaboration is the Key
The biggest challenges occur within IP broadcast when equipment and protocols from different vendors are incompatible. Unknowingly, some broadcasters have found themselves locked into restrictive technical frameworks, but this needn’t be the case. IP needs to offer both a secure and technically robust solution, but one that is adaptable to any application or use case, as well as being deployed in any environment. Standardisation allows broadcasters to mix and match solutions confidently. It enhances efficiency without compromising quality and ensures minimal technical requirements with easier modifications.
Ensuring seamless integration and pre-emptively resolving potential issues, are of paramount importance for broadcasters when working alongside their technology partners. The use of IP as a transport mechanism has become increasingly appealing, due to its efficiency and cost-effectiveness in handling large volumes of high-quality content. However, for reliable and broadcast-standard content transportation, it is essential that vendor solutions for video transmission and reception are interoperable. Encoders and decoders must communicate effectively by speaking the same language. Even if both ends claim compatibility, the absence of the appropriate broadcast-grade protocol can compromise the video quality.
During this process, it’s important to be realistic about the challenges associated with transporting video over IP. By starting with foundational protocol and innovating collaboratively, everyone is on the same page. Users see the benefit by being able to seamlessly integrate solutions from various vendors, selecting and combining them as needed. With products covering every aspect of the contribution and distribution workflow, broadcasters have a more streamlined approach to transporting content over IP. The journey to interoperability becomes just as important as the results, as different perspectives can help to enhance and inform any priorities for the project. What has proved to be crucial is the establishment of a robust set of IP standards – and the only way to get there is by working together.