The Future of Video Over IP: Interoperability, Infrastructure and Industry Adoption

In the world of production, video over IP is a way to transfer file-based media on networked computers.
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The technology to stream video over IP (Internet Protocol) has been around for more than 20 years, but it has really only been in the past decade that great strides have been made in its use in video production. Video over IP comes in many forms.

Consumers know it mainly as OTT (over-the-top), an alternative means of distribution where video content is delivered directly to the consumer over the Internet, without the involvement of an MSO (multiple-system operator) such as DirecTV, Comcast, Dish or Time Warner Cable.

In the world of production, video over IP is a way to transfer file-based media on networked computers. This method of pushing high bit rate media signals over Ethernet is widely being seen as a replacement for SDI.

Video over IP offers numerous advantages due in no small part to the fact that video can be processed on a computer, while on the production side there are countless software-enabled solutions. There are many advantages to IP transmission, including cost savings and greater operational flexibility; the issue is selecting the best path forward. It is no longer a question of whether video over IP will happen but when.

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The TICO Alliance is a group of broadcast equipment manufacturers and media companies that advocates the creation of a lightweight compression technology that will be used in IP-based live production ecosystems to allow users to leverage existing SDI-based workflows with 4K/UHD media.

There are multiple options for implementing video over IP, and the one that is increasingly used among content producers and vendors is SMPTE 2022-6.

SMPTE 2022 and Interoperability

The SMPTE 2022-6 standard is getting widespread support, and several vendors have announced new products and demonstrated the interoperability features that it offers to broadcasters.

SMPTE 2022, introduced in 2007, consists of multiple parts developed over several years. Collectively, they all focus on technologies related to high-performance video traffic over IP networks. Later portions of SMPTE 2022 address more types of IP video transport—positioning video over IP as a replacement for SDI.

SMPTE 2022-6 is a unidirectional, IP-based spec for moving uncompressed digital video signals in real time that was ratified in 2012. The standard, “Transport of High Bit Rate Media Signals Over IP Networks (HBRMT),” specifies a way to transport high bit rate signals (including 3 Gb/s 1080p video) that are not encapsulated in MPEG-2 transport streams.

“SMPTE 2022-6 offers a number of advantages as it was designed for long-haul contribution-style networks,” says industry consultant Wes Simpson. “It was specifically designed to handle up to 1080p video, where you don’t need the bells and whistles.”

What makes SMPTE 2022-6 so attractive, however, is that it offers the ability to be a single standard that could be used for the transmission of high bit rate uncompressed signals.

“It allows the customer to buy equipment from two different manufacturers and send uncompressed signals between them,” continues Simpson. “There are no other standards that can offer that today.”

At IBC 2015, EVS and Imagine Communications demonstrated this interoperability, showing how the 2022-6 standard could handle a video over IP stream between the companies’ respective products. Imagine further demonstrated how the stream could be delivered through routers from four different hardware vendors.

“It was exciting to see the interoperability across four switch vendors,” says Brick Eksten, vice president of strategy at Imagine Communications. “This was very much a vendor-to-vendor proof point as it can backhaul video and allow for interaction with different equipment.”

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NewTek NDI is an open standard for live production IP workflows over Ethernet networks. It allows any NDI-enabled device to recognize, communicate and share resources with any other NDI-enabled device connected to a LAN via standard Ethernet.

Eksten says that the company has fully embraced the standard and has worked closely with its industry partners to ensure that there is a “choreograph between equipment from the different manufacturers.”

Live from IBC

Video over IP could be a real game-changer for live production, something EVS was quick to point out at IBC. “IP is really a buzzword for a lot of people,” says James Stellpflug, vice president of product marketing for the French-based provider of live video production gear. “For us, the next frontier is using IP as the infrastructure to execute live production. We’ve been using IP for a long time in the industry in various different levels, whether it be for contribution or inside our broadcast centers for moving files around.”

Video over IP will likely replace SDI, which would mean a savings in weight—a factor that isn’t often addressed but remains an issue for production teams in the field.

“IP is gaining traction because cabling is expensive and cables are heavy,” says Aaron Behman, who oversees the video and visions strategy at Xilinx. “The DOT [Department of Transportation] has restrictions on how heavy vehicles can be. At the same time, video over IP offers more and more channels of video with multiple cameras at locations.”

What About UHD?

The main downside to SMPTE 2022-6 is that it isn’t exactly future-proof. While it can be seen as a “building block” that allows video to be sent over Ethernet, the standard can’t handle 4K/UHD raw uncompressed video easily: SMPTE 2022-6’s pipe supports 10 Gb/s, while UHD is about 12 Gb/s.

Compression solutions are already in the works, however. One option is TICO from intoPIX, a patent-pending visually lossless lightweight compression standard that has been specifically designed for the broadcast industry.

“TICO, which essentially means ‘tiny codec,’ is gaining traction with big names in the industry,” Behman says. “The industry sees this as a way for 2022 to support 4K/UHD, as it is used to give the video a little ‘haircut’ and compress it enough to get it down the pipe.”

TICO is just one of several competing compression methods, but these are essentially stopgap measures as the industry determines how to best handle the transmission of UHD video over IP.

“TICO is still in its early stages,” says David Ross, CEO of Ross Video. “You also have to pay a TICO royalty, so it isn’t a perfect solution.”

Given that the industry is moving to UHD and higher resolutions, Ross questions why IP is being so widely embraced—especially with 2022-6 as the standard.

“2022-6 is the industry’s first attempt, but I think it is D2 all over again,” Ross adds, referring to the short-lived Ampex videocassette format introduced in the late 1980s. “It is a standard, but it isn’t where the industry will end up.”

Alternatives to SMPTE

For those reasons noted above, SMPTE 2022-6 is far from the only game in town. Other vendors have introduced their own solutions. At IBC, NewTek introduced Network Device Interface (NDI), a royalty-free open standard for live production IP workflows over Ethernet networks. NDI allows multiple video systems to identify and communicate with each other over IP, and to encode, transmit and receive many streams of high-quality, low-latency, frame-accurate video and audio in real time.

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NDI is a bidirectional standard that can operate over a GbE local area network (LAN), with many video streams over a shared connection. Its encoding algorithm is resolution- and frame rate-independent, supporting 4K (and beyond), along with 16 channels (and more) of floating point audio. NDI connectivity will be available in the fourth quarter as a royalty-free software developer kit (SDK).

NewTek also announced NewTek Advanced IP Workflow at IBC, a new live production paradigm based on the NDI open IP protocol standard that provides broadcast stations and networks, studio facilities and video production departments an immediate gateway to the IP future. NewTek Advanced IP Workflow allows production switchers to communicate with cameras and other video sources connected on a network, assign any of them as inputs, and deliver multichannel, high-quality, frame-accurate video encoded in real time, all over standard Ethernet networks.

NewTek Advanced IP Workflow will make its debut in a new version of TriCaster Advanced Edition, a software upgrade available to any current pro-line TriCaster model. The upgrade will give those TriCasters Advanced IP Workflow capabilities allowing for an additional four inputs—cameras or any supported video source on a LAN. Users can have all source inputs be IP-based or mix IP sources with local SDI sources. The updated version of TriCaster Advanced Edition software will launch in the fourth quarter of 2015.

“Our new TriCaster product is available to any developer who wants to use it,” says Scott Carroll, spokesperson for the San Antonio-based provider of live production systems. “It works with any product that connects to a LAN on standard Ethernet and it can stream all video sources. It offers four or eight camera inputs, and it allows our clients to maintain standard SDI cameras.”

NDI makes it easy for a production facility to transition into video over IP without negating existing investments in SDI cameras and infrastructure, or having to make a large capital investment in a new high-speed network.

Evertz introduced its ASPEN platform for encapsulating uncompressed video over IP at the NAB Show; at IBC, the Burlington, Ont.-based provider of video distribution technology announced a partnership with Ross Video to add 10 GbE IP interfaces with ASPEN support for Ross Video’s flagship Acuity series of production switchers. This collaborative effort will allow the use of another alternative to SMPTE in IP-based broadcast production facilities. The Acuity production switchers can be directly connected to Evertz’ Software Defined Video Networking (SDVN) high-capacity switching cores using 10 GbE interfaces, allowing broadcasters to combine traditional SDI infrastructure with IT-centric hardware and software.

“This can be deployed in a facility and provide individual flows for audio, video and data all over a single wire,” says Mo Goyal, product marketing manager at Evertz.

ASPEN, an open format currently submitted to SMPTE for publication as a Registered Disclosure Document (RDD 37), is a key element of the Evertz/Ross collaboration. ASPEN offers a robust format for encapsulating uncompressed UHD/3G/HD/SD over MPEG-2 transport streams (TS). ASPEN combined with SMPTE 302M (Audio over TS) and SMPTE 2038M (Ancillary data over TS) allows broadcasters to seamlessly switch uncompressed video and audio over an IP network. Many broadcasters are actively deploying the ASPEN format as it provides them with a flexible method of transporting video, audio and data over scalable IP networks.

Although Goyal admits that “2022-6 is a good method for transporting video over IP,” the downside is that it requires auxiliary equipment if you need to re-embed audio into the mix. This is where ASPEN could help users on the production side break away from the rigid structure of SDI, he notes.

With ASPEN, “Audio can come from one site and video from another, and that offers greater flexibility in the production environment,” Goyal says. “It also reduces the need for all that extra gear, so our package switch is independent. We see ASPEN as the format that completes the puzzle.”