Dick puts it all together


Dick Hobbs. TV-Bay Magazine
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Many of you will be reading this as you prepare for IBC. Some may even be reading it on the train/plane/ship to Amsterdam. I want to take a couple of minutes of your time to look at a last minute addition to IBC. It concerns IP, but trust me: this is good news so please do not stop reading just yet.

For very, very many years we have connected video over co-axial cables with BNC plugs on each end. Once upon a time it was analogue. Sometimes we even had to have a bundle of four identical cables for RGBS (red, green, blue and spare as a friend of mine used to call it).

When video moved to digital there was a short period when signals were sent in parallel and we had to mess about with multi-pin connectors, but very quickly someone came up with the idea of converting the digital video signal to a serial stream. That very clever person made two more brilliant decisions: first, to call video in digital form delivered serially the serial digital interface; and second to use co-ax cable and BNC connectors. We didn't even need to throw away our patch cords!

SDI became accepted as the global standard more or less instantly. We had total confidence that we could connect any output to any input with a standard BNC cable and it would work.

Now, for all sorts of very good reasons, we are moving away from SDI and moving to IP connectivity, as is used in any other computer application. And we have the same advantage: everyone understands about RJ45 connectors on twisted pair cable to carry ethernet streams.

But just because we can pick up any cable and plug it in does not mean that we have universal plug and play, the way we did with SDI. In fact we absolutely definitely do not have plug and play, because we have moved from a simple, dedicated, realtime interface standard to the need to piggy-back broadcast standard stuff onto IT transport layers.

30 years ago I spent a lot of time working with what was then called the "OSI seven-layer model" for computer-to-computer interfacing. Back then there were days at a time when I could remember what the seven layers were. But critically, the model abstracts the transport layer from the application layer. In other words, devices at both ends of the ethernet cable understand the ones and zeros the other is saying, but only know what to do with them if the right application is in place.

What broadcast needs, therefore, is some standardisation of the top layer of the OSI model, the application layer. Only then will, say, a production switcher understand the data stream that a character generator is sending it.

Lots of bodies went off to try to define those standards. But in the meantime, because the IP transition was such a hot topic it was incandescent, major vendors developed their own standards. Some broadcasters needed to move quickly and accepted these proprietary solutions, accepting the inevitable lock-in. Many more rejected the real benefits of the transition to IP because they would not give up their ability to choose best of breed vendors.

I have already written here about AIMS, the Alliance for IP Media Solutions, and applauded the fact that vendors big and small came together not to create yet more standards, but to promote the standards that exist, from respected bodies like SMPTE, AES, AMWA, VSF and more.

AIMS has achieved something really important, although it does involve yet another set of initials for us to learn. It has overseen the creation of JT-NM, the Joint Task Force on Networked Media, to create a clear roadmap for the future.

And, to bring us back to IBC, it has been the prime mover in creating a unique and, I would suggest, compelling demonstration. The IBC IP Interoperability Zone (try saying that after a night at In De Wildeman) can be found at the far end of hall 8, and it sees 30 or more vendors coming together to demonstrate real, simple, plug-and-play IP connectivity. AIMS has worked with IABM, the body that represents vendors in the industry, to create the Zone, demonstrating that this is a real win-win for everyone.

Part of the Zone will be a practical demonstration of the Live IP project developed by Belgian broadcaster VRT along with EBU, showing real television production without the use of BNCs, but with the co-operation of yet more vendors committed to open standards.

Chairman of AIMS is Michael Cronk, CTO at Grass Valley. "Visitors will be able to see verified technical interoperability over IP from more than 30 companies and the same technology being used in a real production environment," he said. "It will be a showcase for the reality of the technology and a demonstration that the industry is converging on a common roadmap."

IP is inevitably the future. I hope as many as possible will go and see what can be done today, and I congratulate IBC, AIMS and IABM for staging this.


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Contributing Author Dick Hobbs.

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