Sports production has driven much of the advanced video networking we see today. Live sporting broadcasts — with their highlight packages, clips and slow motion — have pushed higher-bit-rate production, low latency, greater mobility and higher-speed workflows. Viewer demand for a true HD experience on all connected devices only adds to the demands placed on video infrastructures. Networks of today are fundamentally evolving from point-to-point infrastructures to dynamic, multiservice networks that can provide content to all screens with the same speed and quality as delivered to televisions. Any-to-any connections are the true nature of this infrastructure; point-to-point connectivity no longer reflects the way media is consumed.
Sports applications have driven the adoption of IP networks, which deliver the speed and efficiency needed by live event coverage.When properly managed, proven IT practices and IP technologies can be much more efficient and optimize many aspects of an operation — from physical resources to bandwidth — relieve financial burdens, and enable management of capital expenditures. At the same time, IP networks can provide significant value-added services, including social media capabilities.
Despite the inherent flexibility of IP transport, its cost efficiencies and the ubiquitous availability of IP networks, broadcasters still show reluctance to deploy IP for mission-critical broadcast operations. Broadcaster fears over losing apparent workflow control, and concerns over quality and security, persist. IP for the transport and management of live video sits diametrically opposed to tried-and-tested linear broadcast systems. Packet technology entails chopping signals into fragments and transporting them over an IP network for a loss of all perceived control.
Advantages of IP networks
The latest achievements in QoS, resilience, fast repair, switching speeds and scalability have made IP networks reliable enough to become not just viable, but a preferred option for video contribution networks.
The use of IP for contribution-quality video transport has also grown out of the need for efficient scaling of bandwidth. In many cases, IP’s scalability has been enhanced through the use of video compression technology such as MPEG-2, H.264 and now JPEG 2000. Compression allows for every bit of available bandwidth to be optimized.
For live sports productions, IP transport reduces the need for remote broadcast and satellite uplink trucks and reduces resources required for on-site personnel, saving production and operational costs. Yet IP’s advantages extend beyond operational and capital-expense cost reductions. The ability to share content quickly and efficiently on a shared IP network infrastructure creates collaboration, efficiency and agility throughout the entire broadcast value chain. Perhaps nowhere has this been seen more than in sports production, where workflows are being transformed by IP networks and all-digital systems. The resulting highly integrated workflows and efficiencies have opened the door for new second-screen solutions, providing an opportunity to leverage the often-large amounts of unused content as original premium content sent to viewers’ second screens. This serves the dual purposes of engaging viewers as they consult other devices and engage in social media activities as they view their favorite sports, while creating potential new revenue streams.
An IP environment supports an end-to-end digital workflow that dynamically moves media through the production process, breaks down operational silos and supports collaboration internally. As a result, digital workflows can reduce OPEX, allow editing functions to be easily shared among different teams and significantly reduce time to air — especially important in sports and news environments.
The first stage in the lifecycle is the acquisition of video content into the IP domain. Adapting digital video onto an IP network can be achieved either directly from cameras with built-in Ethernet/IP network interface cards, or via standalone IP video adaptors or gateways.
With IP transport, the network itself determines the optimal path for transmitting traffic to its destination at any given moment and routes traffic dynamically. Rather than predetermined transmission paths set up in advance, TS packets serve as containers, which are stamped with a destination address and sent into the network. The network then uses the IP addresses to transport the packet to its destination through connectionless packet forwarding, or IP routing.
The connectionless approach of IP networks offers several advantages. First, because no paths must be established in advance, provisioning is easier and more cost-efficient. IP networks are also inherently resilient. Because no paths are pre-established, an IP network will always reroute around any link or router failure (assuming the network has been designed with resilient nodes and links). This allows IP networks to survive multiple link and node failures — something not always possible with path-protected networking technologies.