Like much of the technology change that has affected broadcast, media and entertainment over the years, the move to the wider use of IP has been a gradual one. IP has inherent benefits for broadcasters - it is ubiquitous, uses existing technology and network infrastructure, and it brings cost savings over time as well as flexibility and agility to operations.
IP has already made its mark in file-based workflows, but has also spread into other areas like live distribution and contribution. However, the one area that has been slower to make the transition to IP is live production, particularly in the studio - but this, too, is changing.
IP WANs in production
IP based Wide Area Networks (WANs) have been used for some years in live-production to transport broadcast signals in real-time over longer distances, such as from regional studios or sports stadiums to the central production facilities. These networks are typically owned by telecom service providers, who moved to IP at the turn of the century. They are extremely robust and high-performing networks, with unprecedented capacity, making them eminently suited to broadcast contribution.
To some extent, broadcasters and production companies using these services have not been particularly concerned about the underlying technology: they were satisfied that, thanks to a specialized media overlay provided by media nodes, the signals are transported fast, reliably and more cost-effectively than other methods (e.g. satellite), and that what goes into the network (SDI signals) comes out the same at the other end. To broadcasters, this is just a pipe. The facilities themselves have, until now, remained firmly based on the tried and trusted baseband (SDI) technology.
IP LANs in production
IP is now beginning to make in-roads into the facilities (studios and campuses) in the form of IP Local Area Networks (LANs). For many broadcasters, the move to IP is driven by the need for increased productivity, i.e. being able to do more with the same or less. IP technology is considered more flexible than broadcast specific baseband technology, primarily because it can handle any video and audio technology (HD, 4K/UHD, HDR, 8K, etc), as it can transport anything that can be digitized, making the investment as future-proof as can be anticipated.
When it comes to IP LANs, a lot of the current thinking is very much locked into the idea of a like-for-like replacement, i.e. building an SDI-like network using IP technology. This however, is missing possibly the most important point about IP: the network technology is now consistent across local area networks (LAN) and wider area networks (WAN) – there is a LAN/WAN convergence.
And that has the potential to revolutionise the workflow and the economics of live production.