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NDI and SMPTE-2010: video over IP

A part of the Broadcast world is heading towards the SMPTE 2110 format, a well-known standard proposed by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers - above all- because it was created with the aim of sending digital video over an IP network.

The novelty compared to the past is in the fact that the video data are conveyed on IT infrastructure in an uncompressed format and the video, audio and ancillary data travel on different and separate streams.

 

Bandwidth efficiency, which is certainly not high, is subordinated to the maximum quality, while flexibility is not a problem as this format was created for use in a broadcast production and distribution center.

In this direction there is a rather common belief of the media industry that this format is the exclusive prerogative of public broadcasters, as the only entities capable of bearing the costs.

 

Overcoming some limits

SMPTE 2110 was certainly born as an infrastructure solution capable of eliminating the complexities of the typical SDI signal, and moving towards a network infrastructure that manages video signals.

From a technological point of view, it is born to overcome a series of limits that the use of SDI (and in 2022) has always imposed, such as the complexity of extracting audio from a video signal by demultiplexing it, unpacking it when necessary.

In 2110 this no longer happens since all the streams are separate, so it is very simple to read only what you need, without demultiplexing anything.

The only constraint in this situation is to have a synchronization apparatus distributed over the network that allows these flows to be recognizable and to be synchronous.

To use the SMPTE 2110, however, it is not enough to buy common network cables and simple COTS devices, in fact, you need high-level products capable of supporting high data rates of 10Gbps per stream in UHD and 2.7 Gb in Full HD and PTP (precision time protocol) synchronization with adequate network infrastructure.

The other problem is that today we are used to "normal" IP systems but in fact there is no software system capable of generating a 2110 stream because this is generated via hardware.

Therefore each device needs a hardware interface converter from SDI to 2110; the video mixer may already be able to receive a 2110 signal, but a camera, graphics computer and alike need new expensive hardware.

 

The complexity

In practice, summing up, from the point of view of the typical production structure, the 2110 offers the maximum as per quality but requires a certain complexity in management and significant changes to the structure, which not cheap.

 

Roberto Musso IP & NDI Regional Product Manager EMEA of Vizrty comments:

"The SMPTE 2110 format was created to guarantee the interoperability of IP devices on the same network, that is, it should be an open source plug and play technology, but many in the sector believe that the major players in the broadcast world, who are part of the consortium, they tend to somehow guarantee a certain business advantage over the standard itself.

This is causing some delay in the development of this technology and, above all, the initial dream of interoperability is somewhat moving away, as the scenario becomes more complicated.

Another problem is that, in general, employees accustomed to working with SDI technologies cannot be the same as those who will work with SMPTE 2110 for a matter of change of mentality of the workflow. In practice the problems remain in the costs, the skills and in the generational change required from the staff."

 

The pandemic and the NDI

Today, then, the contingent problem of Coronavirus has led many publishers and producers in the media sector to necessarily think of producing on the cloud, of using lean production structures and remote production.

These are needs rather than choices and the weight of the data to be moved in the case of 2110 makes these procedures very problematic and not very convenient (in fact it was not born for this).

Hence comes the NDI format, NewTek native which, introduced in 2015, can boast many years of experience and offer itself as a mature protocol.

Until yesterday no broadcaster would have ever thought of managing content with the NDI precisely because it is a compressed format, therefore an outsider.

However, when NewTek was recently purchased by Vizrt, an important player in the broadcast area, the games changed.

 

Roberto Musso confirms: “The explosion of remote production is bringing the NDI to the fore and being attractive because such a structure also works from home with the existing Gb network and nothing special is needed, it is easy to install software.

Interoperability has existed for years, the compression format is proprietary but the SDK allows anyone to develop software that can read and / or produce an NDI stream from cameras, computers, graphics, mobile phones, tvcameras, tablets, etc.

The image format is compressed but excellent compression ensures an extremely advantageous workflow."

 

Any device can be software-enabled to create an NDI stream and therefore it is easy to create content distributed on the network and work it on the cloud in multi-user mode.

SDI production is typically centric, based on a large matrix, in the production center, which connects inputs to outputs; while that in NDI is ubiquitous, delocalized, and there is no physical matrix.

This, obviously, opens up a universe of possibilities, because there is no longer dependence on a physical infrastructure and then interoperability is due to a series of existing digital tools, which speak the same language, when they are able to produce via software an IP stream.

 

Musso concludes: “The approach in NDI allows to reduce the use of cables, space in the racks, energy consumption and is future-proof because it supports all resolutions and frame rates, in addition to taking advantage of IT evolutions from 100 GB to 400 GbE.

The moment you work all in NDI, even the video mixer can be simply a software application and as such placed in the cloud, becoming a technically unbeatable system."

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