AMWA. Democratizing IP transition.
Running a cable from a camera to a mixer is simple in an IP-based infrastructure. But what happens when it’s no longer just a camera and a mixer? What goes on when you have a system where each device is designed by a different manufacturer? How do you make that system work seamlessly when there’s no room for error in a broadcast environment?
IP migration times are long and the processes are tough. But competitiveness is pressing and the need to grow and modernize is very important for all content creators. It’s a complicated race, but, fortunately, there are some shortcuts to complete it.
Twenty years ago the AMWA was born. An association of vendors and users was created with the democratic spirit of making the use and understanding of technology accessible to everyone in the broadcast production process.
The AMWA provides a meeting point for cooperation between companies that, outside the AMWA, are direct competitors. But in their workshops and meetings they strive to find the best common approach in the IP transformation race.
TM Broadcast International has had the pleasure of having the testimonials of Brad Gilmer and Neil Dunstan.
Brad Gilmer has been part of AMWA (Advanced Media Workflow Association) since the beginning, holding the position of Executive Director since that time, as well as in VSF (Video Services Forum). Mr. Gilmer is also at the heart of the JT-NM (Joint Task Force on Networked Media), which includes the SMPTE, VSF, EBU and AES associations.
Neil Dunstan has ten years of experience in AMWA and is the Director of Membership and Marketing. His main task is to communicate the work of the association to the world and encourage media companies to contribute to its developments.
What is the AMWA?
NEIL DUNSTAN: The AMWA has a worldwide membership which is 25% of end users and 75% of their suppliers. The organization forms, among other four, -there is also AES, the EBU, SMPTE and VSF-, the “Joint Task Force on Networked Media”.
The NMOS work, the preparation for IP-based infrastructures, is the third big project that the AMWA has taken on. Firstly were the AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) work and then MXF (Media Exchange Format), which are widely adopted. There is still lots of work to do on NMOS (Networked Media Open Specifications).
What is its mission?
NEIL: The whole point of the AMWA is to provide a place where there can be collaboration between end users and their suppliers. The thing I found really surprising is that when the NMOS work started, how companies, who were in competition with each other to sell products, their engineers and their developers sit down and work together to make technical solutions that everyone could use.
That happened because everybody wants to have things that interconnect properly. The product developers build unique features into their products to compete with their competitors. The interoperability between all these products is the area where we can help.
Our work is very practical. From the very beginning, when NMOS started up, our workshops were set up. At the first one we had 16 or 20 companies who came together in one room to connect their products and to make sure they all worked on a shared IP system. They left that three-day event with much greater confidence that their products were what the market needed.
How are your workshops?
BRAD GILMER: The workshops were first developed to address a problem. “The smartest people in the room” used to collaborate and develop solutions together, but sometimes they tend to develop a solution that is maybe too complicated to be built. Or perhaps they just do not write down enough of the detail for regular humans to understand it and actually be able to build it. So the workshops that we created were a way to be sure that a number of people could actually do what is described in the specifications and standards.
The first objective of the workshops is for people to test the documents they have written to ensure that others can understand them. The second is to be sure that what is written down actually can be done.
How can the AMWA help an organization move to an IP infrastructure?
NEIL: With an SDI system, you always have one cable from one device to another. IP-based systems have much more in common with IT systems. Because of that, you have a challenge of understanding what is on the system and making sure that everything that is on it knows what else is there.
Our industry now is moving much more quickly than it did when SDI came along. With the many cloud providers; plus COVID, where people are now having to make programs using cloud services; suddenly, the media environment is changing in days and weeks instead of months and years.
There is a whole education exercise for media industry to properly understand how they go about building systems of this type because it has never been done before.
NMOS has been going for five years now. There’s still work to be done to educate people. That’s why articles by your magazine help more people to understand more.
What is NMOS?
BRAD: NMOS is not really a product but a set of API specifications, and it’s up to vendors to put those APIs into their products. Sometimes people talk about our work as if it’s a product. I am not in charge of a company that makes NMOS products. They are made by Sony, Grass Valley, Imagine, Telestream, and any of the normal vendors you know. They make products that can decide to use this or not use it. They can use it or they can use their proprietary solutions. They can do a mix. They can support some of the NMOS stuff and they can do some things in a proprietary way.
How are you going to tell the facility, take this stream to this monitor, take this camera to this monitor? How are you going to do tallies? How are you going to handle showing that the video stream and the audio stream from this camera are together? These are the things that the AMWA started to address with NMOS. It really is an industry collaboration and there are lots of different organizations supporting the work.
NEIL: I think it’s relatively easy to see what the benefits are for a customer or an end user, because they can pick products from any of the suppliers which are using NMOS APIs and assemble their system using it. The suppliers can worry about the features that their products have and make their features better than their competitors and sell their products because they have a more complete feature set. The interoperability between their products and their competitors is not something that customers ever need to worry about.
Where I felt that the AMWA was doing the correct thing was when many new members joined to be part of the discussion because they recognized that the open specifications – the Networked Media Open Specifications, NMOS – and the “open” part of it was really very important to them.
How it works, who benefits?
BRAD: To illustrate that, you can imagine that it’s quite easy to connect different products using SDI, of course. Well, if you take two IP-based products and you put them on a network, how does that receiver know to join the stream from that sender? Let’s say you’ve got a camera and a monitor. Well, if the camera and the monitor are from the same manufacturer, they could have some sort of private communications between the two of them, and the sender could say, “I’m over here”, and a control system could say to the monitor, “Now, join that stream from that camera”, in some closed way that nobody else could understand. It would work perfectly fine, just like you were hooking two SDI devices together.
Now, what happens if you add another monitor from another manufacturer to the mix, and another camera from some other manufacturer, and you add a playout server from another manufacturer?
The manufacturers saw that this was going to be a real barrier to adoption of IP. The basic thing of connecting a sender to a receiver is fundamental and if there’s not a common way to do that, there’s not going to be any market for IP equipment. For example, the AMWA IS-05 specification is exactly that. It is a common API that any manufacturer can implement, and if a controller tells a receiver using this API to join the stream from some other camera, it’s all going to work.
Now, in that environment where you have several different vendors, they all can do one software development rather than doing many different software developments, in order to just get that base level of connections working. That’s a very concrete example where NMOS specifications are helping the industry move toward IP.
It is about the customer business needs and the practical implementations. If you are in a vision control room and you select Camera 1, you want to make sure that on Camera 1, a red light comes on so the cameraman knows that it’s on air, the person who’s looking at Camera 1 knows it’s on air”. In an IP infrastructure, it was something that did not exist automatically. It had not been done before, and we had to find a way of making it work.
How did you perceive that NMOS was necessary?
BRAD: Myself and another gentleman named Richard Friedel were at a conference maybe five years ago and we were having a discussion. We said that it seems that the investment in IP and also IT is tremendous: billions of dollars. I used to work at Cartoon Network, TNT and other Turner organizations, Richard was working at FOX TV and both were always being asking to have more content and in more devices. “You can’t use SDI for me to send Cartoon Network to your phone, Netflix is not going to use SDI to do so”. We had this conversation in front of everyone in the conference and we asked everybody:
“How many of you at this conference think you will be buying an SDI router in one year?” A lot of hands were raised. “How many of you think you will be buying an SDI router in three years?” This time a little less hands were raised. “How many of you think you will be buying an SDI router in five years?” No hands were raised at all. And we think: “If we’re going to move to IP, we have to start now because there’s no way to do this IPTV right now”.
Is there any other action that the AMWA is taking to increase the educational level of the whole industry?
NEIL: From an AMWA point of view, NVIDIA, Riedel, Sony and the BBC all worked together to put together a package where the tools you need to make NMOS work can be downloaded and used by suppliers who have not being part of the discussion so far. On our website, there is information about where you can go to download the content and how to use it.
BRAD: Sony made a major contribution to this project. They have been a major force behind open-source software that people can download to get started with NMOS. It worked like this: NVIDIA opened a “docker container” and all of the Sony open-source stuff and some open-source stuff from BBC and others is there and ready to go.
It’s an example of how the AMWA is a place where different organizations who may be competitors, come together to collaborate to help people learn more about IP facilities and the transition to IP.
Do the AMWA developments help other markets than traditional Broadcast?
NEIL: In the beginning, broadcasters only bought expensive broadcast products We’re realizing now that quite apart from theaters, churches, educational establishments which buy ProAV, there is a need for this technology, not just to be used in the most expensive products. The benefits of the NMOS work can reach a much larger audience. Although ProAV products might cost 10% of the cost of a broadcast product, there are hundreds of thousands of them sold. If that development work can be used cost-effectively in ProAV products, well, that will be great for everyone. So NMOS can have a long future in terms of ProAV products related with a market that has nothing to do with broadcast.
BRAD: The other thing I would just add is our work on security. If you have a set of APIs that can be used to control a facility, then that obviously poses a security challenge in an IP-based world. We recognized that early on. We got a group of chief security officers and media companies and media experts together and have published specifications that if they’re followed, they tell you how to securely access the APIs that we have to connect a camera to a monitor, for example, using current best practices so broadcasters can be confident that those systems are secure.
The broadcast industry has changed much since SDI appeared 25 years ago. The move to IP-based systems is necessary, but is very big and very complicated. The industry has to go back to the beginning and rethink about how the technology works. And it is a lot for both suppliers and their customers to completely understand.
The truth is that systems over IP are not the future any more, but the present of broadcasting. As associations such as AMWA have exemplified, the democratization of knowledge is important for there to be real competition between all members of the market. If manufacturers and end users do not agree to collaborate, the transformation to systems over IP will be impossible. This is why the work of the AMWA is so important, and not only of this organization in particular, but of all those who strive to promote joint work and to create a common and free language for broadcast technology.