Specificity versus flexibility: are they really mutually exclusive?
By Simen K. Frostad, Chairman Bridge Technologies
Why IP can drive flexibility in broadcast network structures, operating on an embedded, appliance or software basis.
It might be a bit of a stereotype, but if there’s one thing the broadcast industry loves, it’s a gadget. From cameramen with bulging kit bags to studios with a bright flashing button for everything, a sleek new piece of equipment excites engineers and creatives alike.
As such, whilst in the consumer sector there’s a constant drive to simplify, streamline and reduce things down to one device, one cable, one connection, the broadcast industry remains surprisingly entrenched in its mentality of a different piece of equipment for every job. The reasoning is often that single pieces of equipment are thought to deliver specificity, precision and depth in their purpose. After all, they’ve been built for a single purpose, so it surely follows they’d do it well? But that’s a wisdom that needs to be questioned.
Not least because server racks are beginning to groan under the weight of additional equipment and the functions they bring. Which is no good in an industry that increasingly needs to become more agile, flexible and dynamic – both in terms of production and delivery. Whether it’s setting up remote broadcast on the side of a mountain to capture winter sports or handling the delivery of streamed content to a global audience, broadcasters need to find ways to do this in smaller spaces, with smaller (and often remotely dispersed) crews and with lower reliance on physical proximity.
Fortunately, IP allows this.
One of the most particular ways it facilitates this is in relation to network topology. There were once limits as to where (and how) components could be placed within the structure, and these limitations added expense and reduced flexibility. Moreover, with a focus on ‘one object, one job’, networks were inevitably crowded and cumbersome.
Now though, technology allows us to deliver vital functions on a flexible basis; as an appliance, an embedded blade, or as software, depending on the needs and priorities of the user.
Of course, for users to make this decision, they need to be aware of the strengths and drawbacks of each option.
One of the key issues is energy consumption. Broadcast setups draw astronomical amounts of energy – a server can run from anywhere between 200 to 1000 Watts, whilst a probe draws as little as 25 Watts, which makes a huge difference when operating in remote locations with limited power options. Operating generally on the edge of a network, embedded options are best when there is a risk of needing to divert to backup power. They’re also more robust, with a life-span nearly double that of a server, and it goes without saying that in terms of size, they’re significantly smaller, which presents obvious benefits in applications where space and heat generation are key concerns.
If embedded options offer so many benefits then, why would any broadcaster pursue a server-based solution? The simple answer is capacity – giving more reach and depth in terms of what can be achieved (though with the advances IP brings, even this becomes a less pressing consideration). Centralising in this way actually also enhances the ability to engage in remote and distributed production, and in terms of convenience, server-based solutions are usually the closest you’ll get to plug-and-play.
And finally, there are software solutions. Again, it’s IP that has really revolutionized this field. For broadcasters who already have their own server installations and want to maximize versatility whilst reducing costs, software provides a perfect option – tailored and specific, but highly versatile. Software solutions even allow you to go so far as running from the cloud, a concept that was unthinkable just a few years ago given the immense amounts of data in question.
At Bridge Technologies, this idea of maximising flexibility and specificity is what has driven our product production philosophy. It can be seen in the VB440, which delivers a full spectrum of industry-leading, intuitive and in-depth production tools through an HTML-5 browser, allowing for fully remote and distributed production anywhere. And it can also be seen in the VB330 – a solution for broadband and media operators who need to monitor and analyse thousands of streams along their backbone in real-time and in parallel. By allowing network operators to choose between embedded, appliance or software installation (or indeed, a hybrid of all three as a result of the harmonized nature of the underpinning coding), this grants maximum flexibility but delivers the same amount of specificity and deep-level functionality.
So whilst unpacking another expensive broadcast toy can bring a bit of excitement, it’s time for the industry to adjust its mindset to meet the potential that IP brings – detaching itself from the conventions of single purpose hardware, and rejecting ideas that flexibility, agility and multi-purpose solutions necessarily mean a compromise on functionality. It’s time to do more with less, and embrace the IP revolution.