Switchers are the hub of remote production workflows

By Greg Huttie, Grass Valley

Subscribe to NewscastStudio's newsletter for the latest in broadcast design and engineering delivered to your inbox.

Before the global pandemic hit, remote production was already gaining ground, with many of our customers – such as Star Sports in India and SVT in Sweden – successfully transitioning their live sports productions to more centralized models. COVID-19 has accelerated this trend, and as customers navigate through social distancing measures and prioritize staff safety, remote models come into their own. With live sport increasingly returning to our TV screens, this approach allows customers to keep telling the great stories that fans expect, even in these challenging times.

Remote of different flavors

Remote workflows are flexible enough to handle a wide range of needs, and there’s no one size fits all approach, allowing customers to choose the flavor that best suits them.

Whatever approach you take – whether it’s SDI or IP, in an outside broadcast (OB) truck or a remote location – the switcher is the hub of the production. It’s key to building the various elements of a show, such as rolling in replays and loading graphics. The only difference in a remote scenario is that the equipment is located away from the live venue. And, sometimes, even separate from other parts of the workflow, like replay.

A centralized model, where the production suite, with a director, producer, TV replay, and all the equipment, are at a fixed centralized facility, is the most common. In this case, the cameras are the only significant piece of equipment at the live location, with all camera signals sent back to the main hub. Here, the switcher is operating as usual – there’s no difference between having that piece of equipment in an OB truck on location, in a truck located elsewhere, or in a studio.

The 2020 NASCAR season, which ended on November 7, is a really great example of this. There were two major sports networks handling race coverage and doing their production in very different ways. One of them deployed a truck at the race location with a limited crew; the other had just camera operators and a small technical team at the live venue. The great thing is that for technical directors (TDs), there’s no noticeable difference in how the equipment is deployed or in the signal flow. In both cases, the operators built their shows and punched them live, just as they would in a regular OB set-up. That’s the beauty of our flexible switcher’s architecture – you can set the equipment up in almost any way you like.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit the number of staff allowed at venues, we’re seeing some of our customers turning to more distributed production models – where a large number of critical production functions are happening in multiple, separate locations. Production staff can work from home or at locations where they can keep travel to a minimum, making it easier to keep them safe.

In a distributed set-up, where the production switcher engine (or frame) and the control panel are in different places, you need additional technology – like a VPN network or similar – to ensure smooth communications between the two. The round trip time for the signals to travel to and from the switcher is what determines the success of a production because you need uninterrupted communication between control surfaces and frames.

Flexibility is the key

Whether you’re working on location or remotely, the switcher, like a camera, traditionally lives in the creative space of live production, so the flexibility to have these tools located anywhere, run in a native IP environment, or handle 4K UHD or HDR, is a big advantage. That’s exactly how we’ve designed our switchers to work, and it’s one of the reasons they’re the gold standard for live sports production. Our record-breaking switcher sales in 2019 highlight this.

Advertisement

All our switchers easily connect to a remote panel or frame, which means customers can position one or more control surfaces exactly where they’re needed. A single panel can also control two frames – one local and one remote – which is great for productions operating with a limited staff.

Our entire family of switcher panels – from Maverik to Kayenne – are highly modular. Customers can locate them anywhere and configure their equipment exactly how they want. Whether a production is remote or on location, a technical director (TD) or operator needs to see minimal impact on their job while they’re punching a show. We’ve built our solutions to make sure that the workflow remains consistent, regardless of where the crew is.

From IP to the cloud

The transition to IP has made a huge impact on the move to remote production. The ability to bring sources in and move signals around purely on an IP network, with minimal delays, is critical in any live set-up. Grass Valley leads the transition to IP, including switcher technology, and our Kula and Kahuna production switchers – both proven in remote production scenarios – have 40 and 50 GbE interfaces for added flexibility and performance.

Helping customers tell great stories is what we do at Grass Valley, and IP helps production teams to deliver the huge volumes of content that consumers now demand – and do it more efficiently. IP-based infrastructures and workflows also easily handle everything from HD to 4K UHD and HDR and open up the way for larger formats, such as 8K.

As our customers look for even greater agility, IP opens the doors to more flexible, cloud-based production. A truly distributed model, built around virtualized workflows, means production staff can collaborate from any location – even their homes. Here, the processing equipment is living off-premises, and your control surface can float anywhere. Again, fast communication links are vital to access those pieces of equipment, regardless of their location.

Our game-changing GV AMPP (Agile Media Processing Platform) software as a service (SaaS) platform is a real game-changer. It was built with a cloud-native approach from the start, unlocking the power of elastic compute for live sports. Customers can now transition to public, data center, or hybrid infrastructures more easily. We’ve also solved many of the issues that can complicate IP and cloud deployments – such as network connectivity, timing, and ultra-low latency.

GV AMPP brings the agility that customers increasingly need in live productions today. The unique microservices architecture and the flexibility and power of GV AMPP have created a real paradigm shift in live content production. We’re constantly evolving the platform, and we’re working on the way GV AMPP interacts with the switchers – in effect, acting as an engine to drive the production. There’ll be announcements around this in the months ahead.

Making it easy with a one-stop from end-to-end

Whatever flavor of remote production our customers choose, getting everything from a single vendor is a good thing. In the area of switchers alone, Grass Valley does the whole gamut from single stream on IP, to 12G-SDI for 4K UHD. We also make it easy for customers to transition to full IP 4K UHD and cloud-based production at their own pace.

When we talk to our customers, they tell us they need technology partners that can stay the course as their businesses evolve. At Grass Valley, we’ve got a robust product roadmap incorporating cloud-based technology and for our customers, it’s reassuring to see that it lines up with their future needs. Our focus remains on providing solutions that help production teams create and deliver the best stories – whether working on location, from a centralized hub, or in their own homes.

About Greg Huttie, Grass Valley

Greg Huttie is Grass Valley’s vice president of production switchers, a role he has held since 2013. He is instrumental in the development of Grass Valley’s switcher product line, helping to deliver solutions that meet customers’ challenges in today’s rapidly changing media environment. Greg has been with Grass Valley for over a decade and has held a number of key leadership positions in the product marketing and management teams.