Industry Insights: Pressing forward with production switchers

By NewscastStudio

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Production switchers are at the heart of broadcast production.

In this installment of our Industry Insights roundtable, our experts from the field of production control and switchers look at the world post-pandemic including new broadcast formats, streaming production and upcoming product updates.

Any thoughts on the decentralization of staffing (post-pandemic) and switchers?

“The pandemic has certainly made people think about how necessary travel had become. Our abstracted control architecture has always enabled multiple users to control a single switcher software core from remote locations using the public internet, and we will see more of this. A town hall meeting produced by a TD at home, a media manager down the street, and a graphics operator in an adjacent town is all possible today using the public internet and I believe will become the norm,” predicted Graham Sharp, CEO of Broadcast Pix.

“This is here to stay. We will see some semblance of “returning to normal” but some things learned in the pandemic will also create permanent changes. Thus, it is our responsibility at NewTek to ensure we offer the tools to keep this moment going – and keep productions working at optimum capabilities,” said Barbara Spicek, president of NewTek Worldwide.

“One thing the pandemic and social distancing showed us was we needed ways to control the switchers remotely, either with a second hard control panel in a different place or with virtual control with a computer over a network. Sony has met this challenge with resource sharing, multiple control panels, and with Virtual menu, Virtual Control Panel and Virtual Shotbox. We have operators using these virtual applications to cut their shows from home. With this capability, in a post-pandemic world, our customers have the flexibility to use their operators onsite or remotely. Technical directors and switching are still at the central core of the video workflow and we think this will show in how staff are utilized in a post-pandemic environment,” said Scott McQuaid, a senior sales support engineer for Sony Electronics.

“We think this is a trend that will continue, as demonstrated by the number of companies currently adopting REMI (remote integration) and other remote workflows. While some organizations went in this direction because of health issues, you’re going to see more and more use of remote production as a cost-cutting measure that reduces travel expenses,” answered Satoshi Kanemura, President of FOR-A Corporation of America.

“Decentralization will continue, and this is not due to the need for social distancing. It was accelerated by the pandemic, but it was already in progress in many areas. Distributed equipment with multiple points of control or centralized equipment with remote connectivity works. Today, there are many ways to accomplish effective remote production that reduce expensive real estate, travel and equipment requirements,” said Ross Video’s Nigel Spratling, VP of production switchers & video servers.

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“There’s no one size fits all approach with decentralized remote production or whether any single approach will become the norm. The past year has proven that remote production models not only work, but can be beneficial for many reasons. For that simple reason, we expect to see continued use of a decentralized approach that had our customers adopt many variations – sometimes with the same customer utilizing different models between one show and the next. It’s important to provide solutions that afford that adaptability,” said Grass Valley’s VP of production switchers, Greg Huttie.

“As the pandemic has pushed teams to reconfigure and improve ways to work with decentralized staffing, teams are learning they can continue to maintain high-level production quality, even when remote. Switchers have played a critical role in aiding remote production, and will continue to be a vital tool as organizations take a hybrid approach to production post-pandemic,” said Mike Bergeron, senior category owner – advanced technology, video production at Panasonic North America.

What advancements or updates are coming to your products this year?

“We will be continuing with our appliance strategy – creating dedicated products for specific markets that include suitable content, templates, and pre-built macros for those markets. A great example of this is the recently released ChurchPix – look out for more of these. In addition, as we make our software increasingly efficient and the computer hardware gets more powerful, look out for more network inputs, as well as enhanced networking and streaming functionality, and continuous ease-of-use improvements,” Sharp said.

“Sony will be enhancing our solutions for IP workflows, remote production, and resource sharing. Customers will connect multiple groups of resources, switchers and control panels in different places and control the resources they need from the location they want. Connecting the groups over networks and orchestrating and managing the system with our LSM Broadcast Controller, LEO orchestration, and Nevion network management products and solutions,” McQuaid told us.

“Our products are continuously evolving, and our roadmaps are very full. We have added over 100 new engineering positions this year to accelerate development efforts. One of our key focus for this year is the Hyper-Converged production system. As the platform is software-defined, we are continuously developing and improving it to benefit our customers,” Spratling said.

“At Panasonic, we added more streaming options this year, so our platform can address the new 2021 demands for hybrid remote production. Now that we are expecting more people to gather in public spaces as the year unfolds, we will be introducing new features to better support overall capacity on the KAIROS system, an IT/IP switcher platform, from increasing source capacity to more 4K and even 8K screen destinations,” said Bergeron.

“In our IP platform we recently introduced the K-Frame XP, which provides the largest full raster UHD 2160p video processing switcher on the market. It has no reduction in I/O count or functionality whether you are working in HD or 4K and of course it’s I/O footprint can be either IP 2110 or SDI. You’ll continue to see that capacity and feature set expand. We also announced the launch of GV K Frame on AMPP, that allows broadcasters and content producers to make the transition easily and efficiently to a unified cloud-production environment. With GV K-Frame on AMPP, users can immediately transfer that intuitive knowledge — along with their existing show files — to cloud-based video production,” Huttie said.

How are you supporting streaming production and their switcher needs?

“We have network input support for common streaming formats, such as RTSP, RTMP and NDI, and we also have native CASTUS integration for converting other streaming formats to RTMP. This means we can accept IP video streams from most IP cameras, PCs, phones, and video conferencing systems. We can natively stream the switcher output to YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook Live, video conferencing systems and CDNs as well as full integration to Switchboard live for simultaneous multiple streams from a single login,” Sharp explained.

“NewTek’s live production products have included streaming encoders since its first version in 2005. We can confidently argue that NewTek users and producers created the live streaming production industry. One example of how we have recently supported this industry is in our addition of videoconferencing tools to the TriCaster 2 Elite’s software. Adding support for Zoom, Teams, Skype, Discord, and more was critical during the global pandemic – and it is likely to be important moving forward as we look to increasingly remote video workflows,” said Spicek.

“Let’s not confuse switching with streaming – the production process is very different from the transport process. Streaming production needs are no different than broadcast production needs, except an output from your switcher is connected to an encoder that pushes your content to an online media platform. That said, we are continuing to update our switchers to handle IP sources, which can be used for both broadcast and streaming projects, even simultaneously,” Kanemura said.

“We have several solutions and a portfolio of connectivity products. Streaming can be accomplished in a number of ways depending on the production equipment selected,” Spratling said.

“Grass Valley is contributing to streaming services with shows that range from news and election coverage, to corporate events, to eSports tournaments. Some of those shows are fully in the cloud using our AMPP platform. Others are hybrid productions with encoding after switching the program. All our switchers provide multiple paths for differentiated program outputs — I think that’s crucial, to not lock your technology into a single format that limits the capability of the system,” Huttie said.

How are you preparing for future specifications and formats like 8K?

“Quite frankly, we are not. We see the arms race to greater and greater resolutions as being a waste of time – the compressions ratios required to stream these resolutions is insanely high, resulting in compression artifacts that make the result look much worse than gently compressed HD or 2K. Our focus is on ease-of-use,” Sharp said.

“This is the advantage of software-driven live production tools from NewTek. We integrate commonly available computing technology with purpose-built software. Then we take those products and connect them via networks to deliver total solutions. Fundamentally this means that the underlying technology is agnostic to the formats that run on top of it. As new formats like 8K become necessary to our customers, we can provide products that will incrementally add to their production systems over time,” Spicek said.

“8K is on the horizon, which is exciting, especially as we’re beginning to work on proof of concepts and testing with our major customers. In the future, switcher processors will be different, in order to handle all the new requirements, like 8K. More powerful processing, with new technology and architectures, will be adopted,” mentioned McQuaid.

“While we haven’t seen much need for it from U.S. broadcasters, 8K is already supported by quad link 12G-SDI in our HVS-6000 Series of video switchers, as well as our MFR-4100 and MFR-6100 routing switchers. That said, we are ready to support customer needs in the U.S., since we already have a business relationship with NHK in Japan, which is adopting 8K,” said Kanemura.

“UHD-2 (8K) is certainly on our to-do list. In certain parts of the world, there are serious 8K requirements emerging. We listen to the needs of our customers, and as the industry evolves, we adjust our designs to accommodate these needs,” Spratling said.

“Outside of a few special cases, we don’t see 8K as being generally adopted in the near future, but we are a front runner in developing for this format. That is why we build full raster 2160p video processing engines with IP for added flexibility and performance. The combination is key for handling everything from HD to 4K UHD plus HDR, and opens the door for handling larger formats,” Huttie suggested.

“The KAIROS system is already 8K-capable, thanks to its GPU capacity, but more than this, the ST 2110 input/output specifications do not constrain the image raster. For 8K to proliferate a transport standard is required; however, in ST 2110, the transport can simply be over 100G data line, which can run over a single or multi-mode fiber strand. Panasonic is committed to ST 2110 and other MoIP standardization for all products, so we can look forward to easy format support as new screen resolutions become a factor,” said Bergeron.

Participants

Graham Sharp, Broadcast Pix
Barbara Spicek, NewTek Worldwide
Scott McQuaid, Sony Electronics
Satoshi Kanemura, FOR-A Corporation of America
Nigel Spratling, Ross Video
Greg Huttie, Grass Valley
Mike Bergeron, Panasonic North America

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