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IBC 2015: the highlights

As the dust settles on another IBC, what were the highlights of this year’s show? The key themes were largely as expected – UHD, IP and the migration to software all featured prominently both on the trade show floor and in the conference sessions.

UHD certainly felt more tangible and both interest and activity has moved on more quickly than many expected from last year’s show. There was a lot discussion about BT Sport’s UHD channel launch in the conference sessions.

The fact that such a channel has gone on air, particularly one that carries some of the most high profile sports content in Europe, seems to have acted as a catalyst for many other broadcasters to consider accelerating their own plans.

There was also a lot of focus on HDR and when it might be available – the consensus being that it’s desirable and less complex to introduce than originally thought, but a lack of agreement on standards and the unavailability of TV sets mean it won’t be coming to your living room for a little while yet.

Every major vendor seemed to be showing off their new IP friendly products. We are clearly in the midst of a significant and long heralded transition away from SDI to IP, but many challenges remain.

Proprietary implementations exist for those looking to build systems today, but we really need broad industry collaboration to drive highly interoperable IP products. Thankfully there were some key announcements at the show on this front.

The VSF/SMPTE/EBU Joint-Task Force on Networked Media published its long awaited Reference Architecture shortly before the event, providing an architectural blueprint for next generation IP broadcast facilities.

The AMWA, a leading industry trade association, also announced its Networked Media Incubator Project. This is potentially a very significant stepping stone to an IP based broadcast industry as it provides a practical vehicle for broadcasters, vendors, service providers and others to come together and test real world interoperability.

Finally, the Digital Production Partnership (DPP), well known in the UK for its work to guide the broadcast industry towards file based production, delivery and operation, announced a series of important developments at IBC. These included a collaboration with NABA on a US equivalent of AS-11 DPP, an update on their forthcoming UHD specification and new partnerships with both AMWA and SMPTE.

It is really encouraging to see all of these organizations coming together to work on the strategic direction of our industry at such an important and active period of change. We at Ericsson are active members of all of these bodies and are very supportive of the work they are undertaking.

That leads us to the last key theme of the show – software defined broadcasting. While IP provides a great deal of flexibility at the control and transport layers, we need new software based networked resources to replace the hardware devices in place today if we are to truly transform our industry for the future. There has also been good progress made in this area and most vendors demonstrated live implementations of their software only products.

So in summary it was a good IBC with few surprises but plenty of solid progress towards a major evolution of the broadcast industry. Now, time to book those flights for NAB.

Steve Plunkett is chief technology officer of Ericsson Broadcast and Media Services

Posted 21 September 2015 by Steve Plunkett

The big themes at IBC 2015

It’s that time of the year again, when the trams of Amsterdam get packed out with the broadcasting industry’s finest.

IBC, the smaller, perhaps less brash, European sibling to NAB, not only offers a chance for the region to get together, but it also plays a different role in the vendor product release cycle. NAB is where new stuff gets announced; but IBC is where it’s actually seen in operation. It acts as both an update and a reality check for industry evolution. So with that in mind, what can we expect to see and discuss at this year’s event?

The use of internet technologies, and the Internet Protocol in particular, has been a fixture at IBC for many years now, but typically under the banner of ‘multiscreen delivery’ and ‘TV everywhere/anywhere’.

The focus, along with a considerable amount of development and investment, has been on the front end of TV delivery and mostly for on-demand viewing.

As NAB made clear in April though, attention has now turned to the use of IP further upstream in playout and within studios. The use of IP in this area, the real-time synchronous domain, is not necessarily more complex (that would downplay the work it has taken to build large scale OTT platforms); but it is very different, with a very different set of challenges.

I hope we will see more tangible progress on the product side, with vendors talking in more detail about their implementations and the challenges they are trying to overcome. NAB was largely show and no tell. Now it is time to get serious about how we are going to embrace a new set of technologies and architectures. Then use them to actually build more flexible, affordable, professional media facilities rather than slightly faster/cheaper versions of what we have today.

The publication of the Joint Task Force on Networked Media - Reference Architecture at IBC could prove to be a milestone in that endeavor.

Alongside the move towards IP based architectures is the transition to software based products.

The fact that this is happening simultaneously is, in fact, a big challenge. Most other industries have a chronology that shows a gradual transition over many years to generic IT hardware, then IP, followed by virtualization and now true cloud based operating environments. We are trying to do all of that at the same time and do it quickly.
We absolutely need to adopt the pan-industry technology stack build around IP, modular distributed software and infrastructure-as-code; but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this won’t be really hard. I am looking forward to listening to what others have to say on this transition and discussing practical strategies to take us there. Some of the conference tracks this year look very good on that front.

I think it’s fair to say that UHD TV has moved forward more quickly since last IBC than many of us predicted, myself included. Putting aside the question of whether the carts have arrived before the horses (TVs = carts and horses = content/delivery systems), there has been real progress during the past 12 months and a general reappraisal of when we can expect UHD TV to reach mass market status (sooner). We even built Europe’s first UHD TV channel for BT Sport, so it is demonstrably more tangible than ever. Still, there is a lot to agree upon in other parts of the UHD eco-system such as HDR standards.
There will of course be a lot more to see and discuss at IBC than these three topics, but I think it’s a safe bet to suggest they will be the headline acts. I am very much looking forward to it and hope to see many of you there.

Steve Plunkett is chief technology officer at Ericsson Broadcast and Media Services

Posted 10 September 2015 by Steve Plunkett
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