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IBC2015 Q&A: Grass Valley’s Mike Cronk on IP for broadcast

September 13th, 2015 By Ken Kerschbaumer

The increasing importance of IP in broadcast workflows is evident throughout IBC2015. SVG sat down with Grass Valley SVP of Strategic Marketing Mike Cronk to discuss how his company supporting the move to IP as well as offering camera enhancements for UHD.

At NAB 2015, Grass Valley made a big push with respect to an all-IP workflow. What have attendees at IBC205 seen related to that area?
We’re excited about this IBC. Earlier this year, at NAB, we introduced IP interfaces across all of our key product areas. We call this our “glass-to-glass” strategy. We also introduced GV Convergent, which is capable of controlling commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) IT switches and SDI routers, making it the perfect control system for the migration to IP.

This IBC, we are not slowing down. We are introducing two breakthrough technologies to enable the transition to IP. First, we are introducing the 4K one-wire capability over IP in both our LDX camera series and K-Frame production switchers. These workhorse products are now able to take 4K signals over 10G Ethernet links. They utilize a very lightweight, low-latency, virtually lossless compression technology called TICO, which is now being submitted to SMPTE via the RDD process. We and many others are embracing TICO for its many advantages over other compression technologies, but Grass Valley is the first to implement TICO for 4K one-wire over IP.

But the biggest introduction we have is the introduction of a new concept, and the first product to enable the realization of that concept: the broadcast data center (concept), and GV Node (first product to enable the concept). To date, IP implementations have revolved around large, monolithic IP switches, very similar in topology to how we’ve done SDI routing for years. The problem with this is, it doesn’t allow graceful scaling and there are limited approaches to fault tolerance.

At Grass Valley, we’ve learned from modern data centers. They utilize a distributed architecture, which allows graceful scaling and flexible fault tolerance, all while supporting non-blocking signal paths. We’ve added to the data-center concept the ability to switch frames accurately and to process high-bandwidth uncompressed signals very economically. This approach is much more extensible and flexible while delivering the performance broadcasters need.

The first product in this broadcast-data-center approach is GV Node. GV Node is a 16-slot IP processing platform that enables all of the video/audio-processing functions needed in modern productions (compression/decompression, up/down/crossconvert, color correction, tiling for multiviewing, etc.). Internally, it also has the ability to route signals (including separate audio/video routing, track swapping) with vertical accuracy between processing modules, and it has 12 40-Gbps aggregation ports supporting 1 Tbps of aggregation bandwidth to faster switches in the data-center model. GV Node, therefore, allows one to build an incredibly powerful, scalable IP infrastructure with built-in processing that can scale with your needs. It’s a real breakthrough. Combined with Grass Valley’s glass-to-glass approach, the broadcast data center and GV Node enable customers to realize more benefits from IP than ever before.

At NAB 2015, you mentioned that the transition will happen slowly, but some people have said that the move was much easier than it was even 10 months ago and that they are on board, especially for IP routing. Are you hearing similar things?
People are beginning to realize that the technology is real and that it’s viable. At the same time, I think we are very early when you look at the number of sites and trucks that have implemented IP. There are still a lot of things to overcome. For example, most implementations today have an IP router at the core but surround that router with banks and banks of conversion gear and, in many cases, SDI routing. Customers want, ultimately, to realize more benefits from IP other than efficient routing of large amounts of multiviewing. That’s why “glass-to-glass” (all products supporting IP) and IP processing nodes like GV Node have so much promise. I believe that, as these products get out into the market, there will be an even bigger push towards IP as the benefits of making the transition skyrocket.

The big issue with customers is what they see as a lack of interoperability among IP products from different vendors. So the holy grail of an end-to-end IP workflow remains out of grasp, at least in a way that makes them comfortable. How do you see interoperability efforts evolving in the coming months?
Interoperability is a big focus for us. In fact, here at IBC, we’ve announced our participation in the LiveIP project, jointly sponsored by the EBU and Belgian broadcaster VRT. There are about eight companies participating with the goal of doing live production over IP. Grass Valley is participating in more product areas (LDX cameras, K-Frame production switching, and K2 Dyno replay) than any other vendor. We believe we need to participate in such trials, both public and private, to ensure interoperability.

We also are very active in standards development. Today, [SMPTE] 2022-6 is the lingua franca for IP, and, because products like GV Node can route audio and video independently, even with 2022-6, we believe it has legs for production applications. Longer term, we are also working on SVIP being developed by the Joint Task Force for Professional Networked Media (JT-NM), co-sponsored by SMPTE, EBU, and VSF. Another aspect of interoperability is simply making sure that the entire system for live production functions. That’s part of the reason we are so committed to implement IP across our product lines. We are learning a lot from interfacing our own products and sharing that knowledge within the standards bodies. I think we are coalescing on a set of standards that will work well for the industry, but work remains.

UHD is also a big story at the show. Are there any new camera enhancements or updates since NAB 2015? How are your clients approaching UHD?
Yes. A big story at [IBC2015] is the ability for our LDX cameras and Kayenne/Karrera production switchers to support 4K one-wire I/O over IP. This will serve to simplify infrastructure and make 4K productions more economical. A great advancement for UHD is also the introduction at IBC of HDR capabilities in the LDX camera series. We are introducing our new Extended Dynamic Range (XDR) software upgrade option for all LDX 86 Series cameras working in single-speed formats (HD/3G/4K). Only Grass Valley’s LDX 86 Series cameras with Xensium-FT CMOS imagers can deliver the visual quality of better pixels and an outstanding dynamic range of 15 F-stops with this new XDR capability. XDR benefits live productions — particularly sports — with the ability to capture action in extreme lighting conditions and shadow without compromise, helping to tell a more visually engaging story. The XDR option is available through Grass Valley’s perpetual GV-eLicense software-upgrade path.

The move to IP and UHD provide some great business opportunities. What do you think Grass needs to do to capitalize and take advantage of them?
I think we need to do what we are doing. By introducing products that support a “broadcast data center” model with all the advantages of a data-center approach but with vertically accurate switching, by offering IP connectivity across our product lines, we are in great position to foster the transition and see increased business. As I said earlier, we are in the early days, with most implementations effectively being IP routing surrounded by conversion gear. That will change, and Grass Valley will be in a good position.

With UHD, we have a strong camera line and continue to invest there to take the state of the art even further. We have the only replay solution in the market, K2 Dyno, capable of doing a four-in/two-out UHD replay server. This means that, with K2 Dyno, customers can implement UHD productions without increasing server rack space and without increasing operator positions. We’re the only one who can do this, and we continue to innovate in replay. Our K-Frame (Kayenne/Karrera) has the strongest support for UHD of any switcher in the market, and we continue to innovate.

Moreover, our entire IP strategy has had UHD and higher-bitrate formats in mind from day one. That’s why we are the first to market with 4K one-wire cameras and switchers. That’s why our infrastructure products like GV Node handle UHD gracefully from the beginning. We are very bullish on our prospects in both the IP and UHD transitions.

Any other hot products and technologies you would like to talk about?
I would like to emphasize HDR. We think this is big, simply because, for little to no bandwidth, viewers can see a difference over normal HD at any viewing distance. We think it is a great way to show better pictures. The LDX 86 Series camera is extremely well-suited to support HDR. That’s why we are so excited about the introduction of our XDR software-upgrade option for all LDX 86 Series cameras working in single-speed formats (HD/3G/4K) that can deliver 15 F-stops of sensitivity to the home with a suitably equipped HDR set.