SVG Sit-Down: Unity Systems Integration’s Doug Waldron on Evolution of 4K, IP-Based Technology in Sports Production

Demand for flexibility drives IT-centric technologies

Live 4K sports production continues to thrive north of the border, and its success is due in part to the efforts of companies like Unity Systems Integration. The Newmarket, ON-based systems integrator played a pivotal role in construction of Dome Productions’ 4K-capable trucks and has positioned itself as a knowledge leader in live 4K sports production. But 4K isn’t the only trend on Unity Systems Integration’s radar. SVG sat down with Unity Systems Integration CEO/President Doug Waldron to discuss the continued evolution of 4K production workflows, the role that IP-based technologies are expected to play, and the next-generation developments that most excite the company.

Do you consider the current state of the systems-integration business healthy? In what areas are you seeing the biggest growth and/or demand?
The systems-integration business remains healthy, assuming you can get yourself involved in sports or new-technology projects like 4K or IP-based systems. The industry continues to trend towards fully IP-based technologies, but, while we wait for manufacturers to provide fully interoperable product portfolios, baseband systems continue to be installed to keep clients relevant. We seem to be getting the best of both worlds right now with Quad Link 4K and the introduction to IP. We expect the focus of our clients to land heavily on IP-based systems in 2018 with high growth and demand as the manufacturers present new products.

What effect have the evolution of IP-based technologies and workflows and the recent approval of the SMPTE 2110 suite of standards had on your business?
The evolution of IP-based technologies and workflows has allowed Unity to further grow our data-center–style approach to the physical-layer–installation phases of our business. Where traditional baseband systems may have demanded direct point-to-point cabling, now there is a demand for the flexibility offered by top-of-rack structured cabling-type builds. In addition, the planning, engineering-design, and system-deployment/implementation phases necessitate more IT-centric methodologies. With baseband systems, we may have needed to define and configure a couple of IP addresses for the control/management port of each device, but the media signals were more or less plug-and-play. With SMPTE 2110 and other IP-based technologies (Dante, RAVENNA audio, etc.), now each stream requires network-infrastructure planning and configuration with unique IP addresses for each and every component of media and the path it takes. This has created a requirement for a workforce with a higher degree of network/IT proficiency. Lastly, the proliferation of COTS gear to facilitate major portions of broadcast workflows has made it more difficult for Unity to gather equipment documentation and support during the design phase, which is critical for understanding the physical requirements for each piece of equipment prior to actual delivery.

4K production has had a strong foothold in Canada for nearly two years. What role has Unity Systems Integration played in the advance of 4K production in Canada, and how do you see 4K production continuing to evolve?
Unity has been a major player in the 4K-production market in Canada. Both our design and install teams have been involved in trend-setting projects with Rogers Media and Dome Productions. These projects have put us at the forefront in terms of knowledge and expertise in 4K production. We expect 4K production to continue to grow as IP-based equipment options become available. Along with a wider availability of IP-based equipment offerings, many of our suppliers continue to develop traditional baseband cables and connectors to accommodate 4K, and we suspect equipment vendors may still honor their commitment to bringing single-link 12G options to market. If so, we anticipate some growth in the demand for single-link 12G infrastructure for clients not ready to jump entirely into IP yet.

Are there any next-generation technologies that you have your eye on or industry trends that you’re watching? What excites you for the next few years of systems integration?
As traditional advertising dollars continue to shrink, budget cuts will likely drive staff reductions, which will likely drive investment in virtual and automated production and advertising technologies. We installed a Zero Density virtual set this year, and it is incredible what that technology can do. 8K will likely soon become the next best thing, and, with advanced analysis and graphics technologies likely continuing to prosper, we are very excited to play a small part in improving the fan and viewer experience with our heavy involvement in live sports-related projects.

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