Case Study: Arista Powers NEP UK’s SMPTE ST 2110 Mobile Units for UHD Delivery
IP-capable Venus and Ceres debuted at Wimbledon this year
NEP UK is an innovator in the world of broadcast services with expertise in managing large-scale events. With increased demand for UHD content, NEP UK turned to Arista for the performance- and latency-critical networking layer for its state-of-the-art Venus and Ceres IP-capable mobile production units that debuted at this year’s Wimbledon tennis finals.
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Broadcasters are under pressure to deliver high-value content in UHD, particularly large-scale live events. The use of traditional SDI-based workflows inflicts technical limitations, leading many to seek more-flexible IP-based approaches. NEP UK, one of the world’s largest production-support providers, has been at the forefront of this progression. From serving the host broadcaster for the Royal Wedding in 2011 to providing HD flypacks for the Asian Games in Kazakhstan, NEP UK engineering experts and technical crew are a regular fixture at high-profile events; the company’s fleet of 17 cutting-edge mobile units and flypack systems are dispatched for operations in 21 countries around the globe.
For NEP UK, it is often the case that no two events are the same, and the move to IP delivers the scalability and flexibility needed to deliver the largest projects. For the latest addition to its fleet, NEP UK decided to create two IP-capable mobile units, Venus and Ceres, that will be used at major events, sports fixtures, and other large-scale productions.
Venus and Ceres are 38-ton, 16.5-meter double-extender trucks with the capability to deliver simultaneous feeds from 32 UHD cameras and space for 35 on-board production staff. The use of an IP backbone in production vehicles for signal interconnectivity and routing is not new, but using the interoperability enabled by the recently ratified suite of standards for SMPTE ST 2110 (-20, -30, -40) makes Venus and Ceres truly state-of-the-art. Their design also marks a groundbreaking step change in the underlying technology.
NEP UK has pioneered the building-block approach to remote production. In the past, production capabilities were essentially limited to the size of a single truck and its original design capacity. With IP offered, NEP UK could more easily link equipment silos — trucks, flyaways, local broadcast centers — and make them effectively one homogenous system.
The first challenge for NEP UK was to create a system with enough bandwidth to accommodate multiple uncompressed UHD channels with available expansion (including multiple-truck linking) to easily cover the largest conceivable event. The only logical way to achieve this is with an IP backbone based on SMPTE ST 2110. Only an IP infrastructure can potentially provide total visibility of all signals between all equipment silos.
The second challenge was to devise a modular hardware platform, with each module easily configured to perform an alternative task. The final challenge was to implement a control and monitoring system that recognized such system changes with respect to network addressing and module function for simpler reconfiguration of operator interfaces.
At the core of the new design is the need for huge amounts of bandwidth. “We looked at a number of possible solutions,” explains NEP UK Director, Engineering and Technology, Rob Newton. “Arista offered us the only completely lossless architecture that delivered the best performance, lowest latency with deep support for multicast, which is vital for this project.”
The Arista 7500 Series selected is a store-and-forward switch based on a virtual-output-queue architecture, which provides deterministic low latency with no head-of-line blocking. Latency is predictable, with packet sizes increasing from a low of 3.5 μsec (port-to-port) for 64 bytes to under 9 μsec for jumbo frames.
This lossless and deterministic capability is vital for video and is delivered through a store-and-forward architecture that reduces the serialization delay between forwarding engines and fabrics by using a cell-based switch fabric: packets/frames are sliced into cells and transmitted in parallel across multiple fabric modules simultaneously.
The huge data bandwidth provided by the Arista commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) network switches with fiber I/O means that the concept of “anything to anywhere” in terms of signal connectivity os now possible. The switching in each truck has a data throughput of up to 28.8 Tbps — equivalent to well over 2,000 UHD streams with all associated audio and data. In practice, such interconnections are limited to what is necessary, but embedding this hardware capability ensured unparalleled flexibility and scalability. Production capabilities are no longer restricted to or centered on the resources of a single truck.
At the heart of the IP switching infrastructure in each truck is an Arista 7504R 7RU chassis with capacity for up to four 36 x 100G = 7.2 Tbps line cards to form a high-density, low-power non-blocking Ethernet switch. Fully configured, it delivers up to 28.8-Tbps switching capacity with a flexible arrangement of 25/40/100 GbE interfaces. Offering a maximum latency of 3.5 μsec and efficient 25 W per 100 GbE port, the Arista switches provide ample data throughput and data-linking capacity to realize NEP UK’s single-virtual-truck concept.
The Arista-powered IP network is also the perfect foundation for NEP UK to extend this building-block, or modular, concept to individual equipment components. NEP UK has deployed multiple Grass Valley IQUCP’s (Unified Computer Processors), which can be reconfigured/software-programmed to perform alternative tasks. Equally important for NEP UK’s concept was system-device control and configuration. The Grass Valley IP routing-control system works by communicating with and instructing edge devices to call or cast data (video, audio, or data) via IP switch to other devices on the system. Just like the internet, system devices and processors perceive no boundaries with respect to the switch locations working solely on set/configured source and/or destination IP addresses. In short, increasing truck and/or flyaway count is analogous to adding server capacity on an internet network.
Arista IP switches coupled with Grass Valley’s redundant (autonomous) IP system-routing controllers can be set to provide main and backup data trunks on an as-required basis. In Venus and Ceres, not only has redundancy-hardware overhead been reduced by using duplicate line cards in modular switch frames, but NEP UK’s IP “block/truck linking” approach provides the potential to support and/or spread redundancy schemes across multiple trucks. It’s worth noting that a duplicated IP line card provides redundancy for all data types — video, audio, and data — (including control data), further reducing and standardizing hardware components compared with traditional topologies. The data-redundancy mechanism deployed for audio and video data is as per SMPTE ST 2022-7.
Both trucks have been put through their respective paces at several high-profile events. The inaugural deployment for Venus was at a high-profile wedding in Windsor in May. However, July 2018 witnessed the first combined deployment, with the two trucks linked via the IP flyaway system to form the world’s largest SMPTE 2110 remote-production installation in support of broadcasters at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.
NEP UK is contracted to handle the technical facilities within the Broadcast Centre for Wimbledon Broadcast Services (WBS), the in-house production company. NEP UK installed a distributed routing system, connected by main and backup MTP fiber-optic cable, to serve on/offsite domestic and international broadcasters.
The WBS setup within the Broadcast Centre is run from a huge master-control room (MCR) based on two core Arista 7508 switches and additional Arista 7280 switches. “The Arista switches in the OB trucks, the flyaway, and MCR form the largest IP system that we have ever built for an OB,” says Newton. “We’re not completely IP yet. The mixers are IP in and out, [and] the multiviewers are, too, so we probably could do it all in IP. But we are using existing kit that needs to be used elsewhere.”
Venus and Ceres mark a new direction for remote-production vehicles with NEP UK helping to define a new methodology from which others across the industry will benefit.
Says Newton, “Arista has been a fundamental element in helping to successfully deliver the vision of our building-block approach based on IP that has the potential to eventually allow trucks from different suppliers to work seamlessly together for the benefit of event organizers and broadcasters.”