4K and HDR Merge Tinsel town with IP Infrastructure

Our Interconnected Planet

If you bought your new 4K TV with HDR ready during the holidays, you were not alone.

Market researchers tagged the 4K TV global market with 20% CAGR from 2017 to 2015. More and more customers are purchasing bigger screen TVs for finer detailed image, sharper and deeper color, and higher fidelity sound, aided by the availability of ultra high-definition media content and more affordability of 4K TVs; at the same time, the multitude of viewers and new money-making mechanisms (e.g., interactive advertising, streaming video on demand) drive both traditional broadcasters and internet services providers to vie for a larger market share by offering immersive experience and rich features over-the-air (OTA) or over-the-top (OTT). The trend is also evidenced by the standard ratifications with the latest in ATSC 3.0 (4K, HDR, 120 frames per second, wide color gamut, etc.) in November, 2017.

In the background, the technology enabling all these actually reaches far across the media and entertainment industry. From management and distribution of digital content, to development in post-production, the rapid evolution of the entertainment industry is being driven primarily by next-gen IP-based network solutions. It is not only OTT streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu that are tapping into the latest in data center technologies — we’re seeing this revolutionary new model drive innovations in the traditional broadcast production arena as well. Television networks, like BBC, Fox and NBC, are all looking to IP-based networking solutions, which power today’s data centers and clouds as a means to keep up with the latest trends for the industry. Particularly, data center technologies are enabling new video formats such as 4K uncompressed by helping to streamline the content management and distribution model across different platforms and adapt new methods for greater efficiencies, performance and cost-savings. These sharper, more vibrant digital formats are pushing data volumes and workloads to quadruple now and more as the industry heads toward 8K video.

Broadcast and production companies must evolve their networks to new, scalable IP-based infrastructure as demands on existing proprietary SDI routers, coaxial cables and BNC connectors have been pushed to their limits. These dated technologies can’t support the rapid progress in video and audio quality or emerging distribution models, which do away with proprietary technologies on the consumer end altogether. Working with the Joint Task Force on Networked Media (JT-NM), Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) and Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Mellanox has helped to define standards that are shaping the next-gen, end-to-end IP studio via solutions that include Spectrum switches, ConnectX-4® network adapters and LinkX cables that can meet and scale to ever-increasing demands from content in the digital age.

In tests with Fox Networks, Mellanox Spectrum switches were shown to have the lowest port-to-port latency and packet delay variation in the industry, providing a fabric that’s both reliable and scalable to meet today’s and tomorrow’s demands.

Software-defined architecture can provide greater efficiencies for a broadcasting network. Utilizing OpenFlow over the Studio Control System, a Software Defined Network model can be configured to manage switches and prepare a network for the desired workflow and video routing. By supporting OpenFlow 1.3 with 6,000 ACL based flows and flexible pipeling, Mellanox Spectrum switches present the best-of-breed OpenFlow solution. Furthermore, we can now containerize IP studio services to run directly on Mellanox Spectrum switches, providing an IP media fabric that doesn’t require utilization of additional servers and virtual machines — meaning greater performance and efficiencies.

As video processing is extremely CPU-intensive and strictly sequential, intelligent adapters can unlock cost-savings and faster processing at various stages of a studio’s content, from development through to digital distribution. Capabilities like Kernel Bypass, via a solution like Mellanox’s ConnectX line of adapters, offload workloads from CPUs to reduce their overhead for packet-processing. Kernel bypass technologies such as RDMA, Netmap, Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) and Mellanox VMA all work to lower jitter and increase throughput, maximizing CPU performance by letting these resources focus on the most critical tasks.

Another risk faced when managing large videos is the potential for congestion over switch ports as demands can spike quickly and exhaust the switch buffer. Techniques like packet pacing, which address both switches and the server, overcome this challenge by rate-limiting flows while preventing packet loss in the process.

Last but not least important, the performance of cables can mean smooth flow of video throughout a network or a massive bottleneck. Solutions such as Mellanox’s LinkX cables offer the ideal solution for IP-based studios, providing a fabric with a high degree of performance and accuracy. Utilizing passive copper and active fibre (VCSEL Silicon Photonics) cables along with optical transceivers, LinkX cables offer industry-leading performance and reliability with power- and overall cost-savings in mind.

The emergence of digital formats for video entertainment presented a game changer for the entertainment industry, providing a completely new paradigm for how content can be created, managed and consumed. With the rapid development of the on-demand/streaming model and constant development of ever-richer ways to view and experience content across different platforms, studios now need to be several steps ahead of technologies just to keep up.

Migrating to an IP-based infrastructure empowers broadcasters to innovate in all the areas of content creation and distribution, multi-platform support and future video formats. With the emergence of open networking and commercial off the shelf (COTS) solutions, the same technology that powers today’s datacenters and clouds provides the underlying foundation for innovations driving the next generation of video entertainment.

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About Jeff Shao

Jeff Shao is Director, Ethernet Alliances at Mellanox Technologies. Prior to Mellanox, he held senior product management and marketing roles at LSI (Avago), as well as Micrel, Vitesse Semiconductor & Promise Technology. He holds a MBA from University of California, Berkeley and a Bachelor of Science in Physics from University of Science & Technology of China.

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