Taking aim


Dick Hobbs. TV-Bay Magazine
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by Dick Hobbs
Issue 109 - January 2016

Happy 2016!

We have a lot to look forward to this year. In Europe we are likely to find huge amusement in the American presidential election which this year seems to be throwing up an unprecedented set of clowns. In midsummer we have the Olympics in Rio, which should be quite a carnival.

In our industry we have a very important anniversary. SMPTE the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers was founded (as SMPE as it was long before television) in 1916. It is extremely rare we get to celebrate centenaries in broadcasting, and it is particularly pleasant to congratulate such a respected body.

SMPTE has carved out a role for itself as an authoritative body for the technical side of the business. It has a well-honed mechanism for researching, defining and publishing the technical standards we all live by. We all live by SMPTE timecode, for example, even if not all of us could state with any degree of confidence what SMPTE stands for.

If there is a criticism of SMPTE, it is that its standards-setting working groups take such pains to reach the best possible solution that their deliberations can extend over a very long time. Sometimes we just want them to get on with it and publish something.

That concern is exacerbated at the moment, because we are moving from our cosy old world of bespoke hardware, connectivity and architectures to a one in which we are adopting practices from the IT industry. That brings us real advantages, of course why else would we be doing it but it does mean we have to think in IT equipment cycles, not broadcast. It is difficult to wait for an entire refresh cycle or more for a standard to be defined.

That, I think, is the underlying driver behind the foundation of a new organisation, the Alliance for IP Media Solutions, or AIMS for short. The group defines its aims as promoting the adoption, standardisation, development and refinement of open protocols for media over IP, with an initial emphasis on VSF TR-03 and TR-04, SMPTE 2022-6 and AES 67.

Already we are in danger of acronym overload. VSF is the Video Services Forum. Young by SMPTEs standards, it was founded in the last century 1998 to provide the platform to debate and exchange information on video networking technologies. TR-03 is a technical recommendation for the way that separate video, audio and metadata streams (elementary media streams in VSF language) can be carried over IP. TR-04 is the carriage of SMPTE 2022-6 media in a TR-03 environment.

So we have multiple bodies working on standards for media over IP. That is fundamentally a good thing, because the alternative is to get locked down in proprietary systems.

As the estimable Tim Thorsteinson said, In this transition to IP we need one set of standards that become as ubiquitous as SDI. SAM is throwing its weight behind AIMS because it supports the only set of standards for IP that have been collaboratively developed and that meet the needs of future business models.

More acronym-busting: SAM is of course Snell Advanced Machines, or Quantel Snell as we used to call it. SAM lines up with other big beasts, including Grass Valley, Imagine Communications, Lawo and Nevion as founder members of AIMS. Mike Cronk of Grass Valley speaks for them all, I am sure, when he says our intent is to avoid perpetuating a future where suppliers push their proprietary technologies, only to lock media companies into technologies that dont work well with other systems or are not easily scaled and upgraded.

AIMS claims to have three, well, aims as a body:

¢ to educate and therefore boost the adoption of open standards

¢ to accelerate the development of solutions supporting those open standards

¢ to nurture the create of new standards by supporting standards bodies through participation and testing in real-world environments.

That seems to me to be the wrong way up, at least at the moment. What we desperately need now are standards that are robust, proven and achievable. Broadcasters are desperate to move to software-centric systems today, but are being held back because of the fears that Mike Cronk talked about.

AIMS believes that systems based on TR-03 are simple, requires less overhead, and is built on existing, understood, tested and available technology. Because of this and because of the AIMS roadmap TR-03 systems will be an implementation reality in 2016.

To my eyes, bringing together the best of the standards out there will indeed ease the passage to genuinely open, IP-based systems in the future. But only if everyone gets on board. Which means many more companies in the industry either backing the aims of AIMS, or explaining why a different solution will lead to a better result. Feel free to use this column to comment.

Happy birthday, SMPTE. I look forward to joining in the celebrations. And all support for your current standardisation efforts. May we live to see IP broadcast architectures that are as simply plug and play as SDI has brought us for the last 20 years.


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Contributing Author Dick Hobbs.

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