NAB 2014: The Inflection Point

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention has opened with it’s conference program today (the exhibition starts on Monday). I think that this year’s edition is happening at a very significant time; this is the year when the networking technology has reach a point where it can compete favorably with the dedicated infrastructure. This is an inflection point, a movement in time where the objectives conditions are there to change everything.

Until now, it was possible to use generic network technologies such as ethernet switches to carry compressed or low resolution video content. Dedicated infrastructure such as SDI and HD-SDI were the only real candidate to carry uncompressed high quality signals. These were non-networked dedicated unidirectional technologies. Control information to change the signal routing or to address processing equipment had to be carried separately from the content stream.

But advances in ethernet networks did finally catch-up. With 40G (40 Gigabit) ethernet, it is now possible to not only do uncompressed HD-SDI in standard network architecture, but also to use it for Ultra HD with uncompressed 4K or with mild visibly lossless compression 8K!

In fact, I was at a presentation at the Montreal SMPTE chapter recently and former Miranda colleague Renaud Lavoie (who is now President and CEO of Embrionix) was arguing that it is in fact better and simpler to use networks than dedicated infrastructure. Their company offer a series of adapter to bridge the gap between network and broadcast equipment that uses HD-SDI or SDI. These are little SFP modules that you can plug into a standard ethernet switch and makes it easy to confert various signal type to be carried over ethernet. If you are at NAB this week, I strongly recommend that you pay a visit to their booth which is N3738. Otherwise, take a look at their website.

But this is only a transition. Once devices such as camera are equipped of an ethernet port for the video and audio signal (some are already announced) then it is truly the opening of a new chapter where we can leave purposed-built equipment behind. For the broadcast industry, this is this inflection point is the equivalent of the the early 80s for word processors. At the time, word processors were dedicated machines; once the general purpose computer were advanced enough to allow for software such as Word Perfect and Microsoft Word to run, these equipment did quickly disappeared.

With the generic platforms – networks and computers – now at par with the dedicated infrastructure, everything will happen quickly. Within a few years, we SDI and HD-SDI will be history as CDs are today. Even dedicated equipment like production switchers will loose their raison d’être. You may still see control panels that looks like production switchers for ergonomics reason but technically, those will be general purpose computers behind with ethernet ports to carry the signal in and out.

TV is software and more than ever, the tools to produce it will be software also. NAB 2014 marks the inflection points, the moment in time where dedicated hardware becomes obsolete. Pay close attention when you walk the floor, I am convinced that you will see evidence of that everywhere, and please share your toughs with us here!

Cheers and an happy NAB convention to all!

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