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Boost IP-based Video Production Equipment Performance with Intel® FPGAs

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Serial digital interface (SDI) point-to-point connections have served the video production market well for many years, but that era is ending. As Ethernet IP technology for file-based production evolves, matures, and progresses to include live production, timing, and synchronization, Ethernet IP networks are replacing SDI connections for media content exchange in a highly disruptive evolution across the entire broadcast and media production supply chain. However, live video production presents many challenges including—but not limited to—interoperability, performance, latency, and connectivity. Intel® FPGAs can help you meet these challenges.

The move from proprietary hardware to computer-based commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems and devices is maintaining a fast pace because of the resulting economic benefits. IP technology is all about networks, servers, storage, and applications and has lowered costs for these essential functions. Live IP video production requirements have driven the development of new network designs and topologies to meet the mission critical requirements of live media transport over a network. These new requirements push the limits of current COTS hardware architectures with increased demands for media processing, which necessitates the use of specific hardware accelerators.

A Showcase at the Olympic Winter Games

Intel has actively partnered with video equipment original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to develop IP-based equipment for the past several years and recently showcased the first trial of this novel architecture at The Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, piloted at the curling event. The goal of this project was to create a fully virtualized, software-based video production architecture and environment using a common COTS-based hardware platform while retaining the traditional broadcast appliance user experience that is already familiar to broadcast engineers and operators. The resulting standards-based platform enabled multiple vendor software applications to be deployed on the same physical platform. This approach facilitates simple scalability of physical hardware resources to match the complexity and compute requirements for various broadcast events such as the Olympic Winter Games.

Developing such an IP-based video production architecture is not without challenges. The increasing speeds supported by Ethernet switches and the corresponding improvements in aggregate non-blocking switch and network throughput have paved the way for IP/Ethernet protocols to transport critical broadcast applications in a cost-effective manner with the same robustness and stability of legacy SDI equipment. Ethernet-based equipment provides greatly increased agility, flexibility, and scalability to meet ever-evolving media formats. However,  a number of additional standards were required to ensure a robust system architecture. A collaborative partnership of many organizations was formed to develop a selection of standards, specifications, protocols, and recommendations gathered from the media, internet, and IT communities. As a result, there are a number of new standards that have been approved and ratified for live production. The SMPTE ST-2110 Professional Over Managed IP Networks Suite of Standards and the AMWA NMOS group of specifications are the main ones.

The SMPTE ST-2110 Standards

In an ST2110 installation, all the media essences (video, audio, data, control, and sync) are transmitted as packets within the network. Although this scheme may seem to be structurally similar to a regular Ethernet network, a successful ST2110 working deployment has some unique requirements including traffic shaping and hitless protection switching. In addition, the workflow must manage, process, and convert several simultaneous high-resolution video and high-quality audio streams, as part of the real-time production process. To complete this task, a high-performance video production platform must provide sufficient computing power and bandwidth to produce results with the lowest possible latency. Flexible media accelerators added to general purpose COTS servers can improve processing capabilities while lowering power requirements to accomplish this task.

Intel FPGAs perfectly fit the requirements for these media accelerators. They provide massive parallel processing capabilities and extremely high memory bandwidth. As a result, adding flexible media hardware accelerators to a COTS server improves deterministic latency, independent of load conditions, and reserves conventional computing resources for user applications. In addition, FPGAs can be reprogrammed within milliseconds, in the field, making it possible to support different audio/video processing pipelines using less hardware, which further reduces costs including total cost of ownership (TCO).

While an “All-IP” infrastructure may be desirable, it’s currently an elusive goal. Most video production systems must also support a variety of legacy SDI-based devices that are not easily converted to operate in the networked world. The challenge is to find the most efficient way to bridge the gap between the two worlds while maintaining the strengths and advantages of both.

The Real-World Need for SDI IP Gateways

SDI IP gateways currently play an important role in a hybrid SDI/IP studio production systems to transport audio, video, and ancillary data among the SDI and IP islands. These systems aggregate one or more audio and video essence streams into a 10 GbE, 25 GbE, or even higher bandwidth network segment. For example,  50 GbE and 100 GbE. They also provide signal buffering to ensure proper time alignment and to provide clean transitions among IP streams.

SDI IP Gateways may also include mezzanine or intra-frame codecs, such as JPEG-XS, VC-2, and SpeedHQ that will further reduce network bandwidth requirements. As captured resolutions and video quality rise, the sheer amount of raw data that is produced, collected, and transported is becoming hard to manage. Consequently, transporting compressed video is becoming more popular as the market continues to see increasing demand for higher resolutions, faster frame rates, and more intelligent distribution systems. Standardized compression solutions permit designers to manage more pixels faster, while cutting cost and power, simplifying connectivity, and preserving video and audio quality, all with low latency and implementation complexity. Intel FPGA architectures and IP from both Intel and its partners can help you meet these design challenges.

FPGAs for Cameras

As broadcast and video production imaging resolutions and frame rates increase beyond HD and 60 fps as well as requiring support for wider dynamic range, it has become essential to perform real-time image and video processing within the space- and power-constrained designs of cameras and camcorders. In addition, these imaging devices require new capabilities including video analytics and metadata acquisition to enable efficient workflows as well as to help monetize content. A traditional design solution mixes ASICs, processors, and FPGAs. This approach complicates the system, increases power consumption, and generates excess heat. Intel FPGAs can tackle all of the required function in a camera or camcorder by integrating high-speed connectivity to the latest 4K and 8K sensors with flexible image and video processing pipelines, lossless or lossy encoders (where needed), and support for a variety of output connectivity standards. Integrating the entire camera or camcorder with an Intel FPGA delivers significant space, cost, and power savings.

Read the White Paper

If you are involved in architecting, designing, or selecting your next media processing infrastructure, read the new “FPGAs for Live Video Production Workflows White Paper” to find out how you can use Intel FPGAs to implement highly efficient and performant video and audio processing applications that meet the demanding real-time requirements necessary for complex live video productions.


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