Is baseband dead? Far from it…

TV Studio Photo

The broadcast industry is understandably focusing on the infrastructure of the future, and without doubt this will be based on IP.

But does that mean that baseband technology is dead? Far from it.

Broadcasters have invested heavily in baseband for many years. They have studios and control rooms full of excellent (and expensive) equipment, from cameras and monitors to switchers and mixers. It makes absolutely no economic sense to replace all these, just for the sake of a network technology shift.

So it’s all about managing the transition from an all-baseband to an all-IP world.

The future of baseband connectivity and processing

Facilities will progressively evolve from having a traditional baseband master control room based around big and expensive modular routers to much more flexible and cost effective distributed IP network based around commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) IP routers. New studios are likely to be built using IP equipment, but some islands of baseband equipment will remain for the foreseeable future.

Communication between the baseband islands and the IP world will be performed via nodes that convert media signals, clock information and associated data between the technologies.

Within baseband islands though, the most cost effective way to distribute signals is using baseband technology: it makes little sense to convert baseband to IP to distribute. Similarly, signal processing, such as audio embedding onto SDI signals or SDI frame synchronization, will best be done directly with baseband equipment rather than converting to IP, processing and converting back to baseband.

As the large MCR matrix disappears to be replaced by IP routers, the distribution and routing within baseband islands would most cost efficiently be handled by smaller baseband routers located in those islands. Obviously, as these routers would take on part of the job done by the MCR routers, they would need to offer a high level of redundancy to provide the reliability needed, and would benefit from including SDI processing capabilities

The future of signal transport

Traditionally, the transport of baseband signals beyond the studios has been handled by fiber with technology such as Nevion’s Flashlink product range providing the interface onto and from the fiber.

The trend for ever increasing image definition, frame-rates and HDR (high dynamic range) has made fiber a must even for in-house transport, since electrical cables would not carry signals further than 100 yards/meters.

As the industry moves to IP, the requirement for high data-rate transporting will continue to grow – for example, uncompressed HD requires a minimum of 10GbE data rates. Fiber remains ideally suited to transport signals any distance longer than a typical patch cable.

This means optical transport technology like Flashlink will continue to be relevant in an IP world, and any investment in that technology for the transport of signals today is be an investment of the transport network of the future – using fiber to transport IP instead of baseband.

In short, baseband technology is clearly not dead and much of the infrastructure can be reused in an IP world.

Managing the transition

One of the keys to doing a smooth and incremental transition from baseband to IP is to have a unified network management system, such as Nevion’s VideoIPath, that is able to control both baseband and IP equipment.

With such a system, users deal with resources, such as a source, a destination and processing needs, without having to be concerned with the underlying technology. That way, when equipment moves from baseband to IP, the workflow remains intact making the transition transparent to users.

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