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smartDASH: The smart money is on telemetry

Posted on Jan 13, 2022 by FEED Staff

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Lockdown taught us that IP broadcast networks play an important role for those needing to remain on-air. Lawo’s smartDASH has paved the way

IP networks that include WAN links to other sites allow operators to collaborate from different locations – in real time – and leverage and share centralised processing or production resources in affordable off-premises areas. Forward-thinking users are already working from scores of different geographic locations, and using mixing consoles, video switchers and software as sophisticated remote controls for processing units located thousands of miles away. Tried-and-tested workflows are being rethought from the ground up, for leaner and more effective production scenarios.

Watch that data

Access to a robust set of test and monitoring tools is becoming indispensable when designing and operating SMPTE 2110 IP systems for TV stations, corporate installs and entertainment providers. With IP infrastructure, the cable-checking approach no longer works – unplugging an RJ45 or optical cable will tell you almost nothing about which device is actually malfunctioning. At best, an entire rack goes offline. In the worst case, the infrastructure stops working altogether. Broadcast engineers need to know which data originates from where, where it is headed, which route it uses, whether there are bottlenecks or delays and what is causing them.

This calls for a dedicated monitoring and telemetry solution that helps engineers and operators perform deep packet analysis on all formats of media flow for audio, video and data, with special attention devoted to ST 2110, OTT, PTP, ancillary data and more.

Filling the gap

Where desired, a converged IP network allows users to handle both corporate traffic and a new way of delivering high-quality media (4K and beyond) across the same fabric. The good news is that what used to take many dedicated rack units on a broadcast network has been drastically optimised with respect to overall footprint. But with an IP infrastructure, what do you do if something malfunctions? Where do you start looking for the problem? What clues point you in one direction (device lost due to a severed connection) rather than another (conflicting IP addresses or PTP error)?

Unplugging an RJ45 or optical cable will tell you almost nothing about which device is malfunctioning

From the perspective of a traditional broadcast engineer who is very knowledgeable about an SDI-backboned service playout, master control or transmission operation, it is common to find a gap of understanding when those services traverse an IP-switched network. Such an engineer may be totally unaware of time-sensitive concepts, such as min, max and mean inter-packet arrival times of ST2110-20/30/40 streams, along with RTP packet losses and packet jitters; determining the essence RTP stream offset with respect to PTP; relative offsets between video, audio; and ancillary RTP streams.

Historically, the direct approach to solving these challenges has been to invest in broadcast and network tools, each purpose-built for the application and user. Tektronix and Leader, for instance, are major players in the SDI broadcast space, with specialised tools for signal verification and validation. Other solutions are considered by network engineering and operations to be best-practice enterprise monitoring software. Unfortunately, they provide zero visibility with respect to the essence of data streams that flow across those network planes.

AT YOUR FINGERTIPS The smartDASH not only offers a comprehensive overview, but does so in real time, covering all bases

Sharpen your view

Traditional broadcast and network monitoring tools do not provide the depth of inspection necessary to visualise and understand a root cause. This is where experience and knowledge from both broadcast and network engineering becomes a vital part of a corrective action strategy. One reason for migrating towards IP is to steer clear of lock-in. Open interoperability standards – like ST2110, AES67/RAVENNA, etc – have been developed to allow users to choose best-of-breed for a job, regardless of manufacturer. Software providing full network and media flow visibility across the broadcast infrastructure must also be vendor-agnostic.

Additionally, highly specialised digital tools are required to cover any area of the operation likely to pose a risk of service disruption. A workflow revision will not only provide the information when it is most needed, but also capture it on an ongoing basis, as well as providing the ability to automate diagnostic processes that currently lie with engineering specialists. These technologies need to be agile and robust, working around the clock to capture information and, based on a series of algorithms, convert that into an actionable response.

Looking smart

With a converging IP infrastructure comes the need for a unified presentation of the operation, as well as a deep analytical understanding of the media essence flows. One user puts it like this: “We need a system that is always on and looking at everything. It needs the insight of a broadcast engineer, as well as a network engineer, to keep both sides of the operation transparent.” Shedding light on the data enterprise software suite, designed to provide full network and media visibility across an all-IP, all-SDI or hybrid WAN/LAN broadcast infrastructure. The SMART portfolio is commercially flexible to fit into any customer ’s budget, and recognised for the value it brings to the operation, whether in OB trucks, studio builds or facility rebuild projects.

Add to that the increasingly competitive nature of the professional TV sector and it becomes clear why broadcast facilities need to be more creative in their capital investments. End customers are all but encouraged to cut the cord, affecting the bottom line of traditional subscription-based TV packages. The SMART solution is comprised of two complementary applications: smartDASH and smartSCOPE.

As the operator interface, smartDASH provides a geospatial view of the LAN and WAN, ie where the devices sit on the network and how they are interconnected. It is accompanied by smartSCOPE, the technology that performs deep packet inspection into the characteristics and signature of the media as it flows across the network. The SMART environment provides a real-time view of how the network is operating. The integration of different third-party systems and the implementation of complex workflows has created a real need for a robust troubleshooting and monitoring system. Investing in one would be the smart thing to do.

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This article first featured in the winter 2021/22 issue of FEED magazine.

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