IP networking, virtualization of standalone black box functions on blade servers, the cloud — these are among the top things likely to come to mind when broadcasters think about how Internet protocol packets impact their broadcast plants.
However, there’s a lot more to it, especially as ATSC 3.0, the next-generation broadcast standard, comes into clearer focus.
If things go as hoped, it won’t be too long before broadcasters will be using the new broadcast standard to transports video, audio and other data over the air to a viewer’s TV as IP packets. At the same time, microwave STL upgrades or new technologies put in place to move IP television packets from the studio to the transmitter — or in the case of SFNs, transmitters — will become common.
Layer on top of that developing opportunities for over-the-top distribution of television, and broadcasters are faced with new monitoring and error analysis realities that must effectively be addressed to guarantee viewers are catching what broadcasters are pitching.
“There are some real paradigm changes in that [the move to IP transport] requiring a different level of and different types of tools to be able to identify a problem,” says Rich Redmond, chief product officer of GatesAir.
GatesAir and Qligent have collaborated on an IP monitoring system called Maxiva StreamAssure that the companies say gives broadcasters the tools they need to identify the source of a problem when one is detected so steps can quickly be taken to mitigate errors.
“Maxiva StreamAssure allows you to pinpoint not only if the transmitter is on the air and meeting certain specifications, but also what viewers at home are seeing and hearing,” says Redmond.
Broadcasters will need to know if their IP streams are being delivered to the home, whether or not the stream provided the quality of experience expected and if a problem is originating in the transmitter, the encoder or some other IP transport mechanism, he says.
While the knee-jerk reaction to an interruption may be to surmise that the transmitter is the culprit, about 80% of the time the error actually occurs in the transport stream or encoder and simply manifests itself at the transmitter, he adds.
“The problem with the digital distribution is you have these soft problems — a buffer error or jitter error,” says Ted Korte, COO of Qligent.
StreamAssure monitors multiple layers, including the physical layer, the transport layer, the video, audio and data encoded on the transport layer and does so at different locations along the path from the studio ultimately to the home, he says.
“Your equipment could be running fine and even configured fine but based on the inherent dynamic nature of digital media today and distribution, it’s possible all kinds of problems can be introduced,” says Korte.
What’s necessary is a fine-tuning of the network and distribution “to optimize the path for the highest quality,” he says.
To make that happen, StreamAssure relies on probes that can be placed at any point in the signal chain, including in certain neighborhoods within a station’s coverage area, to monitor the integrity of the signal, says Redmond.
“That is just the terrestrial stream,” he says. “You can do similar things with other distribution means,” he adds.