Behind the Tech Scenes at NAB

Next week, while the rest of us file federal income taxes, video people pile back into Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters Show.

On the surface, and from the looks of the pre-convention fare, the highlights of this year’s NAB Show are foreseeable: Lots of Ultra HD. Lots of its red-hot subcategory, High Dynamic Range, or HDR — the stuff that makes brighter images: Redder reds, greener greens, bluer blues. Lots of production-grade cameras, crosspoint switchers, routers and related video-engineering accouterment.

But among the video engineers and technologists headed to NAB, there’s a chewy undercurrent, masked in an impressively geeky acronym: SMPTE 2022. “SMPTE” stands for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. (People tend to say it, not spell it out: “Simp-tee.”)

SMPTE 2022 is a specification that’s been in the works since 2007, and it involves the steady progression of how things are now to their future-state, Internet-protocol (IP) version. It’s been happening in cable for at least a decade, or at least since broadband; it’s happening in broadcast, too. (It already happened in over-the-top video — those guys are broadband/IP natives.)

Specifically, SMPTE 2022 defines “a unidirectional IPbased protocol for the transport of real-time video, audio and ancillary signals … in particular, a method for the encapsulation of the payloads of a variety of existing SMPTE serial digital video standards.” It spans seven categories — we’ll spare you.

How big a deal is it? “It’s a moderately big deal,” one television engineer headed to NAB said. Moderately big, because it’s the road toward more of a “commodity IT infrastructure with more oomph than the serial digital interconnect (SDI) methods that did the heavy lifting for HD over traditional video-coax,” he said.

It’s the wave of the future, noted another Las Vegasbound broadcast-side television engineer, as an IP-based infrastructure and routing mechanism for TV production and broadcast plants.

What gets touched in an IP transition for broadcasters? There’s the “contribution network,” which sends professional- grade video from a remote source — say, a sports venue — to a broadcast facility, for production and distribution. And there are the broadcast facilities, where SDI technologies tend to run the roost. There’s also program distribution, over satellite, fiber and the air.

It’s still a work in progress, though. As with everywhere else, the transition to IP touches everything and will take a while. That’s because of the thousands of pieces of video equipment that will need to be adapted, preferably without the “forklift upgrade,” which tends to be career-limiting.

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