Remote Production How to: Switchers

  • By Greg Huttie, Grass Valley

Remote Production How to: Switchers

By Greg Huttie, Vice President, Production Switchers, Grass Valley…

The hub for remote production  Remote production was gaining ground even before the pandemic hit; customers such as Star Sports in India and SVT in Sweden successfully transitioned their live sports productions to more centralized models. COVID-19 has accelerated this trend further as broadcasters and content producers need to keep telling the great stories that fans expect - even in these challenging times.   Flavors of remote There’s no one size fits all approach for remote workflows, so customers can choose the flavor that best suits them. Whether it’s SDI or IP, in an outside broadcast (OB) truck or at a remote location - the switcher is the hub of the production and key to building a show. The only difference is where the equipment is located. 

The most common approach is having the production suite and all the equipment at a fixed centralized facility, with the cameras the only significant piece of equipment at the live location. Here, the switcher operates as usual - there’s no difference between having that piece of equipment in an OB truck on site, in a truck located elsewhere, or in a studio.

The 2020 NASCAR season is a great example of this. The two major sports networks handling race coverage set up their productions in very different ways. One of them deployed a truck at the race location with a limited crew; the other had just camera operators and a small technical team at the live venue. Technical directors (TDs) see no noticeable difference in how the equipment is deployed or in the signal flow. In both cases, the operators built their shows and punched them live, just as they would in a regular OB set-up. That’s the beauty of our flexible switcher’s architecture - you can set the equipment up in almost any way you like. With continuing restrictions on travel and staffing numbers at venues, more distributed production models - where many critical production functions happen in multiple, separate locations - are gaining traction. Production staff can work from any location, making it easier to keep them safe.  

In a distributed set-up, where the switcher engine (or frame) and the control panel are in different places, you need additional technology - like a VPN network or similar - to ensure smooth communications between the two.  

Finding flexibility When on location or working remotely, the switcher traditionally lives in the creative space of live production, so the flexibility to have these tools located anywhere, run in a native IP environment, or handle 4K UHD or HDR, is a big advantage. That’s exactly how we’ve designed our switchers to work. Whether a production is remote or on location, minimal impact on a technical director (TD) or operator’s job while they’re punching a show is critical. We’ve built our solutions to ensure that the workflow remains consistent, regardless of where the crew is. 

Open to the cloud The transition to IP has positively influenced the move to remote production and Grass Valley leads the transition to IP, including switcher technology. The ability to bring sources in and move signals around purely on an IP network, with minimal delays, is critical in any live set-up.  

Helping customers tell great stories is what we do at Grass Valley, and IP helps production teams efficiently deliver the huge volumes of content that today’s consumers demand. IP-based infrastructures and workflows easily handle everything from HD to 4K UHD and HDR and open up the way for larger formats, such as 8K.  

As our customers look for even greater agility, IP opens the doors to more flexible, cloud-based production. A truly distributed model, built around virtualized workflows, means production staff can collaborate from any location - even their homes. Here, the processing equipment is living off-premises, and your control surface can float anywhere. Again, fast communication links are vital to access those pieces of equipment, wherever they are.  

Our GV AMPP (Agile Media Processing Platform) software as a service (SaaS) platform is a real game-changer. It was built with a cloud-native approach from the start, unlocking the power of elastic compute for live sports. Customers can now transition to public, data center, or hybrid infrastructures more easily. We’ve also solved many of the issues that can complicate IP and cloud deployments - such as network connectivity, timing, and ultra-low latency. 

GV AMPP brings the agility that customers increasingly need in live productions today, and its unique microservices architecture have created a real paradigm shift in live content production. We’re constantly evolving the platform, and we’re working on the way GV AMPP interacts with the switchers - in effect, acting as an engine to drive the production. There’ll be announcements around this in the months ahead. 

Easing transition Whatever flavor of remote production our customers choose, getting everything from a single vendor is a good thing. In the area of switchers alone, Grass Valley does the whole gamut from single stream on IP, to 12G-SDI for 4K UHD. We also make it easy for customers to transition to full IP 4K UHD and cloud-based production at their own pace.  

Our customers tell us they need technology partners that can stay the course as their businesses evolve. Grass Valley works closely with customers to make sure our robust product roadmap, incorporating cloud-based technology lines up with their future needs. We are about helping production teams create and deliver the best stories - wherever they are working.