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IP-Contribution

IP- Contribution offers the possibility for an entirely new and more cost-effective live contribution solution.

In the era of 24/7 live news broadcasting to TV and online services, the opportunity to offer productions live outside broadcast connections at a far lower cost over internet protocol is very attractive to broadcasters and online operators. It offers the possibility for an entirely new and more cost-effective live contribution solution.

IP contribution is a technology that has been growing in popularity since 2010. Unlike the FTP (File Transfer Protocol) connections that it replaced, instead of delivering a file onto a server for playout later, IP contribution delivers real-time live video which can be fed to broadcast systems, vision mixers or straight to transmission. It’s also used for live video-game streaming and is becoming increasingly popular, and reliable. The H.264 codec is used widely for IP-based contributions thanks to it’s codec efficiency. With commercial IP Encoder technologies - quality real-time video signals are streamed with a HD resolution of up to 1080i25. These can go directly to the cloud for a Content Delivery Network (CDN) provider to distribute, or to an IP decoder at a broadcast centre. The broadcast centre decoder receives the data packets and restores them back into an SDI signal.

High quality, dedicated internet connections with high bandwidth are not always available. Many productions have to manage on the available connections, and configure the encoders to mitigate for reduced connectivity. The Quality of Service (QoS) of a circuit is a measure of how good the circuit is. It encompasses many elements but the higher the QoS the better the overall connection and the ability to pass higher quality material. For good, high quality pictures a good QoS is required. QoS is important when connecting encoder and decoder devices using a Point-to-Point streaming method over a “connectionless” protocol such as MPEG-TS over UDP.

It is recommended, when using a shared medium like the Internet, to use tools which will optimise the link protocols and delivery, which a number of providers offer. These tools come with clever error correction technologies (FEC), real-time data rate matching and time synchronisation in order to counteract the traditional jitter and packet loss associated with sending live audio and video over the public internet.

For location IP contribution, manufacturers have built their hardware encoders into backpacks. To give the systems a high mobility and good security of signal these devices also use channel bonding technologies. The source signal is split across multiple connections. Multiple mobile phone networks and other sources of internet connectivity (eg wifi or satellite connections) can be used. This improves the available bandwidth and so enables the highest quality of material. Another article explores "streaming backpacks" in more detail.

In addition to IP contribution hardware, software-based streaming solutions are becoming popular and can already be downloaded as Apps for smartphones, targeted specifically at media users. These are developed either by the hardware manufacturers (eg LU-Smart) offering their customers new ways to get signals into their existing broadcast infrastructure or as a customised user solution (eg ARD MuPro app) for PCs, tablets or smartphones. Most of these applications can be used both in real-time for live delivery or for file transfer of pre-recorded audio or video content. This subject is discussed more fully in the "News Reporter Apps” section.

Users of mobile IP services should be aware that there is no guaranteed quality of service or bandwidth in mobile networks. Particular attention should be paid to network congestion at mass events or lack of coverage in certain areas, therefore, the use of support or substitute technologies is recommended, such as the use of KA-Satellites.

The concept that IP contribution will be one of, if not the, main future contribution technologies is currently gaining a lot of momentum due to the lower cost of entry. It sits well alongside the traditional contributions options (e.g. Satellite News Gathering Vehicles), although in the future there will be a variety of alternative contribution routes and technologies to choose from.

It’s important to understand that new equipment, mobile network agreements and tools will have an impact on cost that will offset some of the potential savings. With that in mind, highly compressed data can be sent faster, but transcoding or decoding the packages can be at the expense of time and quality. There needs to be a clear plan in place for when to use different I.P contribution technologies – KA Satellite, Mobile Networks, Wifi, or fibre connectivity – this may depend on the geographic location or coverage. And in some locations you may still need a traditional satellite news gathering vehicle.

All this will bring more complexity into the planning process, but the opportunity now exists for productions to think about live broadcasts in locations, and on budgets, when in the past it had not been economically possible. These opportunities will only increase as widespread fast connectivity becomes commonplace.

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