BBC R&D

Posted by Peter Brightwell, Alex Rawcliffe, James Sandford, Stuart Grace, Peter Taylour on , last updated

BBC R&D's IP Studio team works on more than than our name might imply. We've broadened our initial focus on high-bandwidth real-time IP operations on dedicated IT hardware to consider the cloud-based and hybrid approaches that will complement these in the longer term. We're looking at this at a number of levels – from how to provision a cloud, through the useful capabilities that are needed in a "cloud-fit" approach, to the new types of production tool that will be needed to make R&D's vision of the future a reality.

This blog post outlines what we are now doing and gives a summary of what has happened so far this year.

IP Production Facilities

2019 is the year in which BBC starts benefitting from IP Studio's earlier work in the industry as SMPTE ST 2110-based broadcast centres will start to go live, starting with the new building in Cardiff. R&D continue to provide advice and help for the teams commissioning the Cardiff infrastructure.

Industry support for AMWA's first Networked Media Open Specifications IS-04 (discovery) and IS-05 (connection) is growing, with plenty of vendors including it in their product datasheets. However, it has some way to go yet, and the EBU has recommended its members to demand manufacturers to support these. 

Meanwhile, we have been working in AMWA's Networked Media Incubator on further NMOS specifications for audio channel mapping and API security, both important requirements for broadcasters. These were successfully tested at an Incubator workshop in Newbury, and demonstrated at NAB, where we also made several presentations on our NMOS work. We've also created a test suite for current and future NMOS specifications and made our security authorisation server open source. These will be useful for our next workshop in July.

We've also been looking at how subtitles can be carried in an IP production environment. One approach is to continue to use the existing mechanisms such as carrying them in video blanking. But that's not a long term approach for an all-IP world. The EBU have produced a family of XML-based specifications based on the web-friendly Timed Text Markup Language (TTML). We've been working with our BBC and EBU colleagues to identify possible solutions and have proposed a specification for  mapping TTML into RTP. This will allow for a high degree of compatibility with SMPTE ST 2110. We submitted it to the IETF's Payload Working Group in January.

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Cloud-fit Production Architecture

While ST 2110 and similar technologies provide a modern approach to a traditional set of operations used in a production facility, they are still based on a "serial" approach to handling media. But a cloud computing approach can offer more, so we are building an architecture that can be parallelised, and deployed onto different platforms.

Last year we developed an object store – Squirrel - to demonstrate that it's possible to store uncompressed video frames ("grains") in real time to a public cloud. Next we added an ingest service – Magpie – that splits a source file into parts and queues these up to store in Squirrel.

Recent work has addressed how to bridge between the serial live streaming environment and cloud services. We've investigated a "hybrid" approach in which we capture with IP Studio systems and send content to both an on-premises cloud and a public cloud. We've found we can ingest and store with uncompressed HD video without dropping frames. This work can be seen as a basis for how an ST 2110-based infrastructure would interface into a cloud-based wider environment longer term.

Computing and Networking at Scale

The on-premises cloud in the above diagram is provided by our Computing and Networking at Scale team, who are building a set of in-house cloud facilities, based on open source software, for project use, and to build our expertise.

Our first small-scale pilot can build a variety of virtual machines and virtual disk volumes linked by software-configured networks. It uses the OpenStack cloud framework, the Ceph storage platform, and Ansible provisioning and configuration management - all open source.

Recently we've added support for GPUs, which we use for hardware acceleration of compression and AI inference, and support for BGP-EVPN overlay networks which let us connect ST 2110 and similar devices to our virtual machines. We provide Kubernetes as a service to orchestrate clusters of software containers, to simplify software deployment.

In the course of this work, we have contributed hundreds of features, improvements and bug fixes back into the OpenStack and Ceph projects for use by the rest of the community. We're active contributors to this community through engagment in the Openstack-Ansible project, and at the Open Infrastructure Summit.

We are now planning a larger scale deployment of this work to support further research work and more complex applications.

New Tools

IP Studio has had configuration, routing, mixing, monitoring and other tools for some time, and to reflect changing architecture and infrastructure work we are also updating what we are doing at the application level.  We are looking at a consistent and reusable approach to production tools to support R&D's project work on new types of audience experience.

Recently we have created a new configuration tool for software pipelines. This uses a graphing library with good user experience and developer experience, which can be reused across similar applications:

Trial Platform

Since 2017 we've been developing and trialling software and techniques for low overhead outside broadcast video, to investigate how IP technologies can enable new workflows such as nearly-live working and offline re-editing of live productions.

This phase of work is ending and future demonstrators will be built on the larger scale common infrastructure we've described, and use off-the-shelf ST 2110 and NMOS-capable hardware. This will reduce the equipment footprint that will be needed on-site for future trials.

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BBC R&D - IP Production Facilities

BBC R&D - Cloud-Fit Production Architecture

BBC R&D - Computing and Networks at Scale

NMOS - Networked Media Open Specifications

AMWA - Advanced Media Workflow Association

BBC R&D - IP Studio

BBC R&D - Beyond Streams and Files - Storing Frames in the Cloud

IBC 365 - Production and post prepare for next phase of cloud-fit technology

BBC R&D - High Speed Networking: Open Sourcing our Kernel Bypass Work

BBC R&D - IP Studio: Lightweight Live

BBC R&D - IP Studio: 2017 in Review - 2016 in Review

BBC R&D - IP Studio Update: Partners and Video Production in the Cloud

This post is part of the Automated Production and Media Management section

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