BBC Stagebox Points Way for Broadcast Production over IP

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Stagebox—the BBC's new camera-mounted IP connectivity device—is entering the BBC's production chain, with the local government elections being the first to benefit, closely followed by the BBC's coverage of Glastonbury festival, Radio One Big Weekends, and The Commonwealth Games next spring.

The BBC’s R&D team said Stagebox would help the broadcast industry move towards an open and end-to-end IP (internet protocol) production chain, allowing production teams to replace broadcast-specific equipment such as SDI routers with standard IT hardware.

The $10,000 device combines broadcast feeds and cabling, including HD video, audio, talkback, tally lights, timecode, and genlock and distributes them over standard IP technologies.

Using a timing layer, the box turns asynchronous video over IP into a synchronous protocol to generate an accurate reference signal for multi-camera shoots.

It is expected to cut production costs and reduce time-to-air for outisde broadcasters and multi-camera set-ups.

BBC R&D controller Matthew Postgate described the kit as “a significant milestone” in broadcasting technology.

BBC R&D began working on the concept five years ago, but the project began in earnest 18 months ago after conversations with camera manufacturers failed to convince the broadcaster the technology would be developed by a third party.

A number of third parties are announced in support of the product. These include Suitcase TV, Quadrus (which routes the signal directly into Avid environments), and Shotoku Broadcast Systems.

The latter can feed control of the camera head through Stagebox and back to the BBC over IP, and will first be used during the UK's local election coverage in May using dedicated bandwidth from several ISPs.

Stagebox combines video and sound compression and transmission technologies from Xilinx and India's CoreEL Technologies, and is being sold through Bluebell Opticom, which is also managing the relationships between third party vendors and the product's manufacturers.

According to BBC R&D's Nicolas Pinks, the BBC plans to migrate its entire production systems over to IP networking.

“We believe IP is going to be it,” he said. “The internet is a huge enabling technology and we think our production workflows will move beyond taking camera footage toward capturing data sets. We have got some big ideas about how we might want to tell stories in the future. So if we captured more information than a single camera—such as high dynamic range, GPS coordinates, surround sounds audio, and ambisonics audio—you can create a much broader picture than we can achieve today.

“You can't do that with SDI or 4K—these are rigid standards. IP is incredibly flexible so you can build something that will capture an awful lot more information than just a traditional broadcast camera link," Pinks says. “Linear workflows driven by SDI will change. We hope that by introducing this to the market we will see more big broadcast companies bringing out open standard IP networking product.”

Sony is among companies with an IP networking solution. However its NXL-IP55 is a proprietary solution that operates point-to-point.

“I want a multiple cameras located anywhere in the world to be multicast enabled,” said Pinks.

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