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Standards need Interoperability

Mon 20, 11 2017

Written by IABM CTO Stan Moote

This article originally appeared in the IBC 2016 Daily

Constant complaints about the slowness of standards being developed hurting the industry seems to be the norm. This doesn’t mean standards don’t happen, never-the-less I believe it is important to understand the standards process, benefits and risks. Early in my career I was involved in developing the CCIR-601 standard which became the basis for all digital video used today. This was driven both by technical and political agendas, however the effort was one of the industry’s first takes on working together towards a worldwide standard rather than having localized ones such as NTSC, SECAM and the various flavours of PAL. Fast forward to today, and the new challenges are less about video and audio formats, more about transport and specifically IP.

IP transport for video, particularly for in-facility full bandwidth, non-file based applications, is the current challenge. At IBC this year you will see a mix between hype and reality, so I figured I would point out was is happening and give you the confidence that as an industry we have no reason to use the switch to IP as a reason for holding up facility improvement and getting on with growth plans.

Fast forward to today, and the new challenges are less about video and audio formats, more about transport and specifically IP - Standards need Interoperability - Stan Moote, IABM Click To Tweet

A Common Force

One of the groups that carry the IABM endorsement certification for being a true collaborative group that is clearly focused on IP is AIMS. AIMS was set up in December 2015 and has quickly grown to an organisation encompassing a large swathe of the manufacturing sector plus a significant number of end users. Its objective is stated thus: “To foster the adoption of one set of common, ubiquitous, standards-based protocols for interoperability over IP in the media and entertainment industry.”

So how is AIMS doing this? Every AIMS member must agree to support a common roadmap. This doesn’t preclude the members from following their own path, however they must agree that their products and systems must also support the AIMS’ roadmap.

How do standards get established?

Standards bodies exist to enable cooperation, interoperability, improve business fluidity and it’s no different in the media industry. The primary standards bodies that AIMS takes its lead from are SMPTE and AES. However they also take input and guidance from other types of organisations that have managed very significant works for technical recommendations. These include VSF, EBU and AMWA. Furthermore, collaborations between these bodies, in the form of the Joint Task Force for Networked Media, a joint effort between the SMPTE, VSF and AMWA, has provided reference IP architectures that assist in standards development and recommendations.

Adoption and Interoperability

Creating standards is pointless unless there is wide adoption. Encouraging manufacturers to adopt a published standard is not always straightforward and often needs a push based on a purchase order from end-users. Or at a minimum a commitment from several end-users to assure that manufacturers are not wasting development resources. AIMS members are drawn from both the manufacturing and end-user communities, and have agreed to support the roadmap. This solves the adoption dilemma by providing a single voice hence increased confidence in every member’s technology investment.

Standards documents are never bulletproof and can have different interpretations for a single word, phrase or diagram that consequently lead to issues with interoperability. No matter how well written a specification is there are often areas open to discrepancy. Interoperability testing assures end users can buy both functioning and best of breed product hence creating a healthy developing and growing industry. AIMS enables testing and trialling of its roadmap standards to encourage a wide variety of test cases, which can in turn be reported to the standards bodies to be reflected in their standards as written. By helping eliminate errors of interpretation, by clarifying those areas of interpretation, AIMS assists standards bodies to improve and ultimately perfect their standards.

The real world organised “grubby hands” testing between manufacturers and customers, is precisely intended to accelerate understanding and adoption of those standards by finding and feeding back to the relevant organisations any issues uncovered.

Beyond this AIMS also inputs to the standards bodies at early stages where no standard currently exists. For example, on the little understood use of Mezzanine compression within IP systems, AIMS is assembling a set of considered and peer group tested recommendations for the standards bodies. AIMS has also adopted the AMWA NMOS registration and discovery scheme IS-04. This means sources of media can be included in media workflows without needing deep level configuration – surely a blessing for users.

Interoperability testing assures end users can buy both functioning and best of breed product hence creating a healthy developing and growing industry - Standards need Interoperability - Stan Moote, IABM Click To Tweet

Get on with Business

There is no need to put all your growth plans on hold, waiting and waiting for IP to be 100%. The media business is moving too quickly to wait for anything. At IBC you will see that IP and SDI work in harmony with various hybrid approaches. My point is to understand the benefits, costs and potential risks of all new technology. Education, change management and having access to a good system integrator that will match your needs with the technology available will take you to your next business level today.

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