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BET bets on NDI O

n the eastern edge of Times Square stands a towering glass and steel edifice which was, until 2013, known as the Bertelsmann Building, but is now simply called 1540 Broadway. Near the top of the building, BET Networks has its New York production facility where it produces television for its primary and four sister channels. Targeting a primarily African-American audience, BET emerged initially as a Nickelodeon segment and became an independent channel in 1983. The channel is now distributed internationally to the UK, France and Canada via satellite, as well as online. Stuart Brewton is BET’s Director of technology management: “My job is production - the live production and show delivery. I run a team of six people and my team of techs handle securing of freelance personnel on some of our shows, we’ll book mobile units, we’ll procure resources for our studio shows as well as our remotes.” With a background in sports television, Brewton worked as a vision mixer through the late 1990s, a time of complex engineering demands as the SD to HD transition began. “I used to work with Yankees and Mets Television. And I would do games, hockey, and basketball for the New Jersey Nets before they went to Brooklyn.” After leaving the world of sports, Brewton worked with NBA Entertainment and for the Madison Square Garden network before joining BET. Brewton’s interest in NewTek products predates the introduction of NDI. “My initial thought was let’s use a TriCaster for a small show we were doing, back in 2005 or 2006. I rented a TriCaster

September/October 2017

Manhattan-based BET Networks has been using NewTek’s NDI IP technology for several years now – and they aren’t looking back. Phil Rhodes reports. Broadcast for about six months and we did a show and it worked very well.” Having developed a “love for Grass Valley switchers and Sony switchers,” Brewton admits that “I had my hesitation about anything that had a Windows OS, but we completed six months of day in, day out stuff. That was a liveto-the-network show and it worked out very well.” This positive experience “got me into the world of knowing what TriCaster was and what NewTek was doing.” THE RISE OF NDI NDI, for Network Device Interface, is NewTek’s system for sending broadcast video over conventional computer networks. It’s one of several implementations of video-over-IP, where IP is the Internet Protocol which routes traffic around the global internet. At least within a building, and perhaps further, NDI allows cameras and switchers to use conventional computer network infrastructure. NDI contrasts with other technologies associated with companies such as Sony and Grass Valley, who have concentrated on high bandwidth and often uncompressed images. These systems are intended to replace conventional cabling and routing, and can require costly high-powered networking hardware. NDI accepts a degree of image compression, and is therefore able to use conventional networks with considerably more flexibility. While NDI does not follow the committee-driven standards of other options, the technical details are published and compatible third-party products exist. BET are enthusiastic adopters, using NDI

extensively in the production of as-live material, often shot on the office floors of 1540 Broadway and switched and recorded in control rooms above. In this environment, NewTek’s system has relieved many of the restrictions imposed by operating in a building intended as conventional office space. Brewton could run, he tells us, “a very limited amount of coax before I got the word ‘Don’t run anything in our ceiling, this is not a broadcast production centre’.” But by adopting NDI, he was able to utilise the existing conventional network infrastructre]. “The whole floor opened up for me. Everything inside of our 1540 Broadway work area is NDI-based.”

NDI accepts a deg gree of image com mpresssion, and is therrefo ore able e to use conventiona al netwo orks witth considerably more fle exibilitty “We have production areas all around the floor,” Brewton continues, “and we’re going right to our control room. The IP series switcher is the heart. It’s an NDI island - everything comes in to that spot. From there I can send it out to edit, or in my office I have a laptop on that network and I can view things.” Beyond production, the low impact nature of NDI makes it easy to provide feeds to producers and journalists in their offices. “Case in point,” says Brewton, “if BET News is doing something and they needed to look at a live inbound satellite feed, I’d pipe that over a live NDI link to their

TV Tech Global September/October 2017  

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