Hans Hoffmann (EBU Technology & Innovation)
Between 2017 and 2019, the 5G-Xcast project did valuable work on exploring how emerging 5G technologies could be used in media contexts. The focus, however, was primarily on distribution use cases, so it was inevitable that some of the organizations involved started to consider how 5G could potentially support media production and content creation. Thus, the 5G-RECORDS project was born, funded, like 5G-Xcast, by the EU Horizon 2020 programme.
Driving 5G-RECORDS are some key questions: is live production in multi-camera environments possible using 5G? Can we equip a sports stadium for live production using 5G infrastructures? Can we develop higher efficiency in content creation workflows? Can we make it easier for creatives to generate content and tell stories?
As the answers to these questions would be predominantly of a technical nature, the project consortium decided that the best approach would be to define some fundamental use cases:
- Use case 1: live audio production
- Use case 2: multiple camera wireless studio
- Use case 3: live immersive media
Detailed information about these use cases (and the project as a whole) is available on the website: www.5g-records.eu
The 5G-RECORDS consortium came together in 2020. As with the 5G-Xcast project, the Polytechnic University of Valencia was instrumental in getting it off the ground. The EBU played a key role to ensure strong broadcaster representation, especially in light of the liquidation of the IRT research centre. Alongside the EBU itself, which is responsible for the technical management of the project, three Members are in the consortium: BBC (UK), Rai (Italy) and TV 2 (Denmark).
It is important for the EBU to have a hands-on role in projects like these, taking proactive steps to ensure the needs of public service media will be to the fore as the technology evolves. There are fundamental requirements in terms of workflows, quality and business aspects, as well as a need for standards, to ensure interoperability between equipment from different manufacturers. Without the participation of the EBU and its Members, there is a risk that closed proprietary solutions will dominate. Ultimately, it is about creating value for EBU Members.
There are several innovative aspects to this project, not least of which is the work on orchestration, being led by BBC. The goal here is that any piece of production equipment being connected to a suitably provisioned 5G network would be automatically recognized and could self-configure thanks to the orchestration layer. With the use of templates for different kinds of events, production could start quickly.
Another deeply innovative element of the project relates to the need to bridge the worlds of 5G networks and IP-enabled broadcast facilities. To do this, a media gateway is needed, and the EBU Technology & Innovation team is leading the work on a prototype whose architecture is based on microservices. The work encompasses both hardware and software.
By doing this proof of concept, the aim is to gather knowledge that can be fed into standards. For example, with timing being such an important factor in live media production, how well will PTP (precision time protocol) perform over 5G networks?
With reduced technical resources and R&D capacity at most Members, EBU involvement in projects like this is more important than ever. From the technical project manager Paola Sunna to several other staff members who are actively contributing to 5G-RECORDS, the T&I department is making sure public broadcasters will benefit from innovative new ways to tell stories in the years ahead.
This article was first published in issue 49 of tech-i magazine.