PlayBox Technology and the Evolution of Virtualized Playout
Philip Neighbour, COO, PlayBox Technology
Playout automation has been around for 40 years. At first this meant quite sophisticated computer infrastructures to provide both access and command, and realtime control over the array of one-function bespoke hardware devices.
As Moore’s Law increased the processing power of standard computer hardware, so forward-thinking vendors saw the possibility of an all-in-one playout system, the channel in a box. PlayBox Technology was a pioneer, launching and installing its first systems in 2005.
Processing power continued to evolve, and so did software development techniques. Rather than a monolithic software application, developers moved to a modular, virtualized, microservices architecture. To the user, this meant the move from a fixed set of functionality and performance to the ability to specify precisely what tools you need for your channel.
This calls for a radical rethink for the traditional broadcast engineer. Big iron bespoke hardware gave way to what we might call “big software” – like for like replacement, but implemented on standard computers, and interconnected and controlled in exactly the way we used to.
But when you move to virtualized playout, you are not connecting devices – character generator to router to keyer to master control switcher to output. Rather you are connecting specific pieces of functionality. This is how the rest of the IT industry has worked for a while: you build tailored and powerful systems from a library of microservices, which are generally defined as the smallest viable pieces of functionality.
What are the advantages? Most obviously, complete flexibility in configuration. If you are never going to accept SRT inputs, then you do not need to pay for that capability. And, of course, if you do subsequently need SRT, you can licence that very specific capability when you needed it, for as long as you need it.
That secures the system into the future. If you sense that, say, 4k Ultra HD might be of interest to your market, you can test the interest for little more than short-term licenses for 4k capabilities. If it delivers revenue growth, great; if it does not then you have not made big capital investments and you do not have redundant hardware sitting around.
Second, it sits in a standard IT environment, so you can use off-the-shelf hardware and structural software to reduce the cost of the system. The entire global broadcast systems market is about the same as Apple or Intel spend on R&D each year – it makes sense to ride along on their innovation. It means that broadcast quality channel presentation and delivery is now available for streaming channels from churches to e-sports.
Central to that is the use of IP connectivity. SMPTE ST 2110 makes an admirable job of defining a standardised approach to overlaying media signals onto IP networks.
Finally, IP connectivity means the processing can be wherever it is most convenient. You can centralise it in your machine room, you can buy time on your enterprise data centre, you can put it in the cloud, or you can mix and match. Maybe you could have your primary channels in house and disaster recovery in the cloud.
Virtualized playout is secure, flexible and future-proof. PlayBox Technology solutions are simple to implement and simple to operate, making them effective and efficient, whatever the channel. The team at PlayBox have been in the business of virtualizing playout for well over 15 years. Customers feel at home with the systems, whether they be on-premises, hybrid or cloud-based (see Cloud Playout). Today, PlayBox Technology celebrates over 20,000 playout solution licenses sold in over 132 countries.