Intel, as the Official Processor Partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) conducted a Proof of Concept (PoC) of an open reference architecture for a software-defined outside broadcast van using COTS hardware. This model has the potential to reduce costs and complexity for live event video production while also improving flexibility and scalability.

Live video production is transitioning from its historic dependence on inflexible, costly proprietary standards and equipment to a more open model based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware. Adopting an IP software-defined deployment model for video production enables the industry to benefit from innovations from the larger information and communications technology (ICT) arena. In doing so, solution architects for video processing realize advantages in flexibility, scalability, and cost by replacing proprietary infrastructure with general-purpose IT technologies. Joining OBS’s expertise in live video production and video production technology with Intel’s expertise in deploying compute and networking platforms common across the ICT landscape, we’ve been able to build a fully functional “virtual OB.”

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) ST 2110 standards for IP-based video transmission catalyze the transition of video production from broadcast-specific serial digital interface (SDI) to open architectures. This transformation also enables remote, centralized, or distributed cloud-based video production workflows that help reduce the cost of creating video assets. The updated approaches enable a single team to produce multiple events within a time-constrained window, eliminating the need to send dedicated production crews and proprietary equipment to live event venues or to outsource production tasks to third-party providers.

Reference Architecture Proof of Concept (PoC) at the Olympics

The ongoing collaboration between Intel and the Olympic Broadcasting Services defines a reference architecture for a software-defined outside broadcast van under the working name of the Virtualized Outside Broadcast Van (vOB). The goal is a fully virtualized architecture based on a common platform using COTS hardware managed under broadcast and software-defined network (SDN) orchestrators.

The defined architecture uses open-standard application programming interfaces (APIs) and retains the user experience familiar to broadcast engineers and operators using traditional broadcast appliances. The standards-based platform enables multiple best-in-class software applications from one or more vendors of choice to be deployed on the same physical platform. This approach facilitates simple scalability of physical hardware resources to match the complexity and compute requirements for various broadcast events.

Olympic Broadcasting Services and Intel jointly defined an architecture addressing networking, processing, storage, software, control, and orchestration requirements for a live video production based on COTS hardware.

Piloted at the curling event during the Olympic Winter Games 2022, the reference architecture mirrored the standard broadcast production made available to international broadcasters. Multiple vendors contributed to the project, with their software applications deployed on a common platform for processing audio and video streams. The first stage of this project prioritizes functionality and interoperability, ingesting and processing 1080p50 standard dynamic range (SDR) video and audio channels. The next phase of the project will scale to 4K video resolution and include support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) video. The transformative nature of the reference architecture is expected to deliver the following benefits to broadcasters:

  • Reduced costs include both equipment capital expenses (CapEx) and logistical operating expenses (OpEx) associated with producing events. The use of drop-in, general-purpose COTS hardware in place of shipping specialized, dedicated equipment streamlines logistics and enables a smaller physical footprint. COTS resources can also be repurposed during non-event times, helping amortize costs across other workloads, and CapEx can be shifted to OpEx by paying only for the hardware and software resources needed, on an on-demand basis. New codecs and features can be added with simple software updates, rather than requiring forklift upgrades.
  • Improved flexibility is enabled by open workload placement and choice of best-in-class software applications among solution vendors, as well as support for multiple software deployments on a single common platform. Separate workflows can be efficiently distributed across different locations including on-prem, off-prem, and cloud, and the architecture can easily scale as needed by adding additional compute resources to the existing infrastructure.
  • Unified platforms based on COTS architecture provide a homogeneous architecture across video production pipelines that emulates general-purpose IT infrastructure used elsewhere in the organization, simplifying deployment and maintenance.
  • Scalability is enhanced by ongoing improvements in availability and price points of bandwidth and IP switching capacity, so infrastructure capacity can be gradually increased at a constant level of financial investment.
  • Redundancy improvements provided by the unified platform include the benefits of N+1 redundancy versus 1+1 redundancy to reduce costs and physical footprint at events. Redundancy can also be provided by public cloud infrastructure that is utilized only if required, further reducing costs.
  • Carbon footprint is reduced by avoiding the need to send broadcast vans, equipment, and personnel to event venues, particularly for international events.

PoC Objectives

By validating the reference architecture at the Olympic Winter Games 2022, Intel and the Olympic Broadcasting Services achieve the following objectives:

  • Reduce logistical and operational complexity compared to traditional broadcast infrastructure, including planning, transportation, and setup.
  • Provide an open architecture that replaces proprietary monolithic broadcasting equipment with virtualized and containerized services designed to run on COTS hardware and cloud infrastructure.
  • Increase flexibility by enabling a single system to fulfill multiple roles across a variety of live sports and other events, allowing testing and commissioning outside of restrictive timelines.
  • Reduce the overall broadcast footprint at the venues and the IBC (International Broadcasting Center).