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Introduction

The recent global spread of COVID-19 has meant a lengthy lull in film and television production to protect workers and performers. Newly introduced guidelines mean that production can now begin again, but with important factors to consider in returning to work safely. Television and film production sets have traditionally been very busy places, bustling with the constant activity of crew members and performers alike, often in close quarters. Video and audio are required in more than one place on-set and now, with increased focus being made on social distancing, crew will be further away physically from each other than they were before. Recently released regulations for film and television production state physical distancing of at least six (6) feet between people is required on all off-camera areas including the cast and crew, holding and common areas, the video village, and all other work areas. New areas and potential dual stages for setup prior to actor presence and crew departure, means that many more crew members from art directors to producers will be watching shoots in real time from a safely distanced vantage and longer cable runs, with remote equipment configuration and control, to ensure the health and welfare of all on-set. Equipment (such as video village monitors) will be placed further away from the main action to allow for this distancing. AJA Video Systems makes a number of products that can help to implement these requirements and increase the safety of crew members and performers while providing full control over devices and media remotely.

Creating Distance through Fiber Connectivity

Any typical production set will offer SDI (serial digital interface) cable runs to connect recording cameras in use to areas where video monitoring is required. In an age of common 4K or UltraHD camera sources, 12G-SDI simplifies cable runs and troubleshooting, while also decreasing the amount of time for both setup and distribution. Examples of this would include video feeds from cameras to monitors in a video village and to the director and to other members of the crew that would benefit from a monitor during production. Recording to additional devices for either primary or backup recording purposes is also a typical requirement. These areas are now likely to be distanced on-set but it remains important to keep the signal quality high with the least latency to ensure the fidelity of the image for critical immediate approval and backup, as well as having end-to-end security of camera signals. SDI cabling however can’t be run for overly long distances without signal degradation or loss of sync.

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Fiber Optical Mini-Converters

Video Conversion, Embedding and Disembedding via Fiber

SDI video cable runs, including those which are 12G-SDI, can be significantly extended by using fiber converters from AJA. Fiber optics allow the transmission of digital information (in this case digital video and audio) as light pulses through glass or plastic fibers almost as thin as a human hair. AJA FiDO fiber optical converters can extend high frame rate 4K video and audio up to 10km. Single Channel converters carry a single video and audio feed whereas Dual-Channel converters carry more than one. You can also choose between single mode or multi-mode fiber. Multi-Mode fiber cable is more flexible for cable runs and can be curved, taken around corners without loss of signal but, overall distance is curtailed compared to single mode. AJA FiDO converters are also format agnostic, so various SDI-based signal types can be transported, even camera Raw formats.

FiDO converters are easy to deploy and come in three main types; Transceivers, Transmitters, and Receivers. Instead of cabling a camera directly back to a monitor or recorder via SDI cable, the video output of the camera is plugged directly into the FiDO Transceiver or Transmitter. Optical fiber cable runs are then extended from the FiDO converter to wherever the updated monitoring positions are onset, without any loss. The optical fiber cables are typically terminated with either ST or LC connectors and AJA provides options for both. For on-set use, many prefer ST connectors with their locking barrel connectivity, well suited to the rigors of production. Simply add the FiDO Transceiver or Receiver converters that correspond to your needs at the other end of the fiber optical cable run to provide the output required. Low latency for fiber transmission means that a focus pulling monitor can also be added to the socially distanced set to allow for precise control from a remote position.

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Recording, Playback, and Backup

Extending the Video Village

A modern production will include a video village for on-set playback and distribution of content being recorded. Typically this comprises a DIT station, monitors for viewing as well as dedicated video and audio recording devices. The video village would traditionally be fed by SDI video cabling from the recording camera as well as embedded audio from the sound recordist. Embedding audio from the sound recordist to the 12G-SDI feed from the camera is easily achieved by using AJA’s 12G-AMA, with its analog XLR audio inputs allowing up to four channels of audio to be added into the 12G-SDI output. As the video village itself may now be further away, AJA can provide additional safeguards for distance working by using the fiber optical infrastructure described in the previous section, or simply choosing a 12G-AMA model version with the appropriate Fiber SFP preinstalled.

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Extensive Routing Options

Once the fiber optical cable runs are terminated with SDI converters, AJA offers the KUMO 1616 or 3232 12G routers so that you’re able to route 12G-SDI video with ease using the accompanying KUMO Control Panel or via web browser control. KUMO routers can also act as distribution amplifiers, allowing one 12G-SDI input to become as many as required for the purposes of the set.

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Fiber Connection Digital Video Recording

For recording and playback at up to 4K 60p, AJA offers the Ki Pro Ultra 12G, a digital video recorder and player with optional fiber connectivity built-in, meaning that fiber optical cable runs can be connected directly to the device in the video village. Once connected, Ki Pro Ultra 12G can record the incoming digital video and audio as post-friendly Apple ProRes or Avid DNx formats and also provide playback of recorded material on demand. All the features of Ki Pro Ultra 12G are available remotely via ethernet connectivity as a web browser-based control system, meaning that an operator in the video village can provide full support to the needs of the production at a safe distance with no compromise in performance. Ki Pro Ultra 12G can also be fed 12G-SDI directly from the KUMO router as shown in the Video Backup Detail diagram shown in the Ki Pro GO section further down the page.

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H.264 Backup Digital Video Recording

For simultaneous H.264 proxy recordings, an AJA Ki Pro GO H.264 recorder can be cascaded from the Ki Pro Ultra 12G via 3G-SDI as an HD down-converted back up, providing smaller file size recordings on off-the-shelf USB 3.0 media, allowing for easy review of captured material on any computer or mobile device. Ki Pro GO offers the same easy front panel buttons or web browser-based control.

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Distanced Playback for HDR Content

We’ve already seen that we can connect long fiber optical cable runs directly to digital video recorders for distanced playback requirements within a video village, but sometimes there are other requirements for the video before it is viewed or recorded. An example of this would be shooting with HDR (high dynamic range) delivery in mind. By using the AJA Hi5-12G-R-ST converter you are able to receive a long ST or LC optical fiber run that connects directly to the converter. The converter then is able to generate HDR10 metadata or as HLG via its HDMI 2.0 output without any extra conversion, so the image can be viewed appropriately on HDMI HDR monitors on set.

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HDR Transform For Remote Workflows

If more tools are required to adjust or format flip the image before it is viewed on set, AJA also offers fiber enabled frame synchronizers, like the FS-HDR which provides a broad base of HDR/SDR conversion, color correction, and scaling tools for HD/4K, and when ganged together can also support 8K formats. FS-HDR is fully controllable via ethernet and a web browser UI in much the same way as with the Ki Pro Ultra 12G. FS-HDR also offers support for LUTs, making it the perfect choice for any HDR shoot by offering a multitude of features that can assist with ensuring that the HDR video is viewed as intended while maintaining any distancing required. Using in-line devices to transpose images in real time on set saves valuable time in post, ensuring that images are viewed as accurately as possible on set.

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Connecting The Set For Remote Viewing

When producers are not able to be on set, we can use dedicated streaming technology from AJA to provide a link to on-set camera monitoring and playback, along with corresponding audio. If we need to provide a viewing facility to any producer or other staff requiring monitoring, we can connect both the camera feed and playback feed from the socially distanced video village using BRIDGE LIVE from AJA. BRIDGE LIVE is a powerful but easy to deploy device for multi-channel HD streaming or single channel UltraHD, taking source video over SDI and converting it in real time into H.265 (HEVC), H.264 (AVC) or H.262 (MPEG-2) as well as an option to offer JPEG 2000. BRIDGE LIVE can utilize a secure, private internet connection on set to provide low latency video and audio camera feeds and playback to a smart TV, laptop or desktop computer at a remote location via a CDN (Content Distribution Network) to anywhere in the world with a suitable bandwidth connection by simply following the appropriate URL. A telephone, mobile phone, or internet phone service, like Skype or Zoom, can provide real time voice communication if necessary. BRIDGE LIVE supports up to 4K 60p, with H.265 high quality compression with SRT (plus encryption) ensuring a detailed, insightful real time viewing experience. The same link can be repeated securely to as many staff as is necessary. Additionally, a second BRIDGE LIVE can be utilized at a facility to receive the same feed from on-set and convert the compressed streaming format back to baseband video for 12G-SDI monitoring, routing, and recording.

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Postproduction Review Processes

In the pre-pandemic world of postproduction, traditional practices for editorial approval have meant that producers, editors, agencies, and clients would typically congregate in edit suites and viewing rooms. Once seated together in the edit suite or viewing rooms, the review and approval process could begin. Close proximity is of course not possible under new regulations and we can look once again to AJA’s implementation of key technologies to help create the flexibility and distance needed.

IP Converters and Editing I/O remote workflows

We can create distance firstly within a facility by making use of an existing IT infrastructure and by adding AJA Mini-Converters that allow the use of ethernet cabling to pass uncompressed video and audio. AJA IP (Internet Protocol) Mini-Converters offer the transport, reception, and decode of video that adheres to the SMPTE ST 2110 group of standards. An adjacent standard set from SMPTE, known as SMPTE 2022-6/7 is also supported. By using a 10GigE network, server, and the appropriate AJA Mini-Converters, in this case, a transmitter like the AJA IPT-10G2-SDI to take the baseband video from the SDI output of an editing system and transmit it without loss via the ethernet network. We can then provide a safe reviewing environment for a producer at another network point in the same building, utilizing a receiver like the AJA IPR-10G2-SDI. The producer would be able to communicate with the editor via a telephone, mobile phone, or internet phone service but would be able to see the timeline and editorial adjustments in real time as if they were in the same room. AJA IP Mini-Converters also support HDMI, as is the case with the IPT-10G2-HDMI and IPR-10G2-HDMI, allowing the use of cost effective 4K HDMI displays for monitoring. A common scenario will be to utilize the SDI version in our example for transmission and utilize the HDMI model for reception in the producer’s office or remote location.

To make things even simpler on the NLE side, AJA offers the portable Thunderbolt 3-based Io IP with 10GigE connectivity for conveying SDI over IP from the outset from an NLE. AJA Io IP has broad application support for all major editorial software, like Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer, and Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. Via a simple Thunderbolt 3 connection to the host computer, Io IP gives a direct IP output that can be passed through the network and again sent to another network point where an IPR-10G2-HDMI or IPR-10G2-SDI takes the IP video and outputs baseband video monitoring. For workstation use, KONA IP is a PCIe NLE I/O card that can be fitted internally to a PC. Updating to an IP based infrastructure gives immense flexibility in providing safe working spaces with almost no compromise in the workflow itself, meaning review time is still both collaborative and productive equally. One editorial video source can even be easily mapped to multiple simultaneous endpoints within a facility for even more detailed review cycles requiring more than one producer or post staff member.

IP Video View Workflow

Using AJA Streaming Products to Create Safe Review Environments

We’ve seen that using AJA IP products can extend production boundaries and enhance safety within a single facility, but what if the editor and producer are separated by even larger geographic challenges? Restrictions in travel have meant that it may not be possible for a producer to even journey to the same location as the editor so that they could work in the same building. In such cases, we can again turn to AJA streaming products to help, with their ability to take source video and audio and create a compressed, but high quality stream that can be shared safely to almost anywhere, regardless of physical origin over public internet. A very simple set-up would utilize the AJA HELO streaming device. HELO takes either HDMI or SDI video inputs with embedded audio and provides a real time conversion to H.264. H.264 is a video compression format that offers excellent image quality to file size ratio and is widely accepted across multiple platforms, including mobile devices, smart TVs, as well as Macs and PCs. In this setup, the timeline output from the editing suite NLE I/O is connected via SDI or HDMI to the HELO device. The HELO device is then set up to point to a CDN (Content Distribution Network), which could be a service like YouTube, Wowza, or Twitch for example, or a private CDN for production needs. A telephone, mobile phone, or internet phone service is used for the editor and producer to communicate, with the video and audio from the timeline being viewed by the producer in a web browser. Using a secure connection can provide security for the content being viewed, with only the intended viewer being able to receive the stream. A single stream can also be streamed to more than one location for review processes that require it.

HELO View Workflow

UltraHD and 4K Remote Viewing

HELO very neatly covers all video up to HD, but what if we have a project that requires UltraHD/4K remote viewing? For both HD and UltraHD/4K projects we can turn again to the BRIDGE LIVE. H.265 offers the perfect solution to providing UltraHD/4K video and audio via streaming, but with the quality remaining high at up to 10-bit 4:2:0. For editing up to 4K 60p HDR content, AJA’s desktop range includes the T-TAP Pro. T-TAP Pro is a Thunderbolt 3 enabled device for monitoring 4K content via 12G-SDI and also HDMI 2.0 simultaneously. A simple Thunderbolt 3 connection is used between the host laptop or PC and T-TAP Pro and the accompanying Desktop v16 software integrates into any Avid, Apple or Adobe NLE. In this setup, the editor operates the editing system with the NLE timeline output being shared via 12G-SDI to the BRIDGE LIVE. The Editor is able to locally monitor with HDMI whilst using the 12G-SDI output to the BRIDGE LIVE. The output of the timeline is converted via BRIDGE LIVE to H.265, which is streamed to the smart TV in the producers’ viewing room, who utilizes standard or internet telephony to communicate with the editor in real time during the review process. The use of a smart TV that supports streaming also allows high quality viewing of the video stream with very little setup. For image-critical applications, BRIDGE LIVE also offers optional JPEG 2000 support which, when combined with SRT (plus encryption), offers high quality transmission within a secure protocol. Best of all you can send to multiple locations and services all from the same source in real time.

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Conclusion

As we have seen, AJA provides a wide range of devices that respond to the exacting social distancing requirements of modern production. No matter the scale of production, from HELO and IP Mini-Converters to Io IP, KONA IP, and the immensely powerful BRIDGE LIVE, AJA’s commitment to high quality and ingenuity will increase safety and productivity.