Tech Blog

August 09, 2018

From Lens to Archive, Media Management with NewTek NDI


Let’s talk about the basics of NewTek’s NDI [Network Digital Interface], a groundbreaking technology that opens a lot of doors for the video industry. I’ll take you through my NDI journey and compare it to SDI [Serial Digital Interface], which had been the standard digital interface since 1989.

Because it was first interface on the scene, SDI had to adapt to new needs, inventions, and challenges throughout its reign. Then came the rising video resolutions of today—8K, 12K, and even sharper video formats—but SDI had been stretched to the max. The video industry needed a new type of interface with larger capacity and flexibility. The answer was NDI, which allows streaming high-def video to flow between shared servers, computer editing stations, cameras, and other devices.

As we dive into this, this is what we will discuss:

• The basics of NDI

• Considerations in managing data from your NDI devices

• Two key questions to take back to your company

• Mirroring, backup, and replication of your files

• Tagging and how to organize files for long-term storage and retrieval

Before NDI, we were in kind of a separated world. But NDI merges worlds that couldn’t have been merged before. What does that mean and how do we deal with that? I’ll talk about general best practices in light of the changing landscape in which we work.

But before we start, let me say a little about our company. For those who aren’t familiar with ProMAX, we supply workflow servers for film, video, broadcast, and livestream. I’ll use some of our products for demonstrations. But there are other alternative products you can use, if you choose. Of course, we think that your work will turn out better with our products. We offer shared storage, asset management, backup, and archives, and it’s all melded into one unit. It’s pretty powerful stuff. That’s the end of the sales pitch.

This brings us to NDI. Whether you have already moved to an NDI interface or are thinking about moving to it and want to know more about it, this session is for you. Let’s start with the basics of NDI.

New Kid on the Block

NDI is still in its baby phase. So get ready to study up and learn about it. When I was introduced to it, I had to really dig in and study NDI. I read a lot of NewTek material and a lot of blogs to wrap my head around what this means. It’s a huge step forward for video production.

I like comparing NDI and SDI because it’s a good starting point. When you look at the two in comparison to each other, you begin to see the differences right away. SDI is a unidirectional signal that makes point-to-point connections. SDI has outputs and it’s got inputs but you never put an SDI output with another SDI output. Traffic only flows in one direction.

But NDI is different. NDI is bidirectional. Traffic flows freely where you send it. It sends and receives multiple input and output signals between devices on a network. It’s this ability to work anywhere on a network that lets NDI open up workflow options that didn’t exist in the SDI world. We’ll talk about this ahead in light of media management because that’s where we have expertise.

Another interesting thing about NDI is that it’s an IP-based workflow. This interface enables systems and devices to connect and communicate over IP networks. It’s also worth noting that NDI is the one with the most momentum rolling right now for this type of technology. I haven’t seen a ton of adoption yet, but NDI does have pretty substantial momentum going for it. This is because NewTek has a pretty strong user base and they were first to put down the gauntlet. Their CEO, Andrew Cross, says, “This is how it’s done; this is how we’re doing it.” Then they licensed it out to people.

With any IP-based streaming protocol, you can move video anywhere on your network. It’s IT generic. That means you can use any switch, anywhere. You can use the ports on your laptop. You can even send a livestream from a camera to an editing station. This means you can capture a complete live event on video while an editor is back at a production workstation editing an earlier portion of the same event video. By contrast, SDI was kind of broadcast specific. That’s very limiting.

I heard a very interesting quote from one of the NewTek guys doing a demo online, “Every corporation in the world is now wired for broadcast.” It’s true. If a company has a one-gig Ethernet switch, they now have a broadcast switch in their facility. Suddenly, you think about the barriers to entry into broadcast, and you realize that anyone can do a broadcast using NDI.

With the advent of this interface, everything started to change and change a lot. The cost of entry goes down. There are huge savings on physical things, such as cables and switches and all sorts of things. It’s the same with routing. This may seem very ethereal but think about the different workflows. What I mean by this is you can kind of make anything into an NDI feed. If I want to take a my laptop screen and turn it into an NDI feed, I can do that.

There’s a plugin to Adobe Premiere that allows you to play out your timeline as an NDI feed. That’s an interesting concept but nobody knows what to do with that yet. They pitched it as a tool for doing review-and-approval videos from anywhere in your office building. You call your boss and say, “I’m going to play this back to you.” Weird new workflows will start popping up. You won’t have physical limits any longer.

Expand the Environment

Now I want to apply all this to a real workflow. My expertise is in storage, media management, archiving, and all that. Let’s compare an NDI workflow to a traditional workflow. Then we’ll take a look at what this means.

We’re all familiar with an SDI workflow. Suppose we have Canon cameras with SDI going out and point-to-point into a NewTek device. To capture this, you may have an external drive connected to this system. Once a video is shot, we must move that main drive over to a storage system to copy that data. Maybe you have a local RAID or maybe you have a network storage system. So now all that copied data is living in another ecosystem. It’s away from your broadcast, away from your NewTek environment, and it’s now in this other separate environment. You might make some cuts or whatever but then you have to move it back to your central drive. There are two—or more—separate systems.

Now let’s look at an NDI environment. Everything is connected to everything. So that NDI streams are coming off of your cameras, and going to your Tricasters, but these feeds can also go directly to your workstation or your shared storage, or both. Maybe you want the feeds to go to other cameras. Are we far from cameras having switches in them? Probably not. We are the probably going to see new workflows like these start popping up. NewTek could introduce a camera with a little switcher built in it. That’d be cool.

All of this opens up the availability of the video stream to go everywhere at once. This is why our industry is moving to IP. Everything else is already there. Any IP-based camera can be turned into NewTek device and become a conduit for an NDI feed. You can set up your studio with 20 cameras. That could be done. You’ll see.

Want to keep learning about NDI? Check out the rest of the blog series:

Part 2

Part 3


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