SRT and Remote Working

SRT and Remote Working

By Lewis Kirkaldie, Cinegy

As the ramifications of the Coronavirus pandemic descended on all our lives, those of us who could made the shift to working from home wherever possible. 

While in our industry a great many of us were already fairly used to doing at least some work from home on occasion, we weren’t normally doing it while simultaneously wondering whether we should invest in the next trade show, where we would find our next egg or bag of flour, or if we’d be able to earn enough to buy it if we did.

Some, like Cinegy, implemented business continuity plans and simultaneously took advantage of the period of cocooning for some deep introspection, focus, and idea generation. It also gave us and many others a chance to work out how to prepare for what we expect a new normal to be like (which in our view is basically to bring forward by a year or two what it was going to look like anyway). It has to be said that although it was a bitter pill to swallow, not having to prepare for, engage in, and follow up major trade shows has, at least in the short term, had its benefits.

Many have been forced – not unwillingly – to learn in a compressed space of time a lot more about how to successfully work remotely, without leaving our current, often home-based, workspaces to fill in gaps that used to just involve a daily commute. I’ve missed the smell of a whiteboard pen…

In broadcast, one of the first things to go while working remotely is cables – running SDI leads to staff houses isn’t going to be viable (or will just create some truly epic trip hazards). Enter the alternative – the Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) protocol. SRT demonstrates its value with two key strengths:

  • Secure – you can use SRT for AES 256-bit audio and video stream encryption, which is critical in times like these with widely dispersed workforces and distribution channels. Circuits that were once under physical lock and key at a broadcast or production facility now must travel back and forth to someone’s home or workspace, wherever in the world that might be.
  • Reliable – if someone is operating a channel or conducting an interoperability test from home, as a great many are right now, they must have a reliable stream to ensure that what they think they are transmitting is actually happening. It’s also possible that they could be up-link contributing or simply carrying on as best they can to fulfil deployment obligations. In any case, it’s imperative that people can have the confidence that what they believe is happening is reliably taking place.

SRT provides that security and confidence. To describe SRT as a safety-net below a high-wire would be a poor metaphor. SRT laughs at the safety net, uses that high wire to drop some civil engineers at the far end, and throws up a four-lane suspension bridge. Then it sets some fireworks off for New Years from the support struts and loans out selfie-sticks for tourists. SRT is a bit of a show-off.

And recently, SRT was put through its paces in the second of a series of global SRT interop plug fests hosted by Haivision. Over three days, vendors from around the world joined forces to list and provide SRT-enabled streams for people to test the veracity of their respective technologies with SRT acting as a truly open interoperability enabler. It turns out that the midst of a pandemic, truly awful as it is, turned out to be an ideal opportunity to focus on the kind of widespread and highly detailed remote testing that many organisations don’t always have enough time to do as thoroughly as they would like during their usual course of operations.

You can only do that kind of testing, especially in current conditions, with some form of formal, cross-industry collaboration, which in this case in this case the SRT Alliance, an industry wide open-source initiative dedicated to overcoming the challenges of low-latency video streaming, which now has more than 350 member companies.

And 350 members and counting is pretty close to the saturation point for companies that have a vested interest in video streaming and is a percentage of membership almost unheard of in any field of interest. Collectively, these companies have seized upon the vision of SRT Alliance founders Haivision, plus early adopters such as Cinegy and strong supporters such as Microsoft, Avid, and many others. It’s actually far easier today to name the handful who aren’t members of the SRT Alliance, and that’s great for everyone involved and the industry at large.

SRT has changed the way companies work. Following the initial paralysis of the pandemic, many companies realised they should have moved their disaster recovery plan further up the company agenda and took immediate steps to bring it to the fore. Those and other plans are now being implemented, albeit while working under a number of understandable constraints.

One of the upshots of this is that it has shone a more positive light on both the benefits of the viability of home working for some, and the benefits of cloud computing. Why sit in the same physical location as the technology your broadcast backend runs on? The concept of distributed platforms is finally getting the traction it deserves – the benefit of distributed platforms requiring no operational human visits suddenly looks like a silver bullet. If something is amiss in London, you can fix it by spinning up a new virtual machine from your sofa in Singapore.

As a result, cloud-based operations have carried on throughout recent events with little or no disruption. Those who have such an operation now appreciate it even more, and those that don’t have started looking far more seriously as to how they might migrate some or all of their relevant operations into that model.

In short, remote production has gone from being the catchphrase of the moment to a proven, fully legitimate working practice that now also encompasses the expanding possibilities of many other forms of remote working, including from home.

SRT has been, and is, one of multiple catalysts that have enabled these shifts, the predominantly positive workplace and even cultural ramifications of which will continue to emerge in the coming months, years, and perhaps decades as the shape of content delivery continues to redefine – or create – “normal”.

The ability to jointly and/or independently confirm SRT interoperability greatly accelerates its deployment and implementation, which in turn streamlines the delivery of high-quality, low-latency video across the public internet which, in layman’s terms, translates as “one less thing to worry about”.

And one less thing to worry about, at home or the office, is a universal “yes please” these days