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November 11, 2019

Inside JT-NM: Interoperability, IP Workflows, and More


As the media & entertainment industry continues to adopt IP-based live production workflows, one of the major challenges identified by end users has been a steep learning curve in device setup, management, and interoperability in multi-vendor systems. If in the future this seems like a quaint concern, as a new generation of IP-based devices auto-configure, plug-and-play, and respond to standardized management within a well-managed network of thousands of live UHD video streams, you just might have JT-NM to thank.

Also known as the Joint Task Force on Networked Media, this international consortium is focused on ensuring that media professionals can count on their IP video production solutions to interoperate as expected. While smooth communication between hardware and software nodes for live content seems like it should be a foregone conclusion, the fact is that surprise interop hazards occur frequently and can derail the most well-planned of signal paths. This realization has led to a series of cooperative testing meetings between leading media production vendors, organized under the JT-NM, with a mission to improve standards compliance of participating products and provide open knowledge to the industry about the current state of affairs in media essence interoperability, device discovery, and connection management.

Among the semi-annual gathering of industry professionals that carry out the JT-NM mission is Bill McLaughlin, VP of Product Development at EEG Video and a JT-NM Test Experts Group member. Convening this past August in Wuppertal, Germany, McLaughlin and his colleagues executed a meticulous Test Plan that evaluated dozens of broadcast, post, and streaming solutions during a week-long marathon.

The result: the September 2019 JT-NM Tested SMPTE ST 2110 and NMOS/JT-NM TR-1001-1 catalogs, which debuted at IBC2019. Empowered by this free resource, prospective purchasers of vendor equipment have a dependable reference for evaluating solutions as they transition to IP workflows. Using the catalogs, decision makers can be confident of equipment’s interoperability of SMPTE ST 2110 and NMOS/JT-NM TR-1001-1 flows, configuration, and management.

The JT-NM testing sessions are intense work that require months of pre-planning from the Test Experts—who volunteer their time—and culminate in the week-long event supported by engineers and technologists from over 50 companies leading their own products through the test process and working with judges led by Willem Vermost and Ievgen Kostiukevych from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The travel and time commitment is serious, but for McLaughlin and his colleagues, the benefits of participating far outweigh the personal sacrifice. “It’s an engineer’s paradise,” he says. “You get to experiment with the most cutting edge product from across the industry, have a technical meetup and knowledge exchange with extremely talented people, and publish a document that saves time and money for a global contingent.”


Solving the Interoperability Problem

McLaughlin has been a member of the JT-NM interop community since 2017, and participated in the inaugural JT-NM Tested event as a member of the Experts Groupahead of NAB 2019. He serves as the consortium’s lead expert for evaluating interoperability for live captioning and ancillary data, bringing a vast store of working knowledge in both fields to JT-NM.

The need to create the Joint Task Force on Networked Media and its testing protocol sprang from multiple problems that were revealing themselves in IP media facility buildouts. Forums were needed for comprehensively testing for interoperability between popular vendors’ hardware and software before a problem reached an end user attempting to combine the products. Additionally, many early products lacked a set of common tools for network and timing setup, while too many overlapping and mutually unintelligible discovery and device control protocols had been proposed within the vendor community.

“Historically, the first generation of these IP solutions were very balkanized, with large vendors promoting different approaches that were not interoperable with each other,” explains McLaughlin. “Meanwhile, smaller vendors were not always able to sell into each and every approach, or may have had to select just one vendor camp to support. As a result, you would have different vendors engineering into similar, but not interoperable, standards. Product costs and time-to-market were negatively affected by needing to support multiple control and essence standards, and customers were confused about what they were buying and if it would all work together.”

With the JT-NM Tested program, equipment purchasers now have a clear guide to gear proven to play nice when it comes to SMPTE standards and AMWA-NMOS (Advanced Media Workflow-Networked Media Open Specifications) specs. “At the JT-NM Tested events, we’re checking that disparate solutions—IP switches, video switchers, playout, cameras, caption encoders, and much more—are plug-and-play together. The vision is that they should simply function seamlessly together out of the box once the network connectors are plugged in, and all basic stream management can occur in a centralized way. That’s the key promise of the JT-NM TR-1001 system design.

“The JT-NM Tested badge has a precise meaning,” McLaughlin continues. “If you’re assembling an IP-based plant and you buy solutions with this label, there’s no question they will work well together. You won’t be stuck spending hours or days troubleshooting with tech support or, worse yet, investing in different solutions and trying all over again.”


JT-NM Tested Takes Off

For McLaughlin, EEG’s participation in JT-NM is worth the time investment, in light of the benefit that the group’s work provides to every vendor with a stake in professional media’s overall success.

“JT-NM Tested is a new brand—many people in the industry may still not know what it is,” acknowledges McLaughlin. “But it’s a powerful idea, and I think it has potential in the near future to become a touchstone for people. How do you substantiate that your company has produced an interoperable solution? Being able to say that it’s JT-NM Tested will demonstrate that immediately.

“The objective industry-wide is to establish confidence that all available IP-based solutions will work well together. EEG and all our colleagues at JT-NM believe it’s important to be a part of this effort: Let’s let our customers know that vendors everywhere are keeping pace with their needs and new developments in the SMPTE and the AMWA standards worlds, and that the flagship IP systems on the trade show floor are all parts of a flexible plug-and-play ecosystem--it isn’t meant to be an exercise in vendor lock-in to proprietary systems.”