Why open source software continues to drive the industry

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Russell Trafford-Jones studies how open source software is a catalyst for technological progress in the broadcast industry

Posted: October 12, 2022

Open source software is an invisible foundation of the modern world. Coined in 1998, the term refers to any software whose source code is made available to anyone for use under license. Many operating systems are open source and in the media space, open source programs like FFmpeg, GStreamer, and VLC are widely used by end users as well as under the hood of commercial products. These examples have broad applicability to many industries, but we are fortunate to have a host of broadcast-focused open-source projects that, although highly specialized, are used by broadcasters, streaming providers, and vendors. In a sea of ​​paid software, why do companies release their code for free?

Eyevinn Technology is an independent Swedish video streaming consultancy that makes many of its testing tools available on its open source repository on GitHub. “We believe the biggest benefit for the industry is to push new technologies and facilitate their adoption,” says Jonas Birmé, vice president of research and development. “When we’re solving a problem for a customer, it’s often easier to have a dedicated test tool or software component. If we develop this, why should others invent the wheel? »

The company’s most popular open source software is the VOD2Live engine which creates a linear channel from pre-encoded VoD assets. “From a proof of concept in 2018, we saw very wide adoption in production,” adds Birmé, who points to another reason for using open source. “We were approached to develop features for VOD2Live. Everyone is welcome to contribute to projects, but part of our business model is to accept paid development to extend a project. Then we put the new code back in the repository for everyone to use. Eyevinn Technology’s software is available at https://github.com/Eyevinn and includes a multiviewer, a proxy for introduce errors into HTTP streams to test players, a test ad server, and a transport stream generator among many others.

MediaInfo is a well-known tool for reading detailed metadata in most media files and has been around for over 20 years. Widely used for getting technical details about A/V files and integrated into asset management workflows, MediaInfo is an open source project by MediaArea. “We want customers to choose us because they trust us and appreciate our skills,” says Jérôme Martinez, digital media analysis specialist at MediaArea. The company also runs DVRescue which repairs transfer errors from DV tapes, the MediaConch compliance engine and a BWF metadata editor, all of which were developed for the companies that sponsored the development. Martinez continues, “With open source, we don’t own the keys to the software, so customers can use our skills or develop on their own. For many open source developers, open source software is a goal, but for us it’s a means.

The IP Showcase made its debut at IBC 2016. Although the SMPTE ST 2110 suite of standards was still being written, the Showcase demonstrated how uncompressed IP can work as well as vendor interoperability. The Video Services Foundation (VSF) first undertook collaborative work describing how to provide “SDI” as IP in specifications which then fed into the SMPTE standards process. ST 2110 is still being extended and is the result of the work of the global broadcast community. The European Broadcasting Union was one such contributor, and even before 2016 it had a keen interest in the work. Willem Vermost is the product owner of the EBU Live IP Software Toolkit, also known as LIST, available on EBU’s open source GitHub repository. “Before ST 2110 was a document, we thought it made sense for the move to IP to come with a move to software,” he explains. “But we knew bursting IP packets would be much more difficult without hardware.”

From humble beginnings as an Excel spreadsheet, LIST has grown into a live test and measurement tool for ST 2110 timing compliance and even has an online version that analyzes uploaded packet captures. But Vermost explains that the tool caused a problem. “It was important for the EBU to remain neutral in its efforts to contribute to ST 2110 and also in our role of bringing people together.” Following the first IP Showcase, a regular formal test event, called JT-NM, was designed to test vendor interoperability. “We used LIST as a tool to bring test and measurement companies together and being open source was a key part of the strategy. Once it was open source, we were no longer in competition with any product and, above all, we were then able to add definitions to the project,” he adds. As new software came on the market, each product labeled and calculated things differently. “The LIST project has become a place to document formulas and descriptions of common measurements. This collective knowledge will soon be included in the 2110 suite as SMPTE RP 2110-25.

Part of the advantages of the ST 2110 is the separate transport of the essences needed for uncompressed live production. To control all of these media streams, a group of specifications called Networked Media Open Specifications (NMOS) was developed by the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) which describes NMOS as “open, industry-developed, free, and available to everyone. “. So it’s no surprise that the NMOS API Automated Testing Tool is available on AMWA’s GitHub repository, but Peter Brightwell, Principal R&D Engineer at BBC Research & Development, says the reasoning goes deeper. .

“We made some of the early BBC NMOS implementations open source to generate community interest,” Brightwell begins. “For a control plane API such as NMOS, interoperability testing is critical, so we have started holding interoperability workshops on a regular basis.” As more and more vendors have joined us, interoperability workshops have multiplied. In fact, the last interoperability workshop saw 17,000 tests on over 70 devices, which is only practical with automation.

Brightwell continues, “Developing the NMOS specifications required a great deal of regular manual testing. To remove this and speed up our interoperability workshops, the Automated API Testing Tool was born. » Easy to deploy and controllable through a locally generated web interface, the ever-growing suite of NMOS specifications such as IS-04, IS-05 can be quickly tested. Brightwell concludes, “By open-sourcing the tool, vendors can see exactly how the tests are working, and further, seeing the code of an NMOS specification can speed up understanding and implementing NMOS in your own product. ”

A common theme in media and broadcast has been collaboration within the industry using the principle that a rising tide floats all boats. From the standardization of film that created SMPTE, to the resounding success of SDI and more recently low latency streaming with CMAF, collaboration has been vital. The projects discussed here show that not only can open source be part of a business model, but it’s a powerful tool for bringing today’s best and brightest into the conversation, to build the future and to help broadcasters and suppliers rapidly adopt new technologies.

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