June 16, 2024
Broadcast Switchers

Understanding The Basics Of Broadcast Switchers

Introduction to Broadcast Switchers

Broadcast switchers are video routing devices that enable the live switching of multiple video sources during a broadcast or production. They allow video production teams to seamlessly switch between different camera angles, replays, graphics, and other video sources. Some of the most common types of switchers used in broadcasting include production switchers and master control switchers.

Production Switchers

Production switchers are primarily used during live productions and productions that involve switching between sources in real-time. They offer various features to help video directors and technical directors easily switch between cameras and integrate other video sources. Production switchers range in size from small models suited for portable or indoor use to large studio models installed in fixed broadcast facilities.

Key features of most production switchers include input selection buttons for each camera or video source, a custom assignable control panel, audio mixing capability, integrated multi-viewers, and effects such as dissolves, wipes and fades. More advanced production switchers provide additional capabilities like built-in multiviewers, clip stores, virtual sets, and touchscreen control interfaces. The switching capability, number of inputs, multiviewers and integrated effects vary based on the size and intended use of the switcher.

Master Control Switchers

Master control Broadcast Switchers are used in the master control room of a broadcast facility to switch and route video from playout servers, external program feeds, and advertising spots for transmission. Unlike production switchers, master control switchers do not require live switching or transition effects. Their main function is to route scheduled programming seamlessly to the transmitter for broadcast.

Master control switchers are typically larger in scale than production switchers to accommodate many channels and inputs. Inputs may include programming from many sources like satellites, syndication, videotape playout, local broadcast stations and more. The switcher allows an operator to route any source to any outbound channel for transmission. It also enables inserting advertisements and transitions between scheduled programming on the fly.

Switching Technologies in Broadcast

Early broadcast switchers relied on mechanical relays or electronics to connect separate video signals either directly or through conversion to optical signals. Modern digital switchers have transitioned to completely software-based operation using packet-switching or IP routing technologies. This allows more flexible configurations compared to traditional hardware-based switchers.

Modern switchers may use any of these technologies internally:

– Photonic switch fabrics – Utilize optical fiber and light signals for switching ultra-high bandwidth video. Provides low latency and excellent video quality.

– Matrix switch fabrics – Software-defined digital switches using FPGA, DSP or other programmable chips for flexible video routing at processor speed.

– Ethernet/IP packet switching – Switches compressed or uncompressed video across IP networks using TCP/UDP. Enables remote access and integration into IP environments.

– SMPTE ST 2110 standards – Define IP protocols for transmission and routing of uncompressed professional video, audio and data for broadcast production over IP. Switchers can be fully compliant with ST 2110.

Audio Integration in Broadcast Switchers

Any broadcast production requires simultaneous audio management along with video switching. Modern broadcast switchers integrate advanced audio mixing and routing capabilities alongside the video features.

Advanced audio options in switchers may include:

– Audio buses and mix-minus routing for communication with talent and guests during interviews or talkshows.

– Dedicated audio faders, controls and meters for mixing multiple microphones and sources.

– Integrated DSP for effects like ducking, gating and audio follow video functions.

– Support for multichannel audio formats like 5.1 surround sound, mixing to mono or stereo outputs.

– Matrix routing of audio inputs/outputs similar to video. Interface with external audio consoles as needed.

– Control room and intercom audio features for communication between technical staff.

Broadcast Switchers in Modern IP Environments

As broadcast infrastructure transitions towards IP for transport and OTT delivery, switchers are also evolving IP-enabled features and streamlined integration into software-defined environments.

Leading Broadcast switchers manufacturers offer IP-enabled models supporting standards like IP transport of uncompressed video per SMPTE ST 2110, NMOS control and metadata. This allows full integration into virtualized and software-based production workflows over IP, software-defined video and remote access/operation via IP networks.

IP-based switchers can be configured as flexible software-defined routers to freely route sources without physical limitations of traditional hardware. They also enable incorporating web/OTT sources into broadcast productions, archiving or multi-destination streaming of output simultaneously over IP. Advanced control interfaces offer touchscreen operation, control panels, APIs and remote control via tablets and smartphones.

Modern broadcast switchers provide powerful solutions for professional live productions, playout and routing of video and audio signals. As technology transitions to IP and software, switchers are evolving accordingly to support IP workflows, virtualization, remote access and integration with other video production tools over IP networks seamlessly. Their mix of hardware and software-based capabilities enable broadcasters to create engaging live content across platforms more efficiently.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it.