Cobalt Digital: 12G, 4K, HEVC, HDR, & IP

Chris Shaw:
Cobalt was founded in 1997, designing and manufacturing small throwdown boxes for a large production truck company. That’s the basis of where the company came from. Gene Zimmerman is the founder, owner, and president. Later, Cobalt was a co-founder of openGear with Ward-Beck Systems and Ross Video.

OpenGear provided the vehicle for Cobalt for growth and general modular products and signal processing. As you well know, it’s not the glamorous end of the spectrum as far as cameras, pictures, and routers go, but it’s the engine room. This type of terminal gear is vitally important these days and for many years to come. It’s not going to disappear with IP.

It was obvious that a single common frame and a single control system for multiple vendors was the best way to go at it. It’s proven very successful. Cobalt has designed and developed many openGear cards over the years, which gives you a picture of what we do at the moment.

We’ve been working with partners providing OEM products, with partners such as Dolby for encoding and decoding; Landis Processing; and recently Technicolor for HDR technology for product production and cameras. We can handle static HDR, dynamic HDR, and intelligently dynamic HDR, whatever the end user wants as a solution for our application.

We speak to the customer and find out what a customer needs, watch very carefully what the latest technologies are, and determine where we can fit this onto cards that will meet the requirements. We have strong truck builders and broadcasters in all sorts of environments.
We’ve always welcomed working with others, and it’s been great working with other openGear partners. Cobalt is also a founding member of the RIST group, Reliable Internet Stream Transport. This protocol has become very important, and we are seeing more and more of it.

Lately we’ve been involved in some international projects, including Southeast Asia, where we’ve been successful. We might’ve slowed down with COVID-19, but on the whole it’s been very good. I’m going to hand it over to my colleague, Chris Garcia, for more detail on current products.

Here is a representation of different categories that we at Cobalt design, manufacture, and offer as a solution for openGear. There are different categories in this slide, for example, that are unique and dedicated to one card that behaves as the one solution. But some of these can also be spun up or work in conjunction with other cards, or other solutions that work as a license option. So a lot of this is a collection of all the different developments of designs that Cobalt has been doing for many years. And now we’re following this new tradition where a lot of our products are multiprocessing, very modular solutions that have a lot more density than the previous models, or what’s considered a norm in today’s industry.

As you see here, we have categories for audio, video processing, and color correction. You can keep things in time with the frame syncing, routing, multiviewers. And now with the new theme of 4K 12G, this represents the whole portfolio from Cobalt. Today I’ll discuss the new solutions we have from Cobalt that embrace different formats, frame rates, and standards.

This is our 9904-UDX, the new standard for a lot of what we do within Cobalt. As you see here, we have the ability to do up/down/crossconversion. We can go anywhere from SD all the way through 4K bidirectional. And then we can also manage data rates from SD-SDI all the way through 12G-SDI. And then we can do a multi frame rate.

Another solution we have is the ability to do HDR/SDR, which Chris Shaw was just discussing. We teamed up with Technicolor to offer a unique solution with their algorithm, using our know-how for processing video and audio within this particular platform.

What you’re looking at here, the ITM and SL-HDR encoding/decoding, these are basically license options. Once you have the card, this allows you to have a very robust, seamless way to process HDR, whether you want to go from SDR to HDR, or if you want to dumb it down to SDR from HDR. So this is a very clean way to do that. Again, it’s just a license, if you want it to do quad link to 12G or 12G to SDI. We support both SDM and 2SI, and that can be applied either going or coming. And we conform to the 2082 12G spec to make sure we’re doing this correctly for the 12G side.

We have a lot of color correction or color management mechanisms within the card. It supports the full RGB 4:2:0/4:2:2. And we also have the ability, depending on what you want to work with, if it’s a 3G or HD project, we can easily enable or activate a license that does 3G or HD color correction, or we can activate a license that does the whole 4K eye color processing for this card. And we’re offering the ability to do 3D-led processing, and also BB-led processing, if that’s a requirement for your workflow.

Other options we have for this card include the ability to manage audio metadata, being able to embed/de-embed AES, and then also being able to mix. So doing a mixed-down mix, a cross mix. And then with our DSP option, we have the ability to do Dolby encoding/decoding, and then using the same option we can also process the loudness control for leveling, if I wanted to do any adjustments with that. What you see here is that we have different backplanes that allow me to select and apply whatever I want to use, depending on the workflow requirements.

Basically it’s like a bunch of gears that work together to make up this processing engine that makes everything happen within this card. Once you have all these different options enabled, you have a super powerful and flexible platform that allows you to do basically anything, because everything’s already part of the system. All you need to do is activate any given license to enable that particular process. So again, this is the UDX card that is our new platform enabling us to do a lot of what we do today.

One thing we have that I’m showing here is one single-channel path that’s bidirectional. You can go from SD all the way through 12G, and then back the other way. In this configuration, the black lettering in those little blocks are all default solutions that are part of the card. The blue lettering is what we offer as an option. If you wanted to do, let’s say, 3D-led processing or HDR, we can activate that at any time. But for now, let’s say this is all part of the card, and if you need to use it, it’s already there to be used at any time. Another new option that was going to be a feature product at NAB was the ability to have four independent channels for this card.

In the previous model, we’d allocated all the other processing power for just the one-channel 4K or one-channel 3G to do basically everything. But with a lot of feedback from customers, we decided it would be best for us to allow this card to do more, to be able to process some of the essential features. Like, for example, frame sync and color correction, being able to process audio, and being able to have four independent channels doing that. And now with this card, we have the ability to have AES and MADI in and out of this card.

This is a very positive and flexible feature that’s now enabled on the card along the same tradition as other products we offer from Cobalt. You’ll see there’s an SFP module space here. So we have a cage that allows me to take any SFP, whether it’s a 2022, 2010, or fiber, and use that as part of this platform for input or output. Again, it’s an option that you can enable, and it’s already part of the whole system.

This brings us to the compression product line that we offer from Cobalt. What you see here is our encoding and decoding platform. They’re all based on the same piece of hardware. So it’s the same openGear card, but depending on the type of firmware being used, it becomes an encoder or decoder. This particular platform supports both ASI and IPE. They can work together, or you can use them as you wish independently. So some of the formats that we support are MPEG2, MPEG4, and HEVC, and we also support MPEG-1 layer II audio, AAC, LPCM, and also Dolby.

Protocols we support today are UDP, RTP, HTTP, and RTMP, and then some of the options that can be enabled at any time with the license are the ability to encode and decode Dolby. Then we have a very unique solution for audio, which is that we offer up to 16 channels of audio that are floating licenses that can be applied to any of the different channels.

I can activate multiple channels to either the encoder or decoder, and be able to have different audio pairs or channels to allow me to do a very flexible workflow for my link. And then you can also activate it as a requirement. You can activate 2022, and then you can activate multiple channels of encoding/decoding for either of these products.

This block diagram shows what we offer as a complete set of encoding capability within one card. As you see here, we have four independent encoders that allow me to encode different formats together in the same platform. So essentially behaving as if I had four different cards in my frame, but it’s just one card. And those licenses that I discussed, there are some that are applicable to the card as a whole, or some that are based on a per-channel basis.

In this case, if you want the most flexibility and the highest density, this would be the product that helps you achieve that flexibility and workflow processing. Again, that would also apply for the decoder. But in this case, we only have two channels that I can use for decoding. I can utilize the MPEG2 / MPEG4 rate, you see, and be able to have my two baseband outputs. Plus I also have an additional four channels of baseband out if I want to send copies to multiple places.

This illustration shows the ability to have a complete solution from point to point using Cobalt products. So what I have here, for example, on the encode I can have up to four channels independently processing four different baseband signals encoding data, and I can send that either ASI or I can set up a link using HEVC, using the public internet and protected through the RIST license that we offer.

This is something that we can do today and has been already done by multiple customers. The flexibility with this is that you can have redundancy, or you can have flexibility depending on what the application is and what the conditions are. So in the case of, for example, RIST, this allows you to use a public internet connection without having to pay a royalty fee or any special bandwidth allocation.

This guarantees a better packet-protection mechanism. And if you ever lose any packets, this will help you recover those packets. This is what RIST offers. And again, it’s just a simple license that we can activate at any time. If you’re working with traditional ASI, and at the last minute you want to jump to working with an IP link, this solution will help you do that. Again, this is what we offer as a compression package and can be done today with Cobalt.

Moving on to the routing solution that we have for openGear. This is the new platform we designed that’s very dense, and it offers a lot of flexibility in a small package. As you see here, it’s an openGear card that has the ability to have very robust and flexible cross-point configuration. We offer this in two models. One is a 12×12, and one is a 24×24, and they can be something you use instead of a small configuration for a small master control, or if you want to use it for a remote scenario or truck.

What do we offer with this? We offer a SMPTE based SDI clean switch capability. We offer the ability to work with different router protocols, so if you want it to use any of the existing routing protocols, this card can accommodate that and we can help you achieve that. And then we support different control status protocols, such as SNMP, JSON, serial, and GPIO.

And then, as you see on this slide, we can also talk to different control panels. So if your facility happens to have an existing set of control panels that are lying around from your old system, this allows you to interface with those and not have to purchase additional control panels. This is the routing platform, our 9942-RTR, which is very dense, and it works with signals from SD all the way through 12G in a 12×12 or 24×24.

So the next solution that we have is our 9915DA, this is our 12G-DA platform. This is one of our new and popular additions. It’s a platform that offers the flexibility to have a very robust and flexible matrix, within the card, that allows me to utilize the best features of a routing system, but also the performance of a distribution amplifier. So this card offers a hybrid system that enables you to utilize different formats, different signal types. For example, I can work with a baseband SDI, but I can also work with the fiber or IPF if that’s a requirement. As you see here, we have SLPs that can be adapted to this card.

In the first model that we offer, it’s a 1×16 that assumes that you have a baseband 1×16 configuration, but then with the SFP modules, I can also have 1-Rx and 2-TxR in the configuration that’s possible with that particular model. The second model is our 2×16. This allows me to have a 2Rx and 2Tx with the same platform. Again utilizing the capability of the SLPs to provide fiber or IP along with my baseband signals. And then the last one essentially is a 4×16 with the ability to have also 4Rx – 2Tx, or 2Rx and 4Tx within the same platform.

This brings us to a very unique solution that we designed that was going to be our key highlight product at NAB. This is what we called the BBG-1300-FR. For all intents and purposes, this is our effort to make the whole openGear platform more flexible and more capable than other bigger systems. What do we get with this? We have a fully capable firm panel that allows me to control and monitor configurations of whatever card I have in this frame. I also have support for full SNMP control, whether it’s alarms or monitoring. Whatever I want to do with this, I can do it with this smaller enclosure.

With this product we also have all the typical openGear flexibility for advanced networking. Whatever you normally do on the openGear traditional platform, you can also do with the BBG-1300-FR, but in a smaller package. Then I also have redundant power, which you would expect from any openGear frame. And this product has a very unique way of doing it.

We have two power supplies onboard that behave as one as a primary or secondary, depending what you want to do. And then we have little pigtail outputs that allow me to have the capabilities of redundant power. We talk to DashBoard without having that connection or communication with DashBoard. That would be, in a way, not very useful for some customers, but there’s the option to utilize the front panel for controlling and monitoring.

I can also use DashBoard and set it up like a traditional openGear frame. Imagine if you have a facility where you run out of real estate and you can’t put in a traditional openGear frame. All you have is a 1RU space somewhere in between the racks. This will give you that flexibility and give you additional power, additional processing in a 1RU. You can have three of these sitting side by side, and you have multiple processing engines to work with. You can also attach it to the network and be able to talk to it through DashBoard, and be able to have the SNMP monitoring that you would otherwise set up in the traditional openGear frame.

This is the BBG-1300, and it’s a product that supports any openGear card. It doesn’t have to be Cobalt, but for all intents and purposes, we are trying our best effort to offer that as a complete solution from Cobalt, where you can have any of the cards work with this frame and you have that flexibility of a stand-alone system.

This is our openGear 12G 4K multiviewer. This is basically a very dense solution that allows me to bring in any 4K signal, and also monitor that 4K output in a native UHD 4K format. What this has is the ability to take any format, that’s the purpose of having this in a very dense package. When you’re working in a monitoring scenario or environment, sometimes you have the need to have multiple flavors, whether it’s an SD/HD 3G or even 4K nowadays, to be in the same output, to be able to monitor that and see where you are with your broadcast or your program. With this platform, because it’s an openGear card, now I have the flexibility that’s built into an openGear card.

With this I can do custom configurations and layouts of my outputs, of my windows, and then I also have complete PIP sizing and border configuration. So I can assign different colors, stretch it out, do dynamic positioning of the windows. And as I said, the output of this multiviewer is a native 4K. Whether the input is HD, SD, or even 4K, it’ll keep it as a native output to 4K. So anything that falls between SD and 4K, this multiviewer will process that and display it on the output. You also get two HDMI outputs. This allows you to have two unique, independent outputs. You can allocate whatever sources you have. You can push into any of those outputs and create multiple configurations for the output. This, like any other multiviewer, has all your typical UMD, tally, closed captions, and meters.

You can have all that active or displayed per PIP, and you can adjust and accommodate depending on whatever the needs and requirements are. Because it supports multiple languages, we can deploy this card anywhere throughout the world, and we can easily decode and display any type of characters anywhere. Whatever you want to display on this, you can be sure the product will support that.

We also have the ability to do quality control. So if you’re monitoring any alarms, any faults, or anything that’s giving you feedback, we can do that through our QC option that allows me to have GPIO feedback or in the form of messaging. We offer this in a six or 18 input configuration, but then we have one card that actually adds a little more flexibility by having four HDMI inputs in the mix. So in a sense, it’s basically two models, but one has the ability to have four additional HDMI inputs if that’s the requirement.

This is our new solution we are working on, and this was going to be showcased at NAB. This is our take on a network management solution for anybody who needs to be able to have all the alarming, all the different feedback that you want from your whole infrastructure. This is Cobalt’s first take on this, so it’ll be some time before we get it out to market, but we’re planning to deploy it soon. If you’re interested, please contact us for more information. So what do we offer with this? Nothing out of this world; it’s proven on-server infrastructure that has been used today by a lot of other companies in the market. This is a system we’re hoping can be easily expandable.

You can deploy this in a cluster form, or it can be modular depending on what the requirements are. It’s very highly available. You want to be able to access and control this system from anywhere at any time. This is based on web clients, it’s very flexible, and it’s nothing new or out of this world. This has the ability to do quick two-click reporting. So if you’re in a mission critical environment, this gives you that flexibility. And then the web interface is based on HTML5, which is a very solid and proven mechanism for web interfaces controlling. So that’s something we can do. That’s going to be available with this solution and then works with any JDBC compliant database, if that’s something you already have or you plan to integrate.

We also support different northbound interfaces, such as JMX, SNMP, RESTful, XML. And that would also be the case for the southbound interfaces. This is something that’s a relatively new product and we’re still working on it, but we want to showcase what’s possible. In the first iteration of this solution, we plan to provide the N+1 encoding redundancy. And then we also plan to prioritize the streams, depending on whatever is in your resources or your assets. Along with that, we plan to provide the ability to have bandwidth graphing and being able to control and monitor your facility with the feedback you’re getting through the GUI.

Susanna:
Our webinar attendees have asked why Cobalt decided to get into RIST. A lot of manufacturers had created a proprietary solution to address low latency and reliable streaming over the internet for the broadcast space, but there weren’t any open specifications, open-source type of protocols available. In 2017 we were also looking at a proprietary solution. We got together with the Video Services Forum, VSF, which created the RIST Activity Group, to come up with common and interoperable specifications to solve the problem. The top companies in the field were invited to participate, we all looked at the possibilities and decided on the best protocol for low-latency and reliable delivery over the internet, and the result was RIST.

Now all users are able to mix and match equipment from different vendors when doing contribution over the internet. So it’s been a great thing. In 2018 they released the simple profile, which focuses on reliability and latency. And early this year, they released the RIST main profile. So the main profile addresses in-band data, encryption authentication, and also bandwidth optimization. Now the group is working on the new phase, which is going to be the enhanced profile. So that’s been a wonderful decision by Cobalt that we have enjoyed being part of. And it’s been very productive for all the companies involved.

Chris, another question here was regarding the 9915DA, and we’re trying to see if you could explain a little bit what would be some of the applications that would be suitable for this new DA card that we offer?

Chris Garcia:
Given that it’s a hybrid card, as I explained, the main design relies on the baseband IOs for getting baseband signals in and out. But because we now have the flexibility of the SFP modules or the ports, depending on the model I have, like those one or four baseband signals, I can now take those and then I can come out either fiber or IP and get those across to my other facility. That’s something that we’re offering with this product. And I think that gets into a different area of a product. Now it’s the mux in a way, not just a distribution app. If you have two remote locations, not too far off, that you can address with the fiber link, this gives you that flexibility to be able to get signals in and out without having to spend a lot and deploy a big infrastructure.

Susanna:
Another question we’ve received: Is Cobalt looking into having a platform-based software-as-a-service approach?

Chris Garcia:
That’s a good question because there are a lot of customers that have been giving us feedback. They say, “You guys have a lot of IP that can be deployed or used in different scenarios.” Let’s say I have a blade or I have a different system where I want to load up your processing modules and let them do whatever. I think that’s been the trend with a lot of the other manufacturers where they have a set of different features and licenses that can be deployed, but are more server-based. What I described earlier with our 9904-UDX card, that behaves in the same way. The only issue with that is a lot of those licenses are perpetual or are 100% part of the design. They cannot be installed, uninstalled, or moved around.

So I think we are, in a way, doing that with the encoder and decoder cards, where we have those floating licenses. There might be a point where we consider having a rental or a license portal where we can sell that to whoever wants to use it. From our perspective there are a lot of customers that are asking us for that, and we feel that we’re somewhat doing it already, but not to the extent where it’s a product or a solution today.

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