Each new technological evolution in media and entertainment (M&E) has pushed the industry to reimagine content creation and consumption. Innovations like the SDI (Serial Digital Interface) family of digital video interfaces, and transporting video over Internet Protocol (IP), for instance, have dramatically impacted how television broadcasting and content production operate. The growing role of the cloud has fueled the rise of over-the-top (OTT) and internet protocol television (IPTV), demonstrating a cost-efficiency and scalability like no technology before it. Broadcasters and live production professionals, however, have not been able to fully tap into the potential of the cloud due to a dependency on low-latency and high-bandwidth connectivity between applications that has kept them largely anchored to on-premises workflows. Determined to bridge this gap, the team here at Amazon Web Services (AWS) introduced AWS Cloud Digital Interface (AWS CDI).

So, what is AWS CDI? We like to think of it as the cloud equivalent of SDI. AWS CDI is a highly interoperable, low-latency, and resilient networking technology that makes it simple to transport uncompressed live video between applications and services in the cloud. The AWS CDI software development kit (SDK), available as an open source project, provides the high-performance cloud networking and interoperable audio, video, and metadata (AVM) schema needed to ensure reliable communication between cloud-based broadcast and live production applications.

The inspiration behind AWS CDI came from an overarching desire to solve the advanced network connectivity piece of the puzzle for working with uncompressed video in the cloud that no other technology had yet to solve. SDI by nature relies on coaxial cable, which doesn’t exist in the cloud, so that was not an option. While SMPTE standards like 2110 and 2022-6 provide network connectivity protocols, they’re unfortunately not built to survive in the cloud. Without an efficient way to move video between applications in the cloud, mission-critical parts of the live production and broadcast workflow would remain anchored to the ground.

For this reason, media workflows that have moved to the cloud have largely been based on using compressed media, which is easier to move through a cloud network. The use cases deployed in the cloud were also less impacted by latency. AWS CDI addresses these limitations by creating a way for uncompressed video to move through the AWS Cloud with less than one frame of latency. This game-changing technology enables workflows such as channel origination, live production switching, master control, and real-time graphics to move to the cloud where they can now be performed with the same uncompressed quality and frame-accurate movement as if they were on the ground.

With AWS CDI, independent software vendors (ISVs) have access to a robust toolset for building scalable, reliable, low-latency cloud-based video applications. With AWS CDI, some of the most vital functions of live production and broadcast workflows – tasks previously thought to be solely achievable with local hardware and dedicated networking – become not only viable but also highly performant in the cloud. From channel playout creation to live production, switching and mixing, slow-motion replays, and beyond, the sky is the limit. These workflows are possible because AWS CDI is uniquely interoperable at its core and provides the networking power required to transport uncompressed video across vendor applications across multiple Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances. It can link cloud-based applications from different vendors with incredibly high data transfer high speeds and latency as low as 8 milliseconds, which is less than one frame for 60 frames per second video. The net result is higher-quality video in the cloud because of no generational loss due to encode/decode cycles and an ability to perform tasks in the cloud that previously could only be done on the ground.

Bridging the evolving worlds of video and video-over-IP standards with innovative protocols for moving data through the AWS Cloud, AWS CDI enables new video use cases for technology traditionally reserved for high performance computing. In this respect, it’s paving the way for broadcast and live production to move fully into the cloud at a quality that meets the industry’s ever-rising expectations.

As more ISVs develop cloud-based tools to support key broadcast functions, and broadcasters and live production professionals embrace them, there’s potential for the entire production process to move into the cloud. From there, these workflows could easily be linked with converged (OTT and primary screen) distribution headends – unifying production, broadcast, and content delivery in the cloud. That said, broadcasters and live production professionals will play a key role in what happens next, as they encourage ISVs to use the technology to answer their most pressing demands or develop their own applications using AWS CDI.

Applications that integrate the AWS CDI SDK can help move traditionally complex parts of broadcast workflows into the cloud, and in turn, drive the creation of more high-end, broadcast-quality content that might not otherwise get made. Using the cloud reduces the traditional infrastructure investments and associated maintenance costs that often prove a barrier to entry. AWS CDI flips the commercial model on its head, instead allowing ISVs and broadcasters to build a production environment that can grow and shrink to make each event production more commercially viable, setting the stage to democratize access to broadcast TV. For consumers, this means a more varied and curated content experiences, and for the streaming production community, easier access to professional-grade tools to elevate the quality of their content without breaking the bank.

We’ve already seen some incredible technology developments harness AWS CDI including Evertz and Grabyo. Evertz, for instance, previously needed to encode video for clients before sending it to the AWS Elemental MediaLive video processing service creating video quality loss and adding latency, so they harnessed the AWS CDI SDK to take feeds directly from the Evertz Overture compositing engine straight into AWS Elemental MediaLive with no additional encoding required. The company has also used AWS CDI to support FOX with a new live production application for switching multiple sources in and out. For Grabyo, AWS CDI has allowed them to move data between multiple Amazon EC2 instances, so that they can add new sophistication and horizontal scaling capability to their live production application.

AWS CDI formally launched in September 2020, so the industry is only beginning to unlock its potential. As broadcasters and streamers increasingly use AWS CDI to help drive the industry forward, we expect to see more traditional on-premises broadcast and live production workflows migrate to the cloud, from channel playout to production switching and uncompressed video-based compositing. Now available, the AWS CDI SDK can be accessed via https://github.com/aws/aws-cdi-sdk, and we encourage the community to dive in and start using it. The more technological inroads we make together, the faster broadcast and live production can move into the cloud, where the impossible is more and more becoming possible.