What You Need to Know About PTZ Camera Networking with NDI

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More facilities are taking advantage of PTZ video camera setups than ever, and IP-based video networks are becoming easier to set up and manage, so it’s worth looking further into options to upgrade your networks to NDI capability, which can help cut down on equipment, cabling, personnel, and overall complexity of your video environment. But what is NDI and how can it help? Let’s look into a few details about why NDI networks can be an enhancement to your workflow.

To review, the PTZ in PTZ cameras stands for “Pan, Tilt, Zoom,” which represents their basic mechanical functions and is synonymous with the remotely controlled conference camera category. NDI stands for “Network Device Interface,” which represents a proprietary set of tools and protocols created by a broadcast manufacturer called NewTek, that facilitate the transmission of high-resolution video over a fast, low-latency network. Any company can utilize the NDI API (Application Program Interface) to create their own applications and interfaces to allow NDI-enabled devices to connect.

AIDA Imaging Full HD NDI Broadcast PTZ Camera

NDI is ideal for transporting high-resolution video with low latency, which means you don’t drop any frames or lose any quality in the transmission between devices. It’s designed to work over Gigabit Ethernet networks to allow up to 4K resolution video to transport with little to no latency, and it is very easily integrated with software control applications and Internet broadcasting, but its features are robust enough to be used in professional studio environments, as well. It is a great fit for use in small to mid-size environments that require equipment that is easy to control and scale, such as houses of worship, streaming video game competitions, corporate video conferencing, live events, medical, and education productions.

Magewell Pro Convert NDI to HDMI Decoder

When you add NDI-enabled components to your network, they are designed to allow you to add components without the need for additional expensive input/output switches, routers, cables, and converters, allowing you to utilize less hardware and instead utilize smartphone apps, Mac or Windows computers, tablets, and web-based control.

Let’s take a look at the elements of an NDI network.

Evaluate Your Network

Video over NDI is designed to be high resolution, which transports best on a Gigabit network. So, you should note the bandwidth limitations of your network switches and the bandwidth requirements of your cameras, monitors, video switchers, computers, encoders, and any other NDI sources; as you add more cameras to the network, it can possibly cause quality issues.

Ubiquiti Networks US-8-60W UniFi 8-Port Gigabit PoE Compliant Managed Switch

If you are trying to cut down on cabling and distance, note the minimum support of category cables for the video resolution and bandwidth you require. If you are using PoE (Power-over-Ethernet) to power your cameras, note your power distance limitations—your devices have specific power needs, and if they are far away from the power source, you may need a power boost to make sure you don’t have a dip in power.

There are also different versions of NDI components that you may want—or need—to take advantage of due to network bandwidth limitations.

  • NDI is designed to support higher resolution, broadcast-quality video.
  • NDI|HX (HX stands for high efficiency) is designed for lower-bandwidth applications that require a narrow bandwidth, such as smartphones or mobile applications, to transmit video on NDI networks.

This means the video-using devices that support the NDI|HX protocol will use compressed video using formats such as H.264 rather than transmitting uncompressed, lossless video over an NDI network. The difference in overall video quality is nominal, but to prevent any latency and quality issues, especially when you’re using it in a live broadcast environment, the NDI protocol is preferred. Keep in mind, for each device transmitting video...

  • If you’re transmitting 1080p30 video from your PTZ camera, NDI will take over 100 Mb/s of bandwidth.
  • The same quality 1080p30 stream from an NDI|HX source will take less than 20 Mb/s of bandwidth on your network.

Software Support

Switching and routing using software can be fairly simple when using NDI-enabled software and devices. When you have an application that automatically detects NDI devices and you connect to your local network, the devices will automatically be picked up by the software. They can automatically detect, control, and monitor a wide array of functions via NDI depending on the needs of their software, such as:

  • Pass Tally signals
  • Timecode sync
  • Multi-viewer transport and labeling
  • Videoscope information from cameras
  • Record video streams from cameras
  • Switch camera sources
  • PiP/PoP (Picture-in-Picture/Picture-over-Picture) functions
  • Overlay graphics and titles on livestreams
  • Embed or de-embed audio sources

Some examples of video production applications for Mac and/or Windows operating systems that support NDI connectivity are:

Hardware Support

A wide range of hardware devices that are readily available, such as NDI-enabled cameras, video switches, signal converters, and network switches, can be used to create powerful PTZ networks. For example:

Blackmagic Design Micro Converter BiDirectional SDI/HDMI with Power Supply
  • Encoders such as the BirdDog NDI Encoder that takes an HDMI signal and converts that signal to an NDI stream for use on your network
  • Decoders such as the Magewell Pro Convert Decoder to convert an NDI stream to an HDMI signal for use with an HDMI device
  • Encoder/Decoders like the BirdDog 4K Encoder/Decoder that can encode or decode in a variety of directions between HDMI, SDI, and NDI
  • NewTek not only created the NDI API, but it also manufactures its own NDI-compatible video switches, software, encoders, and control surfaces such as this UHD 4K Bundle

As a primer, check out our basic overview of what products are available to set up your initial PTZ camera broadcast network, and be sure to browse the B&H Photo website for more PTZ camera solutions. Let us know how your PTZ environment is progressing in the Comments section, below.

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