What Is NDI and How Can It Help Me?
What Is NDI?
NDI (Network Device Interface) was first revealed in September 2015 by NewTek, the makers of Tricasters, it has grown from being what some called a gimmick or toy to a standard recognized and used by even the largest of productions.
History of NDI
I first heard about NDI in April of 2016 when vMix added it into their production software. Due to a lack of hardware support, the most practical use for this new technology was bringing screen captures from computer to computer. While there were other options for doing this, including running SDI, HDMI, or other screen capture solutions, NDI was the most straightforward for me at the time.
There were not any cameras or converters that supported it, and the streaming industry didn’t respect it as a whole. In 2017 things started to speed up for NDI due to NewTek releasing their Connect Spark. NewTek’s Connect Spark was a small on-camera POE solution for camera capture that converted HDMI or SDI to NDI|HX (more on that later). During the same year, BirdDog shipped its first family of NDI converters. The biggest thing that set BirdDog converters apart was them being full NDI rather than NDI|HX. BirdDog took NDI from being limited to IP-based video distribution to a complete production system capable of powering entire productions and replacing the need for SDI runs.
Since its birth in 2015, NDI has slowly improved in efficiency, compatibility, and performance as a result of constant refinement by NewTek and the adoption of the technology, which is fueled by NewTek’s willingness to license it royalty-free to developers.
When discussing NDI, a key concept is that NDI has two versions. The original and most robust being NDI, and the more compressed version being NDI|HX.
Full NDI (SHQ)
Regular NDI is what is most practical in high-end productions. Full NDI is visually lossless, and latency is virtually no factor making it perfect for streaming and even IMAG in an optimized environment.
Accoridng to NewTek, full NDI requires the following network bandwidth to operate per feed:
- 1 x UHDp60 video stream 250 Mbps
- 1 x UHDp30 video stream 200 Mbps
- 1 x 1080p60 video stream 125 Mbps
- 1 x 1080i60 video stream 100 Mbps
- 1 x 720p60 video stream 90 Mbps
- 1 x SD video stream 20 Mbps
Uniquely NDI can handle any framerate at any resolution with or without alpha in 16-bit and higher. The limit is the hardware encoding or decoding your NDI feed. According to NewTek, on a typical modern i7 processor, NDI is benchmarked at 8k, running 210 frames per second and 2200 frames per second at 1080p. NDI is for the future and ready to scale.
NDI latency depends on many factors, so it’s impossible to give an exact latency spec for all environments; however, according to NewTek, NDI has a latency of one field of latency in a realistic environment.
The key difference between full NDI and NDI|HX is compression. By using H.264, HX can compress NDI feeds down to a much lower bitrate making it useful for mobile device cameras and situations where network bandwidth is an issue such as over wifi. Another big difference in HX is the lack of alpha channel support. Outside of those significant differences, HX is very similar to true NDI.
NDI Myths and Common Concerns
“It isn’t broadcast quality.” That couldn’t be further from the truth, as we discussed above.
“It requires a super good network.” Most streams don’t have more than four cameras. Most have less. If you’re running four cameras at 1080p on a modern gigabit network, you’re solid.
“It’s not supported by top brands.” Adobe, Atomos, Avid, ChyronHego, EVS, Epic Games, Grass Valley, Magewell, Microsoft, Panasonic, Renewed Vision, Ross, and Sony, just to name a few. 😉
If you’re still a skeptic, here’s a great article crushing some of the most popular myths and rumors. https://www.redsharknews.com/production/item/4846-ten-misconceptions-about-ndi
What Does NDI Do?
NDI may seem like just a way to transport video on the surface, but it’s more. A lot more.
One of the biggest features of NDI is being able to capture and transport video over the network. Traditionally you would have to run thick SDI cables to transport video, power cables to power your cameras, and often additional cables for tally and comms. That was just the start of it because you would then have to route all those cables to your broadcast room. NDI fixes this.
Now you can run power (POE), video, tally, comms, and more all over a single cat6 cable. You also don’t have to worry about routing your cables through your building because you can use your preexisting network. Any cat6 port in your facility can connect you to any NDI enabled switcher, NDI decoder, or computer on your local network.
NDI Signal Distribution
Do you need to have an overflow room across campus or bring in a stream host in a studio room in your church offices? No problem.
With NDI, you can send and receive video and audio across a regular modern network.
Both Sienna and BirdDog have developed implementations of NDI that allow you to send a receive NDI over the cloud effectively, enabling you to produce and direct broadcasts from anywhere in the world.
Having a church camp in Flordia, but your production room is in Memphis? What about opening a second campus on the other side of town? Or maybe due to social distancing, you need to be able to produce a stream with your pastor in her living room, your worship leader in his bedroom, and you, the producer, in your basement on a laptop? NDI Cloud has you covered.
One of the most common use cases for NDI is screen captures. You can use NDI to capture the screen or video output from any computer across your network and then bring that into an NDI enabled switcher. NDI is perfect for capturing the output of your presentation program or for a youth gaming competition. 😉
This feature is ideal for NDI enabled cameras and converters. When using an NDI enabled switcher or software switcher, you’re able to run tally through NDI. Like most of NDI’s features, the tally system is plug and play.
One of the best features of NDI outside of video distribution is BirdDog’s comms. Having comms built into your NDI converter makes communicating to camera operators and other production team members unbelievably simple. Again, no need to run extra cords or rely on wireless systems.
Audio Over NDI
One feature of NDI that hasn’t been fully taken advantage of by hardware manufacturers is its ability to transport audio. A use case for using NDI for audio is running an NDI enabled software switcher such as vMix on a computer at your audio mixer, adding audio inputs from a capture device or digital mixer’s DAW out, sending those audio inputs over the network via NDI, then using them as audio inputs on an NDI enabled switcher, NDI decoder, or NDI enabled software switcher.
I expect that we will start to see NDI digital snakes in the future to help capture and expose audio inputs over the network. But for now, we’ll have to stick to sending it with computers and with BirdDog’s Dante integration.
While PTZ control isn’t a big deal for everyone, the ability to control and capture PTZ cameras could eliminate some reasons for not using them in certain use cases. NDI allows you to control PTZs over the network, effectively eliminating the difficulty of running PTZ control cables.
Companies, including BridDog, have created hardware PTZ controllers that allow you to control PTZs anywhere on your network with traditional PTZ controls. Since it’s all over the network, you can also control PTZs from software such as vMix with a mouse, keyboard, control surface, or even Xbox controller.
The Future of NDI for Churches
What Can NDI Do For Church Productions?
You may be thinking, “This seems awesome, but how can I use it in my production?” Below I’ve listed a few of my favorite NDI enabled tools to help you get started.
Hardware and Software Options
It seems like every few weeks, more and more NDI integrations popup. Below I’ve listed a few worthy mentions.
BirdDog Flex 4k
BirdDog Studio NDI
NewTek Spark Plus
Magewell Pro Convert
Starting at $1495
Z CAM Cameras
Starting at $799
Starting at $1999
NewTek NDI PTZ
Starting at $2195
Panasonic AG-CX10 4K Camcorder
In terms of streaming software, the early adopter of NDI, vMix, and open-source OBS are the top streaming software for using NDI. OBS is a great way to try out NDI without jumping into the full production capabilities of vMix.
Free and open-source: obsproject.com
60 day free trial of the pro version and free SD version: vMix.com
As far as graphics go, ProPresenter has deeply integrated NDI into its latest version (Pro7), making it the leader in presentation software as far as NDI is concerned. This version not only allows you to output over NDI, but you can also use NDI sources as inputs to stream directly from Pro.
To help set up, troubleshoot, and manage NDI systems, NewTek distributes a suite of programs called NDI Tools. NDI Tools includes:
- NDI Studio Monitor
- NDI VLC Plugin
- NDI Test Patterns
- NDI Scan Converter
- NDI|HX Driver
- NDI for Adobe® Creative Cloud®
- NDI Virtual Input
- NDI Access Manager
- NDI Import I/O for Adobe CC
These free programs are essential to anyone using NDI and are packed full of useful features.
Outside of NewTek, in particular, two companies are pushing what can be done with NDI. The first is Sienna. Sienna offers services including NDI.cloud, their IOS NDI camera app, and Weblink (a tool to view NDI feeds in web browsers). Sienna offers many specialized solutions for problems you may encounter in your workflow that may not be available anywhere else.
The second 3rd party company that’s making a big impact on NDI’s future and capabilities is BirdDog. In my opinion, no other company other than NewTek has created as many innovative solutions for adding NDI into production workflows as BirdDog. Two of their most significant software programs for churches are Comms PRO ($299), enabling you to run comms over NDI with BirdDog NDI Converters and their upcoming Dante NDI Bridge ($129), which will allow sending or receiving audio over Dante.
Want to learn more about streaming and your church? Check out our $6000 Church PTZ Live Streaming Setup.