NDI, What is it?
NDI is a trailblazer, a game-changer and a movement-maker. Bold statements we know but honestly, once you’ve read what it can do and used it yourself, you will be of the same opinion as us.
So, you’ve all heard of and most definitely used, cable interfaces such as SDI and HDMI.
Well, NDI is the futuristic brother of that part of the digital production infrastructure.
NDI stands for Network Device Interface and was developed by Newtek. (Yes, the company that makes the Tricaster vision mixer systems.) Newtek had a proprietary younger cousin of this technology in their older Tricaster operating software packages but as of 2015 at IBC Newtek unveiled a new, more equipped and ultimately a new way of working to the world.
Ok let’s stop teasing you with it and get down into the nitty gritty of what it can do.
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NDI “is a high performance standard that allows anyone to use real time, ultra low latency video on existing IP video networks.” (NDI.tv)
What that means is that NDI isn’t a cable like SDI and HDMI, it’s a network protocol. The only cable you will need for some hardware to utilise NDI is an ethernet cable and the existing local area network of your home, office or studio.
NDI uses your network to deliver and receive all of the data used in this way of working. If you are working without cameras and just want to stream gameplay for instance then you don’t even need any hardware, cabling or expensive software. More on that below.
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Note. We suggest a network setup with at least 1gbps bandwidth to take full advantage of the technology. NDI streams use little CPU power but can use 100Mbps for each stream. We suggest using at least CAT6 ethernet cabling to ensure 1Gbps transfer around your network. Gigabit Desktop switches connecting your hardware for your local network traffic will also secure a stable NDI connection. If your setup requires WiFi or cannot run cables around your location then there is the possibility that gigabit powerline adapters could create a makeshift 1Gb network for you. If you would like extra security over your connectivity then a 10G switch would provide more than enough throughput for NDI streams and the transfer media locally in post-production. You may want to think about CAT7 ethernet cables for this though to ensure enough bandwidth in your cabling to handle 10G.
NDI uses it’s own built-in network discovery tools to find sources and destinations and therefore means there’s no need to mess around with port forwarding and firewalls either.
It works with any resolution, aspect ratio, and frame rate and formats including 4K UHD and beyond. Supports embedded alpha channel for keying along with proxy, control, tally, custom metadata, and precision time stamps. Includes audio requirements with support for 48kHz, 96kHz and beyond using 16, 32, and 64 channels or more. It is a powerhouse basically!
What Can it do?
The question should really be what can’t it do?
Since its entrance in 2015, NDI has been getting more and more powerful and Newtek have just recently released V.4 of the protocol. NDI is so powerful in fact that Newtek made the decision to make it open to the public, to give the access to developers to make their own tools using their SDK.
So let’s look at some use cases.
First off, it depends on whether you are a Windows or Mac user as to what tools are immediately at your disposal. Tricaster’s and a lot of the free tools for NDI are aimed at Windows but that isn’t a roadblock as there are plenty of applications that have Mac in mind for NDI.
Head to NDI.tv and download the NDI Tools package for either Windows or Mac.
In this package you will certainly have a program called NDI Scan Converter also in that package is a Windows program called NDI Studio Monitor and for Mac a program called NDI Video monitor. Install both depending on which operating system you are on.
NDI Scan Converter
Scan Converter is a capture program. It can capture your whole screen or a single application running on your system and broadcast it over your NDI network.
To check this is working simply open up Studio/Video Monitor and got to File and find your computer name. The Scan Converter will show as a source, once you click it you can see that program or your desktop in real time.
To take it a step further, try installing Studio/Video monitor on another computer and view Scan Converter from there.
Now you’re just beginning to understand the power of NDI. Why? Because now if you download the latest version of OBS Studio you can use that to stream or record that Scan Converter screen capture from anywhere on your network on any computer.
It doesn’t just stop at one source or destination either. Newtek say that on a standard 1Gb network you can comfortably run around 10 NDI connections. You can even push it to around 14 if you’re not pushing different video down each one. With a 10Gb network that goes up ten fold.
That’s a lot of connections! My PC won’t be able to keep up with that?
Well, actually NDI utilises an incredibly small amount of CPU to run. Depending on your computer hardware it should be able to comfortably run at least 5 connections even on pretty old hardware.
So, what if you already have cameras that you want to use with NDI? Newtek and other third party companies have answers to that.
We’ve actually written a dedicated article just about this alone. You can find out how to utilise your current cameras with NDI right here.
Newtek themselves have a couple of boxes called Newtek Spark which can take an SDI or HDMI signal and convert it to an NDI source via WiFi or ethernet connection. Your DSLR, film camera or Broadcast quality studio camera can now be NDI enabled. For Studio use specifically a company called Birddog make an NDI converter box that can take four 4K inputs and have them all be NDI with tally included. HDMI or SDI loop outs are also available on the box.
Newtek and other third party manufacturers also have NDI specific PTZ cameras which are powered by ethernet and send video and audio through that one cable. Control for the PTZ is also done via ethernet so you literally only need one cable to do everything.
Ok, some of you may have been waiting for us to get to this because there are a lot of OBS users out there and ways to make it more efficient or include more features are always welcome.
Luckily for you OBS Studio just needs one simple plugin for Windows or Mac, available here and then you have NDI built into OBS.
All you need to do to take advantage is install the latest version, add a new source and then look for ‘NDI Source’ as a source in the dropdown.
You can then choose any NDI source stream you are broadcasting from the UI that pops up. And boom, there it is!
It doesn’t just stop at OBS either. If you use Wirecast, Vmix or Tricaster vision mixing systems then NDI is also pre-built into all of them.
NDI & Adobe
We haven’t stopped with the possibilities yet.
NDI is now integrated into Adobe products too.
Using the NDI Tools kit you downloaded earlier you can now install the NDI for Adobe CC package.
You now have the ability to broadcast your Premiere Pro or After Effects timelines directly to your network as NDI sources. This means for live productions you don’t even need to render out graphics or sequences you can just play them from your timeline and have it play instantly in the production.
Note. To get this function to work you need to go to the ‘Playback’ settings in your preferences and make sure ‘NDI Output’ is ticked under ‘Mercury Transit’.
As we stated up above, NewTek mostly based NDI off Windows architecture. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a plethora of MacOS apps out there to suit your needs.
Sites such as Sienna.tv have grown substantially over the last few years in what they can offer Mac clients in NDI workflows. You can find pretty much any app to solve any problem you can think of here.
Favourites of ours are the NDI Recorder app that lets you record NDI sources as .mp4 files from your network.
NDI Source lets you take a SDI or HDMI source and using a BlackMagic Desing UltraStudio Mini Recorder or similar device turn the source into a NDI stream.
Yep, there’s even apps for smartphones as well.
We use the NDI Monitor app from Mark Gilbert a fair bit to view our Tricaster’s output over the WiFi network when we are not in the gallery. It is essentially a mobile app version of the Studio/Video Monitor app in the free NDI Tools kit.
NewTek offer a couple of very powerful apps that you should take advantage of if you are on Windows.
NDI IsoCorder Lite is available here and it let’s you record two extra sources of NDI direct to your local or external storage in NewTek’s high quality codec it uses in its Tricaster systems.
NDI Connect Lite is a free version of it’s pro application that let’s you view and manipulate NDI sources/destinations from any computer on the network. It’s a beefier version of Studio Monitor.
How do we wrap this up? Well, I think basically you need to download the free NDI Tools package from Newtek and start playing around with it. Only through doing that will you start to witness the power at your fingertips and how it could transform your workflows.
You can also go ahead and get our introductory NDI walkthrough, ‘Your Guide to NDI‘ at the DigiProTips shop:
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We will, of course, keep you up to date from now on with NDI updates as this will only get bigger but for now… go explore!