NDI is a network protocol that sends audio, video, and metadata signals over standard networks in real time. NDI is bidirectional, low latency and can transmit video up to 4K and more. It is used in some of the largest broadcast environments on the planet and in many professional AV integrations. It is also used by individual users for video presentations or streaming games in single computer setups.

The second thing you need to know is that NDI is job free. Although certain solutions, such as hardware with built-in NDI or specific software and applications, may come at a cost, the ability to access NDI is completely free. You can immediately access NDI and its features using tools you may already have.

The third key point is that NDI is more than just transportation. You can monitor devices such as PTZ cameras, capture video streams directly from the network for use in editing, and set a standard for encoding and decoding. NDI is simple to use for software applications and offers high-quality video. Although all NDI is compressed, there is also a high-efficiency option called NDI | HX that makes it easy to find devices on a network.

About the Author

Michael Namatinia is President and Director of NDI at the Vizrt Ensemble

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History of NDI

NDI was born as a way to bring broadcast-quality video to more creatives. When NDI was created, the broadcast industry still relied heavily on SDI cabling to carry audio and video signals. SDI has proven to be reliable for expensive productions but rather difficult to run on a large scale, complicated to redirect or transport, and limited in the ability to transport only one signal in one direction, one at a time.

The idea behind NDI was to move video signals over existing networks, and make it free to do so. NDI can run over standard Ethernet. Even a 1 Gigabit connection allows multiple NDI streams to pass from one sender to another. This leaves for more streamlined and highly elegant workflows in the broadcast and digital video worlds. NDI helps reduce the cost of streaming and creating video, and further democratizes access to high-end production capabilities.

These capabilities have also extended into the professional installation space, and countless houses of worship, schools, sports, live music venues, and businesses have added NDI streams to their workflows to advance communication. The open access model has also allowed NDI to move quickly into the consumer space. A third-party developer created a free OBS plugin that quickly became one of the most downloaded plugins for the software. Free tools have been created for Adobe and VLC software. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become compatible with NDI.

Material has also been developed. Manufacturers such as Sony, Panasonic, and Canon now offer NDI-compatible PTZ cameras. NVIDIA has enabled NDI capabilities that eliminate the need for traditional trap cards in game streaming.

A live production workflow

On the professional side of the equation, NDI is most often used as a live production system and video cameras for live video, or for pre-recorded video where camera switching is done in real time to save money on post-production sacrifices. These live production systems were once only in the broadcast arena, but are now more accessible to SMBs and individual content authors.

In a common usage setup, multiple pan, tilt, and zoom cameras can be placed in an area connected to the network. The live production system can be in another location: nearby, in another building, or even in another city or state. As long as the cameras and the live production system are located on the exact same network, they can communicate in real time.

The converter boxes can be linked to either HDMI or SDI devices and translated into network-compatible NDI signals. Computer screens can be captured using free software tools. Prerecorded video clips can be brought into production with the push of a button. Even mobile devices with cameras can be connected to the system and used as a live video feed. The live production system also facilitates the live broadcast of the event, whether it be to a broadcast channel or social channel, internal viewers, or all of the foregoing.

This ability to integrate any kind of AV stream into a live production system also provides a model for other uses. For example, what if you want to make a high-quality video but you only have your personal computer?

An OBS workflow

Open Broadcaster Software, more generally known as OBS Studio, is free and widely used software that offers screen recording, video capturing, and certain video editing features, all with the ability to design and switch between different models called "scenes." . One of the most popular downloads for OBS is an NDI plugin developed by an independent author.

By pairing the bundle of OBS tools with NDI integration, it opens up an absolutely free software workflow for live video production. With the free download of the NDI tools, and more particularly the virtual NDI input, you can use any NDI source as input in OBS. This can change from a high-end PTZ camera to an Android device or an iPhone using an NDI application.

You can also use NDI to capture portions of any screen from any computer or device on the Internet. With the free tools, this time NDI Screen Capture, you can use another computer or Mac as input source in OBS. There are also NDI mobile apps that can manage capture capabilities.

This flexible and scalable environment is great for video interviews, game streaming, tabletop role-playing and board game streaming, and on-site stage or musical performances. People have gotten overly creative with these tools, generating everything from cooking programs to exercise classes, all in a free software environment.

Game streaming

Video game streaming and esports deserve special mention here as they employ NDI in a particularly intriguing way. With NDI, you can eliminate the need for a trap card when using one or two computers.

There is currently an application called NDI Screen Capture HX which is optimized for NVIDIA GPUs and removes any dependency on a computer's CPU when capturing screens., which allows the GPU to do all the work for the captured screen. This means that if you already have a computer with a newer NVIDIA graphics chip, get 4K capture capability, hardware accelerated and low latency for free.

For esports, the scalability of NDI comes into play in an essential way. Multiple contender screens can be accessed simultaneously via a production environment, meaning everything from one-to-one mobile games to team-based MOBA games can be efficiently transformed into a broadcast. They can also capture multiple camera angles of the competition, the advertisers, and the on-site crowd.

Remote meetings

Even if you're not looking to get your video out to a huge audience, there are still some updates that can be made to your daily video usage. The prevalence of hidden work due to the global pandemic means that many have become professionals on the screen. Having said that, many have also found their laptop webcams to be inferior video devices.

Thank God, there is a solution. Many popular video conferencing apps, including Zoom and Microsoft Teams, work with NDI Webcam Input. This means that a mobile device's camera can now be used as a webcam with an NDI mobile app. This can also be used in the ways described previously, allowing you to quickly add a second video input or capture from another computer to your call.

NDI Webcam Input also works with apps like Discord, meaning that secluded game nights have suddenly become more vibrant and simple to facilitate.

What else?

Although there are many other specific employment cases, it would be impossible to count them all here. The reality is that NDI lets more video capabilities exist. Leave professional AV integrations and content creation startups. This means that virtually any space—work, school, place of worship, home, or even an outdoor sports field—can be turned into a live video site.

This is the answer What is NDI? It is the catalyst of creative freedom. The free template means that anyone can find a unique, expressive, powerful and exciting way to tell a story. And that means that there are more stories better told.

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