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The future of audio networking

The future of audio networking
d&b's Henning Kaltheuner; Audinate's Joshua Rush; Jeff Rocha from L-Acoustics

The future of audio networking

With several new develops from the sector’s key players, it’s time to revisit the state of audio networking

The landscape is changing. It’s been a few years since Audinate first pitted itself as a viable-future alternative to the Audio Video Bridging (AVB) standard that was being worked on at the time by The AVnu Alliance. Of course, not many would refute that in the years since, Dante was overwhelmingly adopted and became the de-facto standard for simple audio networking.

Regardless of the protocol used, audio over IP is a tool already in widespread use, to the benefit of both event staff and audiences. Video over IP isn’t quite as developed. However, it’s now 2018 and the vast majority of customers certainly don’t treat audio as a separate entity to video. For entertainment purposes they are one and the same. And while there are technical benefits in certain situations for integrators to break the audio feeds out from the video, why should this HAVE to be the case?

The video sector has some catching up to do. The relatively low bandwidth needed to effectively transmit audio signals over IP is a major reason why that specific method is already in such widespread use. Video, with significantly higher bandwidth is much more demanding, and the hardware necessary to support this is not readily available at a cost-effective price yet. However, various different protocols have been released over the past few years to support video over IP.

‘We know and understand that customers want to manage their video streams on the network alongside their audio, with simplicity being the main benefit,’ says Joshua Rush, SVP of marketing and product development at Audinate. ‘In many installations, audio and video are inherently linked and customers want to manage them together.’

Thankfully there are smarter minds than myself working on the problem, and this year’s InfoComm exhibition in Las Vegas saw a new integrated A/V networking landscape beginning to emerging.

The AVnu Alliance itself has quietly been working for several years on the next phase of AVB implementation, culminating with a presentation by industry heavyweights, d&b, L-acoustics and Meyer Sound, Avid, Biamp and Audioscience at the show. This next-stage protocol has been named Milan, and while audio networking was very much the focus of the InfoComm presentation, the AVB standard doesn’t make this distinction.

At the same time, Audinate muddied the waters by announcing a partnership with the SDVoE Alliance for an integrated A/V control platform. Essentially, one is an open-standards approach to complete control and networking while the other is proprietary. What does this mean for the future of networking?

‘The SDVoE Alliance (or Software Defined Video over Ethernet Alliance) is one of the leading industry groups helping to deliver a standardised way for the transportation and management of video streams over IP. It is a lot like Dante in that it has over 40 member companies that focus on adoption and interoperability,’ explains Mr Rush. ‘The SDVoE solution delivers a 4K60 video solution with near zero latency over a 10G infrastructure.’

The two organisations chose to showcase an integrated control experience through Dante Controller routing SDVoE video streams and Dante audio streams through the same interface at InfoComm. This was accomplished by updating Dante Controller to read the SDVoE API, and displaying those video channels in the software.

‘While this new version of Dante Controller does not have a timeframe for public launch, it is a first step toward providing an integrated control experience for both audio and video over IP,’ explains the Audinate product manager. ‘We are currently discussing ways the two technologies can be more tightly integrated to provide an even better experience for both OEMs building products, and integrators and customers using the products together.’

The Milan protocol being developed by members of The AVnu Alliance is a little more technical to understand. d&b audiotecknik’s head of market research, Henning Kaltheuner, explained it in simple terms to Pro AVL Asia as follows: ‘Milan is about creating a solution application layer on top of AVB technology,’ he says. ‘The target of this is that all these manufacturers have realised they want to use open standards solutions for A/V networking and want to be able to build open solutions network ports into their products, in order to guarantee best longevity and best compatibility of their systems.

‘Milan is on the one hand a set of standards that is available publicly,’ Mr Kaltheuner continues. ‘On the other hand it’s also the idea that manufacturers form a community and collaboratively work together on networking. We believe that networking products in the future should be a commodity and something that we share, just as we share XLR connectors for analogue signals. That’s our hope for the future of networking – that we should work together on creating the best solutions for the industry.’

‘A network should be a commodity that simply works,’ continues L-Acoustics’ Jeff Rocha. ‘Our customers should know that they can plug things together and they’ll work, so they don’t have to focus on being IT professionals and can instead focus on audio.’

But neither solutions are yet ready for to market, and in the case of the Milan, this has been traditionally one of the biggest obstacles to AVB adoption. To ensure interoperability, the Alliance certifies that each product has properly implemented its guidelines. In the past, this has not been a quick process.

‘A lot of the hard work with Milan is done,’ shares Mr Rocha. ‘There are really four different standards that have to be developed before we have a fully-functioning protocol – to define things for stream formats, media clocking, redundancy and software control. The first two [defining stream formats and media clocking] are already done and public. The third, the redundancy spec, will be released very shortly, and our control spec is near completion. The thing that then remains is to further refine the certification process through AVnu. There’s a lot of energy and effort being spent on that to make sure we follow up on the technology announcement.’

This is not a hurdle the propriety method has to overcome. Audinate has been very proactive with its certification in the past, with 100s of manufacturers’ products having been certified in the last few years alone. For Audinate, the partnership with the SDVoE is part of something bigger.

‘We think the SDVoE partnership is the first of several important partnerships in the video over IP space,’ states Mr Rush. ‘While the SDVoE Alliance is clearly the market leader in the 10G space, there are a number of applications for 1G solutions in the installed market. Ultimately, we would like to integrate Dante with several VoIP solutions so we can offer that same unified control and management experience, regardless of the market or application.

‘We are also looking to expand the software and services that sit on top of the Dante platform. Dante Domain Manager is a great example of this,’ he adds. ‘By continuing to invest in these products that enhance the Dante platform, it makes Dante much more than just a networking protocol – it’s a complete, end-to-end solution for A/V networking.’

So while the future of audio networking is not quite upon us, the industry has both open and propriety solutions poised for release. These manufacturer the next few tradeshows are going to facing a whirlwind of questions.

This article was first published in the September-October editions of Pro AVL Asia and Pro AVL MEA.

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