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Audio-over-IP for an Entertainment Venue, Part 2

Apr 14, 2010 11:57 AM, By Bennett Liles

Deploying an automated audioplayback network at Nickelodeon Universe.

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I was kind of wondering about the security on this. Is there any kind of special security that the Barix stuff has to have or is it just the regular security for the entire network?
Yeah, obviously they are going to be in charge of security in their network. Even if someone were to hack into the network—which, in that case, I am sure they would have bigger issues than whether or not you would be able to hear a audio feed of a Nickelodeon commercial or something—but there is security built into the devices. [There are] multiple levels of password protection for different access levels, so if you first try to log in with a web browser and it’s locked out, you need to supply a password in order to gain access to anything. That’s pretty much just for the cases where someone might have one of these things on the Internet, that’s exposed to the Internet, and they don’t want someone to be able to just happen to jump on this IP address and guess what port you’re using and then get in and start changing things just because they’re bored. It’s definitely secured. [timestamp: 6.40]

Mainly just for the people that are going to be programming the thing primarily, I guess?
Yeah, and you can also have read-only levels, where people couldn’t see what is going only [but] not necessarily change any configurations or things like that. But yeah, that’s all built into the device. It’s just like any other web-enabled device or account. You have to log into your email and provide a user name and password just like you have to log into this thing and provide a user name and password. [timestamp: 7:02]

Now, tell me a little bit about the IO12 devices.
Yeah, we mentioned a little bit in part one that the IO12 device is an RS-45 enabled device and RS-45 is just serial streaming network. So instead of Ethernet or RS-232, we are talking RS-45 so it uses a single pair to communicate over a serial network. And the IO12 has 12 inputs and 12 outputs on it, and in this application, we actually just used the inputs and one of the outputs. The inputs, again, ... were tied into the pushbuttons that the operators for the rides used and that allowed the operators to go ahead and trigger different audio clips to be played from the Annuncicom. So the whole schematic of the system would look like an Annuncicom at the top, have a USB stick plugged into it with a MP3 file stored on it, or multiple MP3 files that Annuncicom talked over RS-45 to the IO12, and it polls the IO12 and finds the status of the inputs with what is called ‘Modbus RTU protocol’—and that’s just a standard automation protocol that’s commonly used for I/O devices—and then the IO12 itself is the thing checking the inputs and making that data available to the network over RS-45. So it’s not real exciting to talk about, but it’s a very solid little device that allows you to attach various inputs and outputs to it and then get the status of one or more of those devices over a network. [timestamp: 8:34]

Right, now, I know on the human interface part of it, Barix talks about their BCL programming environment. What’s that all about?
Yeah, BCL, I think, originally stood for “Barix Control Language”. It’s basically the programming environment or the language that allows you to do all this customization and automation routines in the units themselves. It’s very similar to Fortran or something like that. It’s just a text-based language, very similar to Basic. It’s got a bunch of if-then loops in there. In most programs, you will see a lot of if-then loops [and] for-next loops. It’s got all the logical conditions that you can program into it, but then the most important part and the most powerful part about the language as well as the device is the fact that all of the interfaces—the Ethernet interface, RS-232, RS-45, the I/O, whatever—they are all wide open so there is not a prebuilt set of function box that limits you to using it in just specific ways. You can actually completely control all of the information and data that is streaming in and out of the device through any of the interfaces. So you could set it up to send emails. As I mentioned before, you could set an Annuncicom up, for instance, to record a stream from a microphone or a RCA stream coming in to it; you could record that to a MP3 file on the USB stick and then program it to go ahead and upload it to a web server or a FTP site all through this BCL programming. So it’s a very very powerful programming environment that gives you access to basically all of the features that the hardware has to offer without any of the limitations. [timestamp: 10:14]

Even if it’s a little bit new to you, once you have gone through and done several of these devices, you probably get to become an old hand at it pretty quick.
Yeah, the people that get into it really get into it. And those are typically people that have some programming experience, whether it’s PLCs or software programming, C++ or Visual Basic, or things like that. If you’ve got any amount of programming experience, it’s not going to be tough to figure this stuff out. If you’ve never done anything like that, then obviously it’s a pretty big jump. But like I said, the people that jump into it and are able to understand basics about programming just love it because it gives them so much control and power over what they are trying to do. [timestamp: 10:53]

How long did it take you to get this whole network set up and operating from the time you got in there to the time you were able to check everything out and make sure it worked?
The biggest part of the project was actually the specification process where the engineering team for the Nickelodeon theme park at the mall called us up. I ended up being the main contact actually for this project. But they’d talked to me on a number of occasions; we went and had a couple of meetings, and basically got everything lined up. I helped with the design process, helped them decide which components they should use and how it should all be tied together. ... That was over a period of a couple months; obviously not full time, but a day here, a day there, a couple of hours here, [that] I would spend with them working on those things. Once we had everything specified and all the details worked out, then it was a matter of putting together the programs that allowed all of our components to communicate for the customized sequences. For instance, the Annuncicom and the IO12 talking together and polling files off of the USB stick on-demand and those types of things. It probably took a couple of weeks to do all of the programming. I would say 40 to 60 hours of total programming work. And then once that was done, pretty much we provided them with the hardware and preprogrammed the units for them. So they got the electrical contractors there. We gave them a big box of stuff that was labeled with some instructions, and they started putting it all in and then, as I briefly mentioned before, we did have to go back and create a couple of very detailed instruction sheets for different portions of the project that they didn’t have much experience with. But, overall, the process went fairly smoothly and the amount of work that it actually took to do it wasn’t that much once everything was specified and all of the details got worked out. [timestamp: 12:44]

Does it look like you’re going to be doing any of this again or have you got anything else like this sort of in the works?
We’ve done a large number of projects, not exactly like this, but we are in contact with customers and new clients every day that find the Barix stuff or find our stuff online and say, “Hey, this looks really interesting. Could you use it to this?” or, “Could you use it do this?” and invariably the answer when it comes to the Barix hardware is, “Yeah, we probably can just because it’s so open,” and the programming environment allows you to basically do whatever you want with the hardware. So we get a lot of requests for custom solutions and programming jobs that deal with these types of devices, and we have a lot of success with them as well. [timestamp: 13:30]

All right, it’s Adam VanOort with DataNab and the installation is at the Mall of America, Nickelodeon Universe, huge theme park networked with Barix IP audio stuff and Adam it’s been great having you here on the Networked AV podcast and it sounds like it was a challenging installation.
Yeah, I absolutely appreciate your time and having us on.

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