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AVB and What Else?

Aug 13, 2012 3:11 PM, By Bruce Borgerson

Forecasting the Future of Audio Networking


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KEEPING OPTIONS OPEN

For years, Yamaha has managed the proliferation of networking options by offering MY-card slots in it consoles to accommodate a range of customer needs and preferences. “We will continue to support all of our current networking options for many years to come,” Seable says, “and we already offer effective format bridging in several of our products that have multiple MY-card slots.”

Even some third-party proprietary suppliers are showing flexibility in regard to the emergence of AVB. Audinate’s Dante, for example, will allow users to leverage AVB’s Layer 2 clocking advantages, as well as a path to interoperability with AVB devices, through a firmware upgrade.

“Audinate is working to provide a risk-free transition solution,” says Klas Dalbjorn of Lab.gruppen, “and we see many manufacturers embracing it in products priced at a level that can carry the associated cost.” Yamaha also supports this as an interim alternative, according to Seable. “We have no AVB-only devices now, but in the future it will be possible to upgrade our Dante-enabled products as Audinate has announced.”

WHO’S PROPRIETARY HERE?

In this article, and most other discussions on the topic, “proprietary” refers to networking protocols designed and licensed by individual companies, as opposed to those based on an open IEEE standard. But QSC’s Richard Zwiebel counters that, in a sense, current AVB standards are more “proprietary” as they impose new Layer 2 standards that require use of new AVB-compliant switches, which at this point are few in number and relatively costly. “Other network technologies such as Dante, Livewire, and Q-Lan all do not require specialized AVB switches and work with readily available products,” Zwiebel insists. “That can be a huge advantage, as most IT departments have brands of switches that they already use and are not anxious to change.”

Zwiebel also notes that AVB’s Layer 2 implementation restricts networks to a single LAN, where the Layer 3 IP-based networks can span huge networks comprising multiple LANs. In a bid to retain these advantages and while realizing greater interoperability, Zwiebel and QSC support the AES X-192 initiative, which seeks to foster compatibility among both single-sourced and open-standard networking protocols. But that process admittedly has a long way to go.

BEST ADVICE?

In the meantime, what should the consultant or systems integrator expect from manufacturers five to 10 years down the road?

“If the project is so large that separate LANs are required, or if replacing existing switches with AVB-compliant switches is unrealistic, then I think the best solution is Dante,” says Lab.gruppen’s Dalbjorn. “However, in five to 10 years, we might see a new alternative that offers an interoperable solution and works across LANs.” Meyer’s McMahon admits that switch replacements make AVB a hard choice when existing IT backbones must be used. But regarding new projects, he advises integrators to “take a look at the breadth and depth of manufacturers behind the AVnu Alliance and be assured that the technology is state-of-the-art, robust, and easy to work with. New projects will be much easier as the AVB network switches provide automatic configuration.”

Yamaha’s Seable points out that AVB has the potential for rapid innovations, as its open standards-based foundation is friendly to free-market competition. “We could see competition in software or drop-in hardware modules, which anybody could develop and then have certified by AVnu. This could create a set of new options for manufacturers who want AVB in their products.”

“You need to use what makes the most sense,” advises Matt Czyzewski of Biamp. “If you want to future-proof it, you need to look closely at emerging technologies. But if you’re concentrating on ‘I need to get it to work now’ and anticipate major upgrades in just a few years, then it makes sense to stick with a proprietary protocol for now and slowly introduce newer technologies in the upgrades.”

LET THE TRANSITION CONTINUE

With AVB products installed and operating, audio networking has crossed a significant threshold. But are we on the verge of a new, AVB-dominant era? “I expect InfoComm this year will reach the boiling point where AVB really takes off,” surmises Matt Czyzewski. “Finally, people will see a range of available hardware. It’s been mostly talk until now, but we’ll really see that ecosystem developing as product hits the market.”

But will AVB’s hardware debut stifle the momentum gained in recent years by the newer Level 3 proprietary protocols, all of which can easily piggyback on existing IP networks? QSC’s Richard Zwiebel thinks not. “Today’s networks incorporate many products that transmit data for video, show control, ticketing, point of sale, and signage, and Q-Lan coexists with all of them. I think we need to keep our eyes wide open. We can create a lot of excitement in our own industry, but that will not do much to influence the large companies that control the network world. The tail does not wag the dog.”



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