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Technology Showcase: Fiber Routers and Matrix Switchers

Mar 1, 2008 12:00 PM, Bennett Liles

Fiber takes signal switching further.

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Extron Electronics Fiber Matrix 6400

Extron Electronics Fiber Matrix 6400

During the past few decades, as audio and video signals have been routed and switched in crossbar frames and matrix units, the capabilities of these components have grown and evolved, along with the connected equipment and the signals passing through. When desktop computers entered broadcast and other video facilities, switching capabilities expanded to include keyboard and mouse control. The evolution continued with the advent of AES, DVI, HDMI, USB 2.0, FireWire, and other new digital video formats, but along with the latest signals came some new limitations on the distance they could travel on copper lines.

The first hardware iterations used with fiber-optic transmission took the form of existing switching units employing external electro-optical conversion between the switching matrix and the fiber lines, but of course, the natural progression was toward direct fiber connection. With fiber adoption rapidly gaining ground, many current matrix switching products are either built exclusively for fiber signal switching or exist as rack units that can be equipped with fiber-connection modules just like their pre-existing copper-interface cards. Now, most of the fiber- matrix switchers available are fully scalable. They can be customized with any combination of interface modules, and they offer optical multicasting and automated script, RS-232, or web-based control and configuration.

AC power backup, security features, and configuration storage and recall are primary factors to consider in these hardware products because they are high-uptime, mission-critical items charged with plant-wide interconnection of audio, video, KVM, and control signals. Load-sharing, redundant, hot-swappable power supplies are common, and automated email notice of power supply failover has become standard, as well. Security features normally include proprietary switching protocols, user-group access rights, and exclusive administrator access to diagnostics and layered control functions. Login requiring user ID and password is a common feature that sets user access levels automatically. Source and destination grouping is easily accomplished, and the information can be stored through a web-based browser interface, a serial connection, or a manufacturer-supplied, configuration-software application with graphical display features and drag-and-drop functionality. With the plethora of video formats and the various limitations these may have in terms of transmission distance and equipment compatibility, the evolution of AV routers and matrix switchers has continued with automatic internal format conversion. This internal conversion, coupled with the physical-interface customization afforded through the use of slide-in transmitter/receiver modules, provides the ultimate in mission-specific configurability.

Available products now range from single rack units suited to relatively light-duty local routing to expandable multirack models handling signals from worldwide operations and incorporating the sophisticated self-test, diagnostic, and total failover features required of high-uptime, heavy-load routing systems. The lines sometimes blur in terminology and market-targeting strategies, but the products listed here have the capability to connect directly through fiber and other types of physical interfaces and switch AV — and, in most cases, other types of signals — through fiber lines in a number of current formats.

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