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Programming Simplified?

Dec 1, 2009 12:27 PM, From Harman

The AVB standard enables a new approach to network configuration and control.

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AVB Simplifies Network Architectures

Harman has been one of several leading networking and AV equipment manufacturers contributing to AVB development. The company’s newly released HiQnet System Architect version 2.0 combines advantages of the AVB transport standard with HiQnet’s networking and configuration protocol; an intuitive GUI allows programmers to build an intelligent system based on indicating factors such as function, system application, and system sophistication.

Audio Video Bridge (AVB)—an IEEE initiative to determine standards-based Ethernet for multichannel audio and video transport—has gained considerable momentum in the systems integration community. Nearing ratification as an IEEE protocol, AVB is unique from other failed standards in four critical ways. First, AVB is open and not proprietary to any one manufacturer; the AVB 802.1 Task Group involves engineers and executives from professional audio companies, semiconductor companies, network computing firms, and consumer electronics manufacturers. This openness ensures contractors, consultants, and new manufacturers can deploy AVB solutions today with the confidence that their own roadmaps will not lead to dead ends. Second, because AVB involves participants from many markets—some much larger than the pro AV market—volume efficiencies exist and the cost per node is radically more accessible than the current alternatives. Third, AVB is gaining traction because it enables plug-and-play Ethernet connectivity. This promises not only to simplify systems integration but also to grow the available markets for systems integrators. Now professional-grade multichannel AV systems can be affordably deployed in more applications than ever before—distance learning, conferencing, digital signage, and telemedicine are just a few examples.

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Being cost-effective, open, and easily deployable makes AVB a compelling standard for audio transport, but the fact that it is an audio-video transport is what is making it a mainstream pro AV standard. Together, these four important points made AVB the most talked about development at InfoComm, where it warranted its own pavilion.

Harman has been one of several leading networking and AV equipment manufacturers contributing to AVB development since the formation of the first AVB Working Group by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in July 2005. Robert Boatright, director of research Harman Corporate Technology Group (CTG), leads the AVB Transport Protocol committee (IEEE 1722), and Dave Olsen, principal engineer from Harman’s CTG, is editor of the IEEE 1722 standard. Craig Gunther, principal engineer from Harman CTG, serves as editor of the AVB Stream Reservation Protocol, IEEE 802.1Qat. From this vantage point, Harman saw early on that in addition to the overarching benefits, AVB provided a unique opportunity—the opportunity to develop a standards-based universal programming protocol that would address one of the biggest frustrations and costs of pro AV integration: network configuration and control.

Like many in the industry, Harman had already been chasing this holy grail. In January 2004, the company released version 1.0 of HiQnet. The overarching configuration and control protocol provided immediate benefits, primarily the standardization of system configuration and control. It also set the baseline for scalable development that would be furthered in version 2.0 (now out) and beyond.

Now, together with AVB, HiQnet System Architect provides the integration community with a new level of standardization and control. That System Architect has been evolved through numerous iterations is in itself an indicator of Harman’s long-range commitment to the control protocol. However, if the integrator reaction at InfoComm is anything to go by, it will be the custom GUI panels and standardized programming that generate most plaudits. (Recent studies estimate programming time on major projects to be in the region of 30 percent to 40 percent of hard costs.)

“A typical stadium audio network design, for example, will have several hundred user-operated and other panels that need to be created, with at least a half-hour to create each panel and sometimes considerably longer,” says Adam Holladay, market manager for Harman International’s System Development and Integration Group. “The trend for tools for designing these systems has become increasingly complicated on the software side, which means that even as hardware costs have come down, programming costs—in terms of time needed to configure the software for functions like control panel creation, network audio routing, and so on—have been increasing. In fact, often raising the total cost of the system.”

Holladay cites a case study done by Harman, commissioning a system comprised of 368 panels, of which 250 would be master panels and 118 were to be user panels, each of which would have to be recreated for each new job. But a closer analysis of the project revealed that the 368 panels only really addressed 15 discrete system functions—functions that would also need to be repeated from one project to the next. These included requirements such as cluster tuning, system navigation and panel launch shortcuts, and system-wide monitoring. “Reducing the time required to get the system designer to these goals and eliminate his repeating work from one system to the next is what needed to change,” he says.

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