Harman Pro aims for plug-and-play audio with its newly released connectivity and control protocol.
In mid-January, audio giant Harman Pro brought more than 400 audio industry luminaries together, including members of its international sales force as well as consultants, contractors, and members of the industry trade press, to let them in on more than a little secret that's been five years in the making. Betting that AV professionals are fed up with having to learn multiple applications to set up and manage audio installations, the company unveiled a new technology called HiQnet. A connectivity and control protocol that works with any Harman product, HiQnet makes all components manageable through a single PC-based application, Harman Pro System Architect.
Because the pro audio industry currently has so few standards, time will have to tell what kind of reception HiQnet gets from the marketplace. For now, there's no question the company has a lot riding on it.
Touting HiQnet as the most significant new technology introduction in its history, Mark Terry, president of the Harman Pro Group, made it clear that this is not just some science project. “Every acquisition has been driven by this vision, every research effort influenced by it, and every product development informed by it,” he said in a recent press release.
Calling it the “tipping point” that will enable Harman to achieve a multi-brand strategy, HiQnet enables true integration of seven brands through a networking solution that promises to facilitate an “all-Harman” solution.
“It's not uncommon now at a typical job site that if you're using a lot of different digital products, you're using four or five different computer programs,” says Rick Kreifeldt, vice president of the System Development and Integration Group at Harman Pro, based in Salt Lake City. “I've seen as many as seven. They're trying to hop between them. You have to remember which commands to do in each product. It's a heck of a lot of stuff to learn.”
With HiQnet, audio professionals have to learn only a single application to configure, manage, and troubleshoot products such as mics, mixing consoles, and loudspeakers — provided they're all from the Harman family of products and outfitted with support for HiQnet. Other features include:
- The ability to create a configuration and then apply those settings to all products in the system.
- All products report events and errors to a central log file.
- Support for a variety of connection types, including Ethernet, serial, and USB.
- Compatibility with Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), a networking standard widely used in homes and enterprises.
- The ability to copy and paste parameters from one product to another.
- Consoles, such as the Studer Vista 8, have a configurable cue list, enabling recall of presets on all connected products.
- JBL speaker DSP tuning files can be loaded into other products to ensure consistency.
Although HiQnet is designed for pro applications, its basic concept is borrowed from the consumer world. “The consumer model that we're aiming for is home networking,” Kreifeldt says. “Four or five years ago, it was a daunting task to network a few computers. Now it's pretty trivial to go through some wizards and set it up.”
In an effort to duplicate that ease, Harman made HiQnet compatible with UPnP, an architecture that fosters interoperability. Backed by more than 700 manufacturers of products such as computers, consumer electronics, and home security, UPnP is a network- and operating system-agnostic framework that enables peer-to-peer connections between devices. (More information about UPnP is available at www.upnp.org.) “All of our products adhere to those standards,” Kreifeldt says.Out-of-box experience
HiQnet aims to streamline the installation process by eliminating the need to configure the network settings in each product. With HiQnet, Harman says, integrators simply unbox the products, attach them to the network, plug in a laptop or tablet PC, and within a few seconds have control over every product. For example, a system-wide preset can be used to configure or reconfigure all HiQnet products at once.
HiQnet is designed to work with a variety of network designs, such as subnets, and security measures including firewalls. It also scales up to work with systems using dozens of boxes. A major asset is the ability to sense the connection types used in an audio system. Harman says it enabled that intelligence by creating drivers that work with any standardized network protocol, including Ethernet, serial, and USB.