AV Integrators, Don’t Fear the IT Network

Demand for AV over IP solutions means AV integrators must learn something new. The good news is it’s not as daunting as most think.

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It is an indisputable fact that the AV industry is heading down the path where more signals are transported across IP networks. Achieving reliable, high-quality video and audio distribution over the network is now possible with less bandwidth than ever before.

It is also well documented that there are added benefits to transporting those signals through the network. 

Why Converge?

In the traditional way of doing things, if we wanted to transmit a single audio or video signal, a specific cable type would be required to be present for the variety of devices and signal types in the system. Twisted pair for speakers, twisted pair with shield for mic or line level signals, 5-wire for RGBHV signals, coaxial cable, and HDMI all would need to find an independent pathway from the signal point of origin to the display.

The cost of these cable types varies greatly and can be very expensive, particularly if you are forced to purchase by the thousand foot roll. Then there is the labor to pull and terminate all that cabling and wide variety of connectors. The complexity level rises exponentially when different sources are expected to be routed to different destinations dynamically. All this shows that the infrastructure for AV systems can end up being expansive and expensive.

As the industry moves to transporting more audio and video signals over IP, each device can now be treated as an end point on the network, with standard category cables (e.g. Cat 5, Cat 6) and standard network equipment (e.g. switches and routers) in between.

Although different types of audio-visual products sometimes come with different connectivity (like composite video, s-video, component video, SDI, VGA, DVI, DisplayPort, HDMI, stereo audio mini-jacks, etc.), it is possible to convert most—if not all—current baseband signaling into IP streams that work over standard Category (Cat 5, Cat 6, etc.) cables, switches, routers, etc.

What that means is that device outputs can be converted and shared to one or many destinations over greater distances than what can be achieved in their native format. This includes being available wirelessly—at least to some extent.

To process baseband signals for distribution over the network, you’ll need an IP encoder at the source/input and a hardware or software decoder at the display/output. Once the signal is on the network it can be sent anywhere the network allows after that, greatly simplifying cabling. That simplicity is a major benefit for integrators; one that AV over IP can play a role in providing.

Comparing AV over IP to Classic AV Distribution

In their most basic forms, AV over IP solutions are similar to classic AV distribution systems. In the traditional system, each input, such as VGA, HDMI, or audio, would require an independent connection to either a media switcher, audio processor, or some other form of centralized system where it would then be transmitted to the end point devices like displays or speakers.

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