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Networking for AV Integrators—Are They Getting It?

While the current generation of network systems has brought a number of improvements that make them friendlier to AV systems integrators, the industry is still in a transitional era, and there is plenty to be learned.

Dan Daley

More insidious, he notes, is that integrators are at the mercy of how manufacturers choose to implement these protocols and what interfaces are available to the users. “So AVB in Manufacturer X’s box might not have all the bells and whistles as AVB in Manufacturer Y’s box, or even the same type of bells and whistles,” Maltese says.

“That’s where something like Q-Sys might enjoy an advantage, because it only has to deal with one manufacturer.” Again, as a result of where we’re at in the timeline of networking, AV integrator clients seem to fall into two broad categories on the topic: oblivious or nervous.

The latter cohort includes IT-savvy customers who voice concerns about the need for a diverse array of switches that some projects require. That’s what Maltese says he ran up against on the project that had to marry Dante- and AVB-oriented platforms. “Other clients just take the attitude, ‘Whatever you have to do to make it work,'” he says.

As a result, he may have opinions about one network type or another but at the end of the day he has to remain brand agnostic. “You just have to stay very aware about switch requirements and firmware updates.”

The AVnu Alliance, the standards and marketing organization formed by AVB’s adherents, acknowledges that that standard is widely perceived as lagging the market, par-ticularly when compared with Dante.

The group’s website lists six companies offering about as many products that have achieved certification, with close to 70 derivative versions of those products also listed. (Cisco announced, at the TSNA — Time Sensitive Networks and Applications — event in San Jose in mid-April, that its Nexus 7000 Platform switches will have AVB support.)

Against Dante’s 280-plus licensees and 725 products, it can look like a lopsided comparison. However, Greg Schlechter, AVnu marketing workgroup chair and board member, says it’s not an accurate comparison, positing AVB as a set of standards and Dante as a productized protocol.

“It’s apples and oranges,” he says. “AVB is a toolset being used to create an ecosystem. It takes time to certify a product and make certain it works under all anticipated circumstances.”

Schlechter says it’s still early on in the audio-networking timeline, and that declaring a winner now is like calling a long-distance race based on the first 100-yard sprint.

“It’s a licensing model versus a certification model,” he says. “The AVnu Alliance isn’t a company; it’s an alliance of companies working towards a certified ecosystem. This is how this kind of market has to evolve.”

In-House IT Helps

A long-overdue upgrade to the audio systems at the Colorado State Capital was the first large-scale deployment of a Dante audio network for Denver area-based Logic Integration.

It’s a project that connected over a dozen rooms and chambers with a state-mandated recording system and included Crestron control, Lectrosonics and Biamp DSP, Shure RF-shielded gooseneck microphones, JBL speakers and Sharp flat-panel displays, and that also included some AVB, to accommodate the Biamp equipment.

While fiber and DSP now coexist in the facility along with POTS and Cat-3 cabling, Byron Ashby, Logic Integration’s commercial projects manager, says the legislature has its own IT department, which made proposing a digital audio network much easier.

“Their IT department tends to stay at the cusp of things, so they had already created their own AV network,” he recalls. That’s not the case with many other projects, particularly at lower budget levels, Ashby’s finding.

“The cost of integrating a digital audio network can bump up the overall cost significantly at this point,” he says. “Not every customer can justify it on a cost-benefit basis.” That said, Ashby says the use of Dante and other networks will likely increase as prices come down, driven by Moore’s Law and increasing competition.

Logic Integration technicians have recently trained on QSC’s Q-Sys network platform, adding to the range of options they can offer clients. That also supports what he feels will be a landscape of multiple network formats in the future.

MORE: 10 Things You Need to Know About AVB”At some point, customers will be doing their own research and deciding on preferences for networks, as they now do with other components in a system,” he says. “We need to be ready to adapt to that.”

Continuing Education Warranted

AV consultants have a unique perspective on audio networking. Many have embraced it and increasingly evangelize it, to clients and integrators, as a cost-effective (in the long run, at least) and efficient way to move audio along with other data.

Gonzalo Rodriguez, a lead AV consultant at CallisonRTKL in Baltimore, says he’s seen a steady increase in the number of clients agreeing to implement audio networking in new and upgraded AV systems.

“When we present it to the CIOs and CEOs, to people who can understand the advantages of leveraging an existing IT infrastructure to add audio without adding infrastructure, they get it,” he says.

However, it’s not as simple to find AV systems integrators who are up for the task of integrating those systems for the complex government, corporate and hospitality projects they work on.