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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

“We do find that there are a large percentage of integrators that lack the knowledge and the experience when it comes to networking, particularly in converged, enterprise environments,” he says. “When we’re part of the bid-evaluation process, we actively request they indicate the amount and level of knowledge and experience they have with networks. We look for red flags. We don’t want one of these projects to be [an integrator’s] first networking project.”

Joe Patten, an associate at Communications Design Associates, a consultancy in the Boston area, says networked audio is an integral part of virtually all of his designs now, such as the Tsai Center at Boston University, completed last year using a Dante system and Symetrix DSP.

“Everyone wants simplicity, they want it all to work right out of the box. Some networks need very specific kinds of switches, and there is the constant need to make sure the firmware is current.”                    —Jim Maltese, Audio Video Resources

However, on more than a few projects he says he still has to lead integrators through the curtain toward the concept of networked audio. He suggests that some of that reluctance can be traced back to what were traumatic experiences with CobraNet, the first widely used networking platform but one that was dogged by latency and other performance issues.

“Today, with platforms like Dante, the cost savings and efficiencies you get with networked audio versus analog cabling are too considerable to not use it,” he says.

Another consultant, Garth Hemphill, an associate principal of audio/video at Jaffe Holden’s Houston office, concurs that client uptake for networking has been steadily climbing, particularly in the theater/auditorium/performing arts center vertical they often work in. However, he also agrees that many AV systems integrators are not fully up to speed on networking technology, but that as a group they are making rapid progress.

However, he adds, two stumbling blocks are actually developments that were intended to accelerate the progress of networked audio: AVB and AES67. The former, intended to address synchronization and latency issues in networking, requires specialized switches that are expensive compared to the off-the-shelf Cisco-type switches that Dante and other protocols can use, he says, and those switches are available only through a very limited channel of manufacturers.

In addition, he feels that the AVnu Alliance, AVB’s marketing body, puts less emphasis on pro AV than it does larger automotive and consumer markets, thus slowing its development there.

In regards to AES67, an interoperability standard that is said to allow different proprietary network protocols to communicate with each other, Hemphill says its lack of a discovery function, allowing nodes on a network to be automatically detected, significantly diminishes its functionality.

“We choose not to use AES67 and simply go with Dante,” he says. “But if AES67 could deliver everything it promised, there’d be more choices available.” What’s clear is that, as inevitable as the concept has seemed to become, audio networking is still in a nascent stage, at least as far as AV integrators are concerned.

“What’s amazing is what you can now do with a single cable,” says Maltese. “At the same time, it’s an entirely new architecture that you have to wrap your head around. It’s simple and it’s complicated at the same time.”

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