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Plenty of food for thought at AVNetworks 2010

Held by Installation Europe and Pro Sound News Europe on the last day of PLASA 2010, the AVNetworks 2010 conference discussed numerous issues related to the use of networking in the world of AV.

The world of IT is encroaching fast on the world of AV – in terms of both technology and understanding. That was one of the key messages from the inaugural AVNetworks conference, hosted by Installation Europe and Pro Sound News Europe, which took place on 15 September at the Earls Court Conference Centre.

IT people are becoming increasingly familiar with, and more comfortable working with, audio and video equipment. As conference chairman Roland Hemming put it, “We can no longer mystify these people with our voodoo audio stuff because they know about it as well now – they know what they’re buying and they know that it’s a form of IT equipment.”

This point was borne out by the keynote presentation by Marthinus Bester, IT manager at Cape Town Stadium in South Africa, who described some of the challenges posed in preparing the AV networks there for this year’s FIFA World Cup. Hemming commented afterwards: “IT manager used to mean IT manager. Now you have a guy standing up talking about DSP, line arrays, decibels and acoustics.”

Presentations by Mike Allan of Exterity and Matt Richards of Intellimedia highlighted two of the key differences between networking video and audio. Video networking enjoys a high degree of interoperability between different manufacturers’ equipment because of open standards; but on the downside, latencies that are typically hundreds of milliseconds, and which by definition can’t be less than the time taken to generate a frame, are not generally something that audio networkers have to deal with.

The vexed issue of audio protocols was discussed by a panel of manufacturers, including representatives from MediaMatrix and Meyer Sound, two of the event’s sponsors. It became clear that there is still a lot of work to be done before AVB moves into the mainstream. Not only do all the partners in the AVnu Alliance have to agree the standard before it can be ratified, there is also a need for AVB-compatible network switches to become widely available – and accepted.

A panel representing end users discussed what they wanted to get from AV networks. While they subscribed to the benefits generally, cited for networks, they attached greater importance to the getting physical infrastructure in the venue right than to worrying too much about audio protocols. However, Ed Jackson from the Academy Group mentioned that analogue audio provides a useful lowest common denominator when different digital systems won’t otherwise communicate.

The other event sponsors were Aviom, which presented a networking case study from an American college, and Riedel.

There will be a more detailed report from AVNetworks 2010 in the October issue of Installation Europe.