A recent survey co-organised by Installation suggests that audio networking is still only finding its way into a minority of installations. David Davies asks leading vendors about the factors they think are currently holding back networking in the built environment – and what steps can be taken to increase the rate of adoption.
The survey of leading sound engineers and hire companies contained in the annual PSNLive supplement produced by sister magazine PSNEurope has consistently revealed what might most kindly be described as a fluctuating outlook on the topic of audio networking. While this year’s results did witness a surge in the number of respondents expecting it to impact significantly on their workflows, previous years have revealed sharply contrasting views about specific applications and technologies.
But if this survey only offered a ‘surface’ overview, a new investigation initiated by Installation in partnership with Dante media networking specialist Audinate and Roland Hemming’s RH Consulting offers a far more in-depth investigation. A full report on the results can be found in the August 2015 issue of Installation and online at http://bit.ly/1K7c23N, but several results stand out and bear repeating: for example, among those surveyed less than 50% of their projects during the last 12 months used audio networking. Meanwhile, client requests – rather than the inherent short- and long-term benefits – were determined to be the greatest single factor that would prompt those not using audio networking to make the switch.
That’s not to say the survey doesn’t contain many positive responses – a project sector question reveals an encouraging spread of projects ranging from education to theatre to houses of worship – and there is plenty of good news for Audinate, whose Dante technology’s market profile looks evermore secure with each passing month. But important concerns about the rate of adoption do remain, so Installation decided to speak to vendors about the reasons they feel networking is currently falling short of expectations – and whether this is something that can be resolved anytime soon.
Although emphases among manufacturers’ responses are the subject of variation, many concur that there are several primary factors currently providing a barrier to wider implementation of audio networking – chiefly perceived complexity and insufficient background knowledge and awareness.
“IP networks have been capable of carrying high-quality, low latency audio for many years, but it seems that fear caused by a lack of understanding has held people back,” says Pieter Schillebeeckx, product director at TSL Products. “The fear of precious audio packets sharing the same network as internet traffic – a highly unlikely scenario in the real world – has slowed widespread adaptation. Confidence levels, however, have started to rise as evermore audio-over-IP-based products are becoming available.”
Frank Frederiksen, managing director of Barix, also highlights the fear of the unknown alongside the cost of bringing networking to older installations. “If an older analogue system is already installed, it is likely too expensive to redo all wiring for IP if the system features do not absolutely require an IP system,” he says. “[In addition], IP systems are still viewed to some degree as a bit exotic and complex by many, which is likely scaring some away.”
Like many others interviewed for this piece, Trevor Donarski – product line manager, software and tools for Bose Professional – believes things are slowly moving in the direction of networked audio, but identifies two primary schools of thought in the industry at this time. “There are those who have done jobs with networked audio and are comfortable [with it] and know that it’s simple, flexible and makes the job easier to upgrade – and then there are those waiting on the sidelines who think it’s too complicated or, even worse, not ready for prime-time due to incompatible standards.”
For Donarski and many others, availability of training and the passage of time are likely to be fundamental factors in affecting widespread change. As to quite how much time will be needed… well, that old adage about pieces of string does spring inescapably to mind.