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AV over IP – future developments

In which areas are we likely to see AV over IP develop? Following his look at the advantages of the technology and the need for education and training, Ian McMurray looks at codecs, switches and more.

Myles Carter, media relations manager at Matrox, stresses that the arrival of IP has been an evolution, not a revolution. “The convergence of data, voice, and video over the same infrastructure has been steadily increasing for years,” he believes. “The only thing that continues improving is the ability to achieve the performance, quality and reliability that are expected in traditional hard-wired AV. However, in addition to convergence, the substantial increase in delivery and reach for AV applications has opened up revenue streams, productivity, use cases and benefits that simply could never be achieved before.”

And, of course, no discussion of moving video over an IP network would be complete without mentioning the key role played by codecs.

“The compression technologies available today are highly advanced and provide excellent video performance, which is allowing us to now deliver high-resolution video over standard network technology,” says Shaun Robinson, director of product and solutions at Harman Enterprise, “providing flexibility and familiarity to our IT end customers.”

New technology, rapidly falling prices, end-user demand and marketing are behind the increased adoption of AV over IP. One of the wonders of IP is how it has continually morphed and adapted in order to rise to new challenges – a phenomenon well illustrated by the broadcast industry. So far as the AV industry is concerned, it will continue to do so.

“Network switches are going to continue to expand in terms of bandwidth capability, while at the same time falling in price on a per-port basis,” believes Chris Scurto, vice president, marketing and North American sales at ZeeVee. “Control systems will be another very interesting place to watch. Control programmers are just beginning to scratch the surface of what AVoIP is capable of doing in terms of flexibility, power, and scale. Another area that will continue to rapidly evolve will be the continued expansion of AV in the corporate world. Video will be driven deeper into the organisation as organisations begin to realise how superior it is as a communications tool. This will bring an entirely new wave of innovation to the industry and because it will be IP-based, development will happen very rapidly. It will not be controlled by a few companies, but rather by an entire industry.”

Focus on codecs
While we wait for those new switches to come on stream and become affordable, we’re likely to see ongoing focus on the codecs that help minimise bandwidth consumption. “I expect we’ll see continued enhancements to compression technologies to take us to even higher resolutions than 4K,” says Robinson. Matrox’s Carter sees things similarly.

Jason Fitzgerald, product manager at Gefen, wonders whether one of the developments we’ll see will come somewhat from left field. “The next major development may come from an unexpected source,” he muses. “AVoIP needs to function like HDMI or other true standards, allowing any AVoIP product to work seamlessly with another, regardless of the manufacturer – much like HDBaseT 2.0 is doing on more of a one-to-one basis. Perhaps Valens Semiconductor will be able to do it again.”

HDBaseT is based on a proprietary pulse amplitude modulation scheme that requires chipsets manufactured by Valens Semiconductor. HDBaseT signals cannot presently be delivered via conventional network switches.

“Our industry has finally evolved through analogue, digital, IP, and now on to the final stage: the platform,” enthuses Justin Kennington, director of strategic and technical marketing at AptoVision and president of the SDVoE Alliance. “The true mission of the SDVoE Alliance is to create a standard development platform upon which programmers, integrators, designers and manufacturers can build software to turn products into experiences. Just as the engineers of the iPhone didn’t invent or predict Uber, I know that soon we will start to see applications built on the SDVoE platform that none of us have yet conceived. It is a very exciting time for AV over IP and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Good for the industry
There can be little doubt that IP brings huge benefits in terms of flexibility, versatility, scalability and sheer performance – and, ultimately, that has to be good for the AV industry. There are still challenges to overcome, however, in the AV world. First, it represents a potentially steep learning curve – for manufacturers, end-users and integrators alike. Second: in an IP world, solution differentiation becomes increasingly challenging: new ways have to be found of creating and maintaining competitive advantage. And third: in an industry that has long prided itself on low-latency, pristine images, AVoIP still has a little way to go. However: 10Gb Ethernet is pretty much with us, 40Gb Ethernet will soon be more affordable – and 100Gb Ethernet isn’t far away. Those higher speeds will almost certainly see a reduction in the need for the codecs, which, good as they are, can impact both image quality and latency. Despite those challenges, however, it seems reasonable to conclude that AVoIP’s time has come. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll have forgotten there was any other way of doing things.