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Exclusive: Are we entering the era of AV-over-IT?

Liam Hayter, senior solutions architect at NewTek, on the dissolving line between AVoIP and broadcast-over-IP

AV-over-IP and Broadcast over IP are nothing new to any of us these days, but the line between the two is dissolving as we experience a natural progression to a new era of AV-over-IT.  The technical components required for each discipline are crossing over one another, and the main driver is not just network infrastructure in place of traditional baseband connectivity but is in reality software and software is now everywhere – even where you might least expect it from cameras, converters, processing, displays and beyond.

Whilst moving AV to the network has been an undeniably big shift in increasing efficiency and reducing reliance on single-purpose infrastructure, AV end points have remained very traditional, but now the devices and services themselves are increasingly software-defined. And crucially, AV-over-IT, software-defined models, can exist more efficiently across primary network infrastructure and even the public internet.

Endpoint devices such as PTZ cameras and plug-in-entry and exit points like encoders and decoders, for example, maybe viewed as hardware devices – but underneath the casings are software. Driven by the widespread adoption of FPGA (field-programmable gate arrays) which previously would only have delivered slower long-GOP protocols for web delivery now being repurposed to deliver broadcast-quality, low latency software-defined protocols to the network.

The approach of software in hardware to facilitate content creation and delivery is something we at NewTek have been doing since our inception, and we now see our technologies and solutions being used in both broadcast, AV, and anywhere in between. When we started producing software, we found we had to ‘put it in a box’ to make industries buy into the idea – but if anything, the world has now caught up with us, and rest assured we aren’t slowing down.

While AV-over-IP is the trend that has sparked the adoption of software-defined solutions, we are beginning to see a shift beyond AV-over-IP to complete AV-over-IT. AV-over-IT is about complete delivery of audio and visual experiences through entirely software-defined workflows on computers through standard networks.

Crucially, AV-over-IT does not necessarily mean jettisoning the AV already in place, by its very nature software can meet hardware to enable new ways of working, collaborating, and delivering true hybrid systems. The reverse is also true as in an AV-over-IT world, you can also bring the devices you already have, your phones, tablets, and computers – even your home broadband.

AV-over-IT brings ‘commercial off the shelf’ sharply into the spotlight when all that’s required to enable a device to become an AV or broadcast device is simply easily accessible software.

Once the devices your users have are effortlessly enabled as AV end points, we no longer must think of an AV space as a closed environment – what if the software on your device can talk to any other piece of compatible software, anywhere else on the IP network?

What about when that user wants to work from home, but still contribute to an AV or Broadcast event? What then if that user experience remains the same on the public internet as much as in the meeting room?

It’s here we should really start considering distributed AV in much the same way as broadcasters describe remote production.

Distributed models are about much more than moving things to the cloud. Instead, they are about placing endpoints such as PTZ cameras and microphones where they’re required geographically, while also providing two-way control and feedback for a richer remote experience.

This can be achieved without having to replicate core processing at every location, enabling collaborative, interactive content creation and distribution in a more cost-effective and energy-efficient way. We’ve already introduced the toolkit to permit this – throughout the NewTek TriCaster line and ecosystem, partnered with NDI Bridge and software IP protocol NDI 5.

With these capabilities, we are pushing what was previously thought possible in content creation and delivery. NDI Bridge provides purely software-defined encrypted gateways that easily and swiftly allow connectivity over Wide Area Networks (WANs) and even public internet. Once enabled, AV-over-IP feeds and AV-Over-IT devices can be shared peer-to-peer as though they were in front of you – not just to send and receive AV, but control like KVM or metadata for commands.

AV-over-IT workflows achieve cooperative, collaborative events between not just individual spaces, but across buildings, campuses, establishing a global AV footprint – it connects home workers, meeting rooms, auditoriums, remote and local learners, guest presenters and more.

In turn, AV departments and IT/networking teams can dynamically pivot to remote workflows, whilst also amplifying the experience of remote colleagues and cohorts to create and deliver impactful media environments.

AV-over-IT approaches allow the industry to take the rapidly learned skills to see us through and deliver a future for a space between AV and Broadcast to keep communicating, keep creating, and keep entertaining whatever the world has in store.