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Stadia and the AV experience

Brad Price, senior product marketing manager at Audinate, explores the ever more innovative use of AV technology in stadia around the world and discusses the ways in which it can enhance an audience’s experience...

Brad Price, senior product marketing manager at Audinate, explores the ever more innovative use of AV technology in stadia around the world and discusses the ways in which it can enhance an audience’s experience…

Modern stadia are marvels of scale and technology, providing a platform to entertain, feed, move and accommodate thousands of people. Sophisticated AV installations have become a big part of the stadium experience, supporting everything from jumbo screens over a playing field to concourses filled with live action monitors and audio commentary, to connected broadcast trucks and complex half-time shows that include music and dance.

In this dynamic environment, AV-over-IP systems are finding a home with their ability to rapidly scale and deliver massive channel counts with ease. Networked media distribution is far more flexible than any previous technology, allowing installers to quickly add endpoints to locations and to shift routing on an event-by-event basis with confidence.

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With all this AV firepower, we still need to think about the unthinkable – what happens when an audience needs to be evacuated? How can our AV infrastructure play a useful role? What are the rules?

Stadiums and safety
When developing a security workflow, the entirety of our AV system is considered: audio, video and digital signage. How do we gauge our readiness for emergency situations?

The European EN-54 standards provide an excellent roadmap for determining how to deploy any voice-assist (VA) functionality and are enforced in some of the world’s largest venues. The goal of the EN-54 standards is clear and simple: to ensure there is a system in place that is robust and fault-tolerant that can deliver clearly intelligible information to people during an emergency.

In the past, implementing a VA system often meant installing a bespoke, dedicated, point-to-point analog or digital system that incorporated the required redundant transmission paths and devices. At stadium scale, such a system represents an enormous cost for installation and maintenance, requiring special cabling that must be run over very long distances. Adding endpoints or changing routes is very difficult when compared to the modern AV-over-IP systems that are currently being deployed in stadiums and other large venues.

Fortunately, EN54 doesn’t mandate systems like this. It only requires that the transmission path be fault-tolerant and secure, something that AV-over-IP is more than prepared to deliver.

EN54 and AV-over-IP networks
Networks are entirely suitable under EN54 guidelines and offer a host of advantages over legacy point-to-point analog and digital transmission paths.

Networked audio devices offer different levels of redundancy – a requirement for almost all voice alarm projects. Redundancy can be part of a device, such as the Primary and Secondary network ports on some products, and can be implemented via a network “loop” topology that uses Spanning Tree to quickly switch transmission paths in the event of  a failure.

EN54 requires that any VA system must contain continuous assurance monitoring. Audio networks are easy to monitor via well-established, centralised tools that can provide notifications of changes within seconds.

In addition to monitoring, EN54 demands that a VA system be secure, and defines the following user access levels:

Level 1 – view only

Level 2 – operate

Level 3 – maintain designated areas

Level 4 – completely reconfigure system

These correspond neatly to standard levels of network access as defined by a range of common tools, such as domain manager software.

With AV-over-IP, there is no reasonable limit to scale. A networked system can support hundreds of paging zones and racks located over large sites with ease. This means that any VA system can be extended to suit building expansion and changes over time without tearing out an older system, especially important in very large deployments such as stadia.

Finally, modern networking offers conveniences that make deployment of a VA system easier, such as combined control, audio and power (via PoE) on a single Ethernet cable. This reduces complexity and makes installation and maintenance far easier.

EN54 and the AV-over-IP stack
Not all AV-over-IP technologies are well suited to EN54 deployments. EN54 requires that the system provide visibility and access control, neither of which are part of any network transport standards per se. AV-over-IP ‘solutions’ that consist of little more than a transport layer are not adequate choices for VA systems.

Complete AV-over-IP solutions consist of a ‘stack’ of transport, control, and management tools that work in tandem to provide reliable connectivity that is easily adjusted, monitored and restricted to authorised users. The stack allows sensible workflows and protocols to be developed within organisations responsible for public safety.

Considering and deploying a stadium-level VA system is a big job. It is critical to partner with integrators who understand this type of work and are aware of common pitfalls that arise.

Any networked solution should also be thoroughly understood by the IT department of a facility, so that they can bring their extensive knowledge to bear when questions arise. With the right partners, stadium AV managers can use the same networking technology to deliver exciting audio and video experiences to audiences during a game or show, and to deliver necessary safety messages during an emergency.