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Putting together the IP puzzle: AV systems integration and IP networks

We’re witnessing the convergence of networking technologies, developed within and aimed at completely different application segments. João Martins advocates open standards

We’re witnessing the convergence of networking technologies, developed within and aimed at completely different application segments. João Martins advocates open standards as the next step

The fast pace at which companies in the media industry are putting together the pieces of the IP puzzle, while quickly improving on the much-needed industry standards, is indicative of a major industry shift.

The evolution and convergence of previously unrelated IT and consumer technologies, from pure data transmission, to wireless streaming on WiFi and Bluetooth, caused a major impact on both consumer and professional applications, at different levels. In the same way, the recent transition to an all-IP infrastructure has clearly transformative implications in how consumer and professional media applications will evolve in the near future. Wireless technologies will expand further for consumer and personal uses, while wired networking over IP will create the core infrastructure for most major professional applications, including AV.

With a little help from my friends

The transition to audio networking began with a series of incompatible protocols and implementations, until new interoperable industry standards were created. Just as happened with audio, the rest of the media industry is now following a standards-based approach to complete the transition to IP solutions. We are moving away from proprietary or restricted uses of the network physical layer and infrastructures. In the audio industry, the adoption of the AES67 audio interchange standard was the first step. Of course, the video side of things involves a much complex equation but, at the same time, it recognises the validity of previous efforts on audio. Not the least of which is the way AES67 ‘bridged’ existing protocols, such as Dante, Ravenna, and even AVB, and now bridges new SMPTE standards.

From previous audio-centric forums, such as the Media Networking Alliance (MNA) or the Avnu Alliance, the audio industry is now joining the work of the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS), or the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA). These bodies are creating open specifications for complete networked media workflows – carrying video, audio, synchronisation control and file transfer. The complexity of the ongoing work is simply too vast to describe here, but the important thing is how virtually everyone is onboard. More and more companies are joining the effort, and ‘vendor neutral’ IP-deployments are already happening around the globe.

Come together

In 2017, the SMPTE published the first of four documents of the ST 2110 Standards Suite for Professional Media Over Managed IP Networks. These are the standards that specify the carriage, synchronisation and description of separate elementary essence streams over professional IP networks in real time, for the purposes of live production, playout, and other professional media applications.

The news of the merger between AIMS and the MNA (until now focused on the AES67 audio standard) to form a single trade association for promoting IP in the media and entertainment industry is interesting. It’s indicative of the need to support IP interoperability standards across a larger cross-section of the industries these organisations serve. This includes broadcast, professional audio, pro AV and installation markets.

I believe that the evolution towards integrated IP networked systems will have a fundamentally different impact for all these industries and application segments than previous technology shifts. While at the end-points we will maintain compatibility with existing connectivity, from HDMI to SDI and even analogue signals, within the systems, there will be no more advantage whatsoever in keeping things proprietary. That includes point to multipoint applications, typical of AV.

The SMPTE ST 2110 suite of standards will still need work. However, as SMPTE reinforces, the advantages of shifting to IP are reflected in completely new and transformative workflows and virtualised access. This is based on a common data infrastructure, and being able to move signals in any architecture required by the application, at any scale level, with widespread signal transport interoperability.

As audio over IP taught us, IP needs interoperable solutions based on widely accepted standards. This is valid for all application segments, including AV systems integration, which is at the intersection of consumer and professional interfaces but will benefit from common video, audio and metadata transport/physical layers.