20 SPECIAL REPORT: AUDIO NETWORKING
Looser ties To begin this special report on audio networking, Phil Ward discusses the current state of the art, and discovers how technology developments could bring a future where ‘ﬁxed’ installations become less permanent
udio or data, it doesn’t really matter. The strides made in the control and interoperability of digital audio in distributed, integrated systems in the last few years render most discussions of protocol pre-eminence redundant. But the next phase of this slippery subject is likely to be characterised by a new set of challenges that unhinge any notion of permanence, and that loosen installed sound from its moorings in bricks, mortar or sealing wax. This industry is going to have to prepare itself for the dawning of the Age of The Various. Various what? Apart from various media – networked pro audio is now converging with networked video – it’s the variety of brands available to the picky user that will distinguish successful systems. Open exchange is winning over proprietary protectionism, although ‘proprietary’ is no longer a straightforward notion and choices remain difficult. Most of all, large sections of the industry are getting weary of connectivity being monetised and marketed, when all it should really do is offer easy options.
Latin quarter Ethan Wetzell is platform strategist at Bosch Communications Systems. Of all the job titles that crop up during investigations like this, ‘platform strategist’ has to be the most telling. As well as navigating all of the business lines
across Bosch’s multi-brand compression, Wetzell contributes regularly to the cross-industry initiatives that grapple with this stuff, including the Avnu Alliance, the Media Networking Alliance, the Open Control Architecture Alliance and the AES. Grasping it all is marginally easier than summarising Kierkegaard in Latin, so it helps to establish a strategic view… “The world of ‘installation’ is an interesting Venn diagram in itself,” Wetzell begins. “Nowadays a stadium, for example, can encompass traditional PA/VA, live touring and broadcast, and the question of whether all those applications can share one network can be answered either by ‘yes, but…’ or by ‘no, except…’! I have to look at the whole landscape and divide it into tiers, but overriding all of them is the fact that the customer has to get audio from point A to point B in a way they can manage. Everything else that happens behind the scenes, frankly, shouldn’t be the customer’s problem.” So the manufacturers’ challenge is to put networking aside, despite its persistent convolutions. “At the most granular level is the world of protocols: things like the IEEE 1588 Precision Time Protocol, or the Real-time Transport Protocol,” Wetzell expands. “These can be put together to create standards, recipes for combined protocols like AES67. Fine, but realistically a ‘standard’ by itself doesn’t solve that customer problem; for that you need
Key Points Audio interoperability is now almost guaranteed; the next phase is seamless audio, video and control networking The duty cycle of installed systems is getting shorter, and networking will only shorten these cycles as systems become more modular and mobile AES67 implementation needs to advance beyond multicast to unicast transmission, as recommended by the specification Internet consumer technology will drive upgrades in AV networking Networking should not be marketed competitively; it should be transparent connection management, network discovery and user interfaces. Achieving a standard is not the ultimate goal.” You might think that this is where the proprietary solutions take over, to deliver the customer to that A-to-B nirvana, but Wetzell warns against such glib differentiations. “Proprietary is not an all-or-nothing ‘binary’ dead end,” he says, “where you either talk to everyone or you talk to no one else. That’s not true in many cases, and Dante is a really good example. They’ve kept up with new standards of compatibility, but they’ve implemented them in their own, feature-rich stack: software, connection management, utilities, diagnostics… these are things that the standards could not