AoIP Trend To Dominate NAB Show

Looking back over the past decade or so at the audio product previews released by manufacturers in the months leading up to the AB Show, it’s relatively easy to spot the trends.
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Looking back over the past decade or so at the audio product previews released by manufacturers in the months leading up to the NAB Show, it’s relatively easy to spot the trends. This year, barely a month out from the broadcast industry’s annual Las Vegas convention, the spotlight appears to have turned to audio-over-IP (AoIP) networks.

Support for the many and various flavors of AoIP is becoming more and more commonplace, as demonstrated by the new product releases, from AEQ to Zaxcom, that are promised for this year’s NAB confab. These days, it’s getting harder to find a product that doesn’t support open standards such as AES67 or AVB (Audio Video Bridging); the proprietary but widely licensed and adopted Dante, Livewire or RAVENNA protocols; or more brand-specific schemes such as QSC Audio’s QLAN or Wheatstone’s Wheat- Net-IP, individually or in various combinations.

Similarly, interfaces to, and bridges between, disparate networks as well as transport protocols, such as the ever-popular MADI, are also proliferating. Hand-in-hand with the broad adoption of AoIP networks, as the industry moves toward an increasingly all-digital paradigm, file-based workflows are becoming standard operating procedure.

One significant benefit of AoIP is its channel-carrying capacity compared to other digital transports. MADI, otherwise known as AES10, has enjoyed something of a resurgence since its original publication in 1991, yet taps out at 64 channels. As Phil Owens, head of Eastern U.S. sales for Wheatstone, recently reported in the pages of PSN sister publication TV Technology, “We did a test recently to see how many audio channels we could cram down a Gigabit pipe using our system. The number turned out to be 428. That’s quite an increase in possible functionality.”

Responding to the continuing popularity of MADI, Focusrite will show its new RedNet D64R at NAB. The 64-channel interface bridges MADI and Dante. The company is also showing other problem-solvers: RedNet D16R AES is a 16x16 AES/EBU Dante bridge intended to interface between AES3-equipped equipment and any Dante network, while RedNet HD32R connects Pro Tools|HD via standard Mini DigiLink ports to Dante networks.

Launched in the U.S. at the 2014 AES Convention and making its NAB debut, Yamaha’s RMio64-D also bridges between Dante and MADI. The interface permits bridging between Yamaha CL and QL or other Dante-enabled mixers and MADI, or enables MADI to be input into Dante-equipped systems.

Yamaha and Focusrite’s bridging tools highlight a problem with the many digital audio and data transports, of course: interoperability. Recognizing that various incompatible networking methods were already in existence, in 2011, the AES set up a working group, X-192, to develop a scheme that would allow differing protocols to exchange data. The resulting standard, AES67- 2013, published in September 2013, enables interoperable high-performance streaming AoIP via a bridging compliance mode common to all layer 3 IP networks.

Equipment that is AES67-capable is now starting to be introduced. At NAB, for example, Riedel will show its Tango TNG-200, the company’s first network-based platform to support both AES67/RAVENNA and AVB standards (Tango was first shown publicly in 2014).

AES67 is essentially a subset of the standards already incorporated into Dante, Livewire, Q-LAN and RAVENNA, developers of which were involved in the standard-setting process. Consequently, other products supporting AES67 do exist, and plenty more will follow. In late 2014, for example, an AES Plug- Fest in Germany demonstrated interoperability between 16 products from 10 companies, all of which are also RAVENNA partner companies. The EBU also participated, represented by IRT, Swedish Radio and the BBC. A North American AES67 plugfest, open to members of the SC-02-12-M task group, is reportedly being discussed for May.

Meanwhile, the Telos Alliance companies, which are RAVENNA partners, continue to enjoy a substantial user base for their Livewire network, an “open” technology that was introduced by Axia Audio 12 years ago. More than 70 companies are Livewire partners and, according to best estimates, close to 60,000 Livewire-equipped products are in the field.

For the broadcast community, Livewire, RAVENNA and AES67, as well as WheatNet-IP (Wheatstone’s customers include two of the largest TV groups in the U.S.), represent a clear path forward to more widespread AoIP adoption, according to the member manufacturers. To be sure, AES67 is lacking in certain areas, particularly the exchange of control data, but AES working group X-210, established in late 2012, is developing a standardized protocol based on Open Control Architecture, the open standard communications protocol.

Flying the flag for AES67, the Media Networking Alliance (MNA) launched at the 2014 AES Convention in Los Angeles. The association of manufacturers, currently listed as including Bosch Security Systems, Lawo, QSC, the Telos Alliance and Yamaha—from which companies the steering committee has been drawn—plus ALC NetworX, Archwave, Attero Tech, the BBC, Directout, Focusrite, Genelec, Riedel, Shure and Swedish Radio (Sveriges Radio AB)—is a non-profit cheerleader for the adoption of the new standard.

Membership of the RAVENNA consortium, which was founded in 2010, has continued to expand with the more recent addition of manufacturers including Calrec Audio, Orban and, very recently, Riedel. There are 32 partners listed on the RAVENNA web site.

Digigram’s first RAVENNA product, the LX-IP RAVENNA PCIe sound card, introduced in 2014, is now shipping. Intended for high-density audio production or automation applications in radio and TV broadcast studios, the desktop computer sound card supports 128 bidirectional RAVENNA channels. At NAB 2015, Digigram, one of the first members of the RAVENNA consortium, will introduce a new MADI option for the card that bridges 64 MADI I/O channels into RAVENNA.

Also at NAB this year, GatesAir, which joined the RAVENNA community in June, 2014, will make its first foray into network interoperability with the debut of VMXpress IP. The new RAVENNA device interfaces the company’s VistaMax products with other AES67-compliant audio and data equipment within a facility.

As for AVB, after the first standard was published in 2011, the layer 2 protocol took a little while to build momentum until the first switch was certified by the AVnu Alliance compliance and testing body. AVB now boasts a growing number of certified products from companies mainly outside the broadcast market, including Avid, Biamp, various Harman brands, Meyer Sound and MOTU.