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Digital Audio Network Standards Mature

With the publication of the Audio Engineering Society’s AES67 standard in 2013, and the update in 2015, interoperability between manufacturer-specific audio-over-IP protocols started to become a reality in vertical markets such as live sound, recording and installed sound.

LAS VEGAS, NV—With the publication of the Audio Engineering Society’s AES67 standard in 2013, and the update in 2015, interoperability between manufacturer-specific audio-over-IP protocols started to become a reality in vertical markets such as live sound, recording and installed sound. Now, with the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers’ ST 2110 suite of standards reportedly well on its way to publication, the broadcast market appears likely to also adopt AES67.

ST 2110 defines the transport and synchronization of audio and video streams over IP. Unlike SDI, in which audio may be embedded with (and subsequently de-embedded from) the video stream, 2110 specifies that audio and video essences travel separately. The specification adopts the Video Services Forum’s technical recommendation TR-03, which includes AES67 as the transport for audio essences.

Perhaps the biggest booster for TR-03 has been AIMS, the Alliance for IP Media Solutions, a non-profit trade alliance promoting open standards to enable the transition from legacy SDI systems to IP-based transports. AIMS joined the Media Networking Alliance (MNA), Audio Engineering Society (AES), the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), IABM (the international trade association for suppliers of broadcast and media technology), SMPTE and the Video Services Forum (VSF) at the 2017 NAB Show to present an IP Showcase. The pavilion demonstrated interoperability of four parts of ST 2110—video, audio, control and metadata—between products from about 40 manufacturers.

“We recognize that with the TV market moving towards an IP future, it’s kind of scary for a lot of broadcasters and engineers out there,” says Martin Dyster, VP, Business Development—TV for the Telos Alliance. “They’ve grown up with SDI, AES, analog and MADI. Now they’re seeing what they perceive as a new technology coming along. But we can say it isn’t new, and we can bring a level of expertise that perhaps some of our competitors haven’t realized yet.”

As he elaborates, “We were the very first company to come out with a Layer 3 AoIP protocol, back in 2003.” There are now more than 7,000 studios and 70,000 installed devices compatible with the company’s Livewire and fully AES67-compliant Livewire+ protocol, he reports, with 120 development partners building compatible products.

“With the imminent arrival of the new SMPTE ST-2110 media-over-IP standard, which dictates AES67 as the audio stream protocol, we feel that we’re in a unique position to go to the market,” he notes. “It’s not a baseless claim that we are one of the leaders in audio-over-IP, and arguably one of the best-kept secrets in TV.” To address the market, the Telos Alliance has created a TV Solutions Group, and at the 2017 NAB Show, presented several educational sessions focusing on AES67.

Of the many and various manufacturer- specific protocols that have emerged over recent years, Audinate’s Dante is, of course, the 800-pound gorilla. The company recently announced that there are now 1,000 Dante-capable products in the market, with more than 350 manufacturers signed up as licensees.

The company’s growth continues unabated, according to Josh Rush, Audinate’s VP of Marketing. “We’re on pace to sign as many licensees as last year, many even a few more,” he reports. “I think we were at 600 products a year ago.”

In the days before the NAB Show, Audinate announced the immediate availability of its new Dante Broadway networking chip. Available in 8×8 and 16×16 channel versions, it offers OEMs a compact solution for adding Dante audio networking to products such as small mixers, power amplifiers, DSPs, hardware interfaces and conferencing solutions.

As broadcasters are now realizing, IP networks require AV and IT staff to work together. IT managers rely on network management software to set up devices in different domains, assign access and privileges, and monitor performance, says Rush. “Dante Domain Manager is essentially that concept, packaged for Dante. The plan is for it to be commercially available in the fall.”

The server-based software includes features requested by IT managers, he says, including security and access privileges, and cross-subnet routing. The latter feature will enable Dante-capable devices currently on separate local area networks—say, in separate buildings across a campus—to be combined into a domain, which can be scaled up or down as required, and allow audio to be routed between the different LANs.

Leveraging the capabilities of AoIP networking, several broadcast audio mixing console manufacturers have introduced products over the past year or so that support what is being called at-home production. The next logical step in remote production, the at-home workflow—whereby audio from a remote event is routed over an IP network to the home studio for either mixing and broadcast, or recording and subsequent post production—is being supported by products from companies including Calrec, Lawo, SSL and Wheatstone.

“We’ve been able to do that for some time, with codecs like the Telos xNodes and Z/IP One,” says Dyster. “But now that networks are becoming faster and more reliable, you can use AES67 directly over WAN, especially with products that support unicast mode.”

“We’ve got one customer doing that with the commentary booths in the English Premier [soccer] League, routing back to their central intercom system. They’ve been doing that for a couple of years.”