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AoIP Makes Inroads Into Broadcast

By Steve Harvey. Various verticals in the pro AV market jumped onboard the audio over IP bandwagon a considerable time ago, but while the broadcast business is now open to the adoption of AoIP networks, it’s not going to flip a switch and change overnight.

Las Vegas, NV—“In the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve gone past ‘IP is the next big thing’ to ‘How do we make it all work together?’ And how do we get from where we are now to the dream?” says David Letson, Calrec’s vice president of sales.

Various verticals in the pro AV market jumped onboard the audio over IP bandwagon a considerable time ago, but while the broadcast business is now open to the adoption of AoIP networks, it’s not going to flip a switch and change overnight. As a result, says Letson, Calrec is moving its products to AoIP while also enabling customers to bridge existing and new products. “No one so far has adopted a system-wide network. It’s not practical to replace everything at once; you’ve got to transition slowly.”

One example is Calrec’s ImPulse core, which launched at IBC last September and offers an upgrade to existing consoles. “We take away the old core, put in the new one and they have an IP-based system,” says Letson.

“It’s hard to find a new piece of gear for broadcast that does not have one or more IP interfaces and protocol support,” says John Schur, president, TV Solutions Group, the Telos Alliance. AoIP has settled on AES67 for interoperability, but control protocols have not converged on any single standard. While the AES70 architecture is being better defined, he says, there are likely to be multiple control protocols in use. Consequently, “There are also a growing number of IP interface products that bridge between AoIP formats and various control protocols,” he says.

Related: AES67, AVB/TSN, Dante Power AoIP’s Rise, by Steve Harvey, May 25, 2018

Mobile broadcast companies integrated Focusrite’s RedNet interfaces early in the AoIP transition, according to Rich Nevens, vice president of global sales and marketing, Focusrite Pro. Now, AES67 capabilities in broadcast consoles are enabling remote audio capture and monitoring using non-proprietary portable Dante PoE interfaces. “One prominent broadcaster recently took delivery of over 40 of our RedNet X2P 2+2 Dante interfaces, which can be easily discovered, controlled and status-locked over the network,” Nevens reports.

IP is by far the most prominent trend in the industry, according to manufacturers, but immersive audio is another driver of change, if only because it demands more of everything, including the number of channels and hardware such as speakers. Here too, AoIP offers a solution. “With the growing requirement for higher channel counts driven by demand for Dolby Atmos content in long-form TV post-production, and now making inroads to live sporting events, we have seen more facilities transition to AoIP for its simple integration into existing facilities and easy deployment in remote applications,” adds Nevens.

Working for a speaker manufacturer, Will Eggleston, marketing director, Genelec USA, is able to observe the adoption of immersive formats not just in post houses but also in broadcast and streaming transmission—for quality control, for instance. Judging by the purchase orders, says Eggleston, these companies, which must remain nameless, are building a significant number of rooms. “We’re not talking onesies and twosies; it’s a big number,” he says.

On the topic of immersive room environments, Eggleston, noting that the protocol for SOFA files (Spatially Oriented Format for Acoustics) has existed for a while, reveals that “we’ll be making a pretty big announcement about how we’re going to attach ourselves to that business and be able to generate HRTF files for people” at an immersive conference in late March. AES69, published in 2015, standardized the exchange of head-related transfer functions (HRTF) and directional room impulse responses (DRIR), enabling personalization in immersive environments.

Related: Connectivity Trends: AoIP, Wireless and Beyond, by Strother Bullins, Jan. 22, 2018

The new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard includes the ability to deliver immersive audio as well as potential personalization features such as alternate languages or dialogue level controls. As ATSC 3.0 gains momentum, U.S. broadcasters have committed to putting a significant number of new channels online by 2020, says Schur. While the initial rollout will not support all the features that Next Generation Audio offers, he says, “Consumer devices supporting the immersive and interactive features of NGA are expected to become readily available in early 2020. ATSC 3.0 provides an opportunity for manufacturers to create flexible solutions to support the initial phases of the adoption, but also to give broadcasters the path to deploy the features in the future that are important to consumers.”

Momentum also continues to build behind REMI, or at-home remote broadcast production workflows. “For live event production, traditional live consoles and distribution methods are being replaced with remote production systems, where costs can be reduced and operations scaled with centralized intelligent mix engines and minimal operator interaction,” says Schur.

In these remote production workflows, a box of DSP sitting at a distant site supports latency-free monitor mixes and IFBs, while the mixer back at the plant has full control of the remote inputs on the console. At the upcoming NAB Show, Wheatstone is introducing SwitchBlade, a WheatNet-IP audio network product that is, according to the manufacturer, “the first product of its kind to combine the power of AoIP logic control with SIP connectivity and codec bandwidth optimization to transport both high-quality programming and the control logic critical for full studio operation between sites.”

According to Jay Tyler, sales director at Wheatstone, “Not only will it carry the audio, it carries the control, which means you can send and receive router commands, automation control and even fader levels across the two locations. This is a game-changer. SwitchBlade finally makes it possible to monitor each point of the audio chain and switch audio locally from network operation centers around the world.”

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These remote workflows are driving some broadcasters toward virtualization of studio equipment, again enabled by AoIP. “More of our customers are working on roadmaps that do not include any dedicated audio processing hardware,” says Schur. “They are coming to us with specific projects where all processing is done on commercial-off-the-shelf hardware, with the flexibility that virtual machines offer to spin up broadcast channels and assign resources as needed.”

Some local news operations no longer have an audio operator, says Letson, “so there’s no point in having faders.” Responding to that trend, Calrec will show its new VP2 “headless” console at NAB Show, which can be driven by an automation system in a distant city, if desired. “It doesn’t have a surface—just some software that you can pick up and control anywhere,” he says.

– Calrec’s Pete Walker Discusses Managing Connections Between AoIP Devices

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