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Markets: Audio Networking Paradigm shift beckons

An audio networking landscape hitherto dominated by proprietary technologies is being reshaped in favour of an open standards approach spearheaded by AVB (audio/video bridging). That’s the theory, anyway – but is the industry really on the verge of true interoperability, wonders David Davies?

Key points

. The desire to deliver effective multi-brand solutions continues to drive interoperability

. The AVB standardisation project is in its final stages; certification testing is set to begin in August

. Layer 3 (IP)-based approaches, such as Ravenna, also have a growing foothold in the market

. Increased standardisation will allow manufacturers to place a greater emphasis on product features

Background music at London’s Arts Club is handled by a Biamp AudiaFLEX system using CobraNet

Across the pro-audio landscape – in install, live and broadcast – the past decade has been one in which a single- brand orthodoxy has broken down in favour of a mix-and-match approach that seeks to employ the most suitable products for any given application. Simultaneously, the desire to join all these products together has provided the impetus for an era of full networking that transcends traditional point-to-point connection. Proprietary networking solutions have multiplied in number since the 1990s, but increasingly, the need to guarantee interoperability has led the industry down the path of standardisation with regard to both primary networking components: transportation and control. The ongoing AVB (audio/video bridging) project – spearheaded by the AVnu Alliance – is arguably the most salient example.


The momentum behind AVB may appear to be unstoppable – but not everyone is convinced. For many, the crucial battleground is IP and the ability (or not) to operate on existing networks. AVB rebuffs a pure Layer 3, IP-based approach in favour of the use of Layer 2,

24 IE April 2012

or once, it does not verge on exaggeration to declare that the old world is dead and gone.

which is claimed to offer multiple additional benefits. Meanwhile, Ravenna – regarded by some as a possible ‘European’ rival to the possibly more US-identified AVB – pursues a Layer 3 approach and, unlike AVB, does not require dedicated switches. The lengthy roll-call of

manufacturers and technology developers to have signed up to the AVnu Alliance underlines the extent to which AVB has provided a focus for those wishing to bring clarity to the networking issue. But witnessing the (to put it mildly) variable level of knowledge about the project among attendees to this year’s ISE Future Trends Summit couldn’t help but prompt a few doubts about whether the message has really got through. “I’ve been ‘soaking in’ AVB since 2007, and sometimes you need to step back and realise your perception and understanding is not that of the industry at large,” admits Lee Minich, president of Lab X Technologies and marketing work group chair of the AVnu Alliance, in ready acknowledgement of the current gap between progress and understanding. Indirectly, Minich offers as good a

starting point as any for a whistle-stop tour of the latest developments in

audio networking, including the latest progress of the AVB project, continuing debate over the IP issue, and a renewed focus on features that may result from increased interoperability.

All for one, one for all? Whatever the imminent future, existing transportation solutions are not about to disappear. Take, for example, CobraNet, developed by Peak Audio and subsequently acquired by Cirrus Logic. Despite its participation in the AVB-promoting AVnu Alliance, Biamp is one of many manufacturers to be maintaining its commitment to this still-ubiquitous technology: executive vice president of marketing at Biamp Systems, Graeme Harrison, highlights the use of CobraNet in its Audia and Vocia products, adding that Biamp “intends to continue support for CobraNet moving forward”. It is clear that many manufacturers

are planning to continue support for existing protocols while moving towards greater standardisation. Harrison, for example, concedes that “the inherent nature of CobraNet did create frustration due to the limitations around speed; [consequently] Biamp looked to AVB for future development around faster devices.”

Move out into the wider networking landscape and we contemplate a world in which customers have a reduced enthusiasm for one-brand/group solutions; they want to be able to pick and mix products drawn from multiple vendors. The need to guarantee that devices can talk to each other has therefore increased exponentially; an impulse that inevitably leads towards standardisation programmes. The desire to reduce/eliminate licensing costs has also provided momentum behind the AVB project, based as it is on IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) standards. “There will still be a market for legacy

proprietary technologies [in the future], but we believe that more manufacturers and system designers will embrace the prospects of a sustainable ecosystem with interoperable devices that are guaranteed to talk to each other,” says John McMahon, executive director, digital products of Meyer Sound, which is a Promoter Member of the AVnu Alliance. So what are the primary benefits of

Audio/Video Bridging? ‘Bridging’ is networking speak for Layer 2 packet switching, and it is at this level that the “fundamental improvements” of AVB occur, explains Minich, including “more precise timing (802.1AS), stream reservations and admission control (802.1Qat), and traffic shaping (802.1Qav). However, there is a Layer 3 AVB media container for RTP payloads called IEEE 1733 in which Layer 3 traffic could take advantage of the underlying infrastructure improvements. Subgroups within the AVnu Alliance have been formed to define how this Layer 3 traffic will route across multiple subnets of AVB Clouds, and ultimately to boundary

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