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A look at Atlona OmniStream 112/121 AV over IP solutions

Atlona OmniStream AV over IP solution
(Image credit: Atlona)

When it comes to AV signal distribution, you won’t find many companies as dedicated as Atlona. When the company launched its OmniStream line in 2017, its goal was to redefine the AV-over-IP category, and included what it claimed to be several industry-first features, such as high-density, dual-channel encoding and decoding, and the ability to convey 4K video and Dante audio simultaneously over the same network.

Atlona’s emphasis on IP-based video transport has only been heightened since its 2019 acquisition by network infrastructure company Panduit. The aim of the deal was to create a unified entity that could supply its customers with a one-stop technology foundation, providing everything from networking and electrical cabling to AV control and signal management products.

AV over IP and other trends in 2020

Atlona’s ecosystem is united under an enterprise-level solution named Velocity that not only manages end-to-end video and audio switching, but also provides advanced management tools that monitor when rooms are in use and allow users to reserve a space for a meeting. The MDNS auto-discovery makes adding a new device as easy as plugging it in and clicking refresh. Proximity sensors can tell you when attendees begin arriving or when the room is empty again. Even though the system can be set up without Velocity, if you do not already have a room scheduling system, you will want it. 

A big part of my job is finding high quality AV solutions, so when given the Atlona OmniStream 112 and 121 to evaluate, I was excited to see how they stacked up against other 4K streaming options that have been installed recently. Plugging in a few items to the test Cisco SG300 switch, I was surprised to see the remote end monitor light up and start displaying content almost as soon as it had been connected. Most surprising was that beyond uploading a config file to the switch, no other configuration or installation was required.

OmniStream Design

For the test, an isolated switch was set up with no DHCP service or internet access. I am sure being able to provide DHCP was probably part of the reason this switch was selected and approved. But I wanted to see the worst-case scenario: what if you are not allowed to run the DHCP server on the client network? (This does happen.) 

Keeping your converged IP network secure

Typically, with other AV-over-IP devices, the ID button on the front of the decoder will output the IP address of the decoder to the screen; however, with this system, you need to either let everything run a few minutes and fish the MAC table in the switch to find the IP addresses the devices gave themselves, or, in the case of a full Atlona ecosystem, use the MDNS in the company’s Velocity control platform to discover the devices. 

The promise of AV over IP for the pro AV market

Software

Devices can be configured individually through their web interface once you have their IP address. However, it is recommended to use Velocity, as it simplifies and streamlines management of all devices. The design of Velocity is intuitive enough to use that I did not need any support documents or additional help. I was able to quickly identify the units I had that needed firmware updates and push them out. After that I was able to easily change video and audio routes between devices.

One drawback to the system is that it requires a virtual machine running Linux and the Velocity host controller. I consider this approach less than ideal; I would have preferred a fully developed Windows solution as some companies I have done business with are resistant to adding Linux into their network.

In addition, because it is a virtual computer, it takes up about 20GB of hard drive space to set up, and can present additional security concerns. These issues, of course, can be mitigated by dedicating and isolating a PC specifically for the job. So, I see it as a niche problem that will not affect most usage. 

Summary

Please note that this is not a traditional video switching system; the encoder is running two streams at the same time, and actually four when counting audio. What you get is a flexible, robust, and dynamic system allowing you to send both inputs on the encoder to different locations and break out the audio for each as needed. If you don’t need two inputs, then you can set up redundant streams for increased reliability. The tradeoff to this method is double the backplane bandwidth consumption, as it keeps all streams live.

Testing revealed no problems pulling in a 30 Hz 4K signal at 4:2:2. Switching between inputs was instant, and the system having the ability to run a 60 Hz 4K 4:4:4 HDR signal is very appealing. Set on the 30 Hz mode, the delay between encode and decode is so brief the only way to measure it is by taking a picture of a running stopwatch. The 60 Hz mode adds another few milliseconds of latency, but it is unlikely anyone would notice it. This is the best video signal a gigabit switch can carry. 

Overall, the OmniStream system is a reliable, high-quality product that will get the job done. Depending on the application, I would definitely recommend this system. 

Jeremy Caldera is the CEO and chief design engineer of audiovisual systems at IAS Technology.