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AV over IP convergence: What you need to know

Over the past few years, AV over IP (AVoIP) has come to dominate conversations of audiovisual signal transport. And despite forecasts that it would soon take over in terms of installations, the reality has proven slightly different. 

AV over IP is essentially the transmission of AV data over a network such as a LAN, WAN or the internet. As opposed to traditional AV environments, AV over IP refers to the use of standard network equipment to transmit and switch video and audio.

What is being discussed in the pro AV space over the last few years is the gradual replacement of traditional AV infrastructures with IP-based infrastructures. AV over IP network preserve the capabilities of a traditional AV network—the primary difference is that audio and video being transmitted on an AV over IP network are packet-based rather than circuit-based.

As more product manufacturers and AV integrators move forward with the adoption of AV over IP network solutions, IP convergence on the enterprise network becomes an important topic of AV/IT design programming discussions.

Convergence is the ability to use data, communications, and AV together, on the same network. In an alternative scenario, AV over IP is deployed on entirely segregated networks that never coexist with packets of data from an organization’s data network or communications network.

The argument to be made for putting AV devices on the network is to enable consolidated management, infrastructure cost savings and a single point of support. On the other hand, creating separate, independent AV and IT networks will maintain clear lines of demarcation between IT/AV applications and network management. 

The advantages of placing AV on IT networks can be significant, but it comes with its own potentially significant demands with regard to compression and network security.

Turning AV over IP challenges into opportunities

It is still very common for enterprise networks to have at best 1 GbE connectivity, which is a major obstacle for integrating 4K audio/video devices on the AVoIP network. Gigabit networks aren’t generally capable of passing 4K UHD 4:4:4 60Hz video without substantial compression.

1Gb vs. 10Gb Ethernet: Which is right for your AV network?

Securing AV devices on the network, keeping your converged IP network secure, is arguably one of the last major sticking points to true AV/IT convergence, and one that presents a number of challenges to tech managers striving to adhere to their organizations’ security policies.

What’s the State of AV over IP Convergence?

We reached out to experts to find out where they believe we are in the state of AVoIP convergence and what the future will bring.

According to Justin Kennington, president of the SDVoE Alliance—a nonprofit consortium of technology providers collaborating to standardize the adoption of Ethernet to transport AV signals in professional AV environments—we still have a way to go before AVoIP becomes the norm. “The easiest way to measure it is in new installs, and how many of those are AV over IP, and how many of those are traditional methods of signal extension or matrix switching?” Kennington said. “From everything I know, from looking at sales and research, we’re still in a majority matrix switch world. So in some sense, we’re not very far along at all in the AV over IP transition.”

Why We Haven’t Reached Convergence

Why is this? Kennington noted an interesting dichotomy in a recent survey his organization conducted. “Some people are saying they use AVoIP because it’s simple, and other people are saying “I’m sticking with a matrix switch because AVoIP is too complex.” This underscores what Kennington believes to be an issue of education: those who have taken the effort to learn AVoIP have discovered its benefits, while the latter survey respondents mistakenly believe it to be more complex, based on their lack of familiarity. 

“And I think what that represents is the divide between people who have actually tried it, and people who are just leery of something new and haven’t tried it yet,” Kennington said. “And that’s why there’s huge potential on the education side, because we see that as the number-one enabler of the AVoIP transition.”

IP network convergence requires that AV pros gain IT networking skills.

Besides its perceived complexity, Kennington also points to the belief that it’s more costly as a prime impediment to more widespread growth. “People believe that 10Gb Ethernet is expensive,” he said. “It frankly isn’t. You can go out and buy a 10Gb Ethernet switch for under $100 per port. Now compare that to your HDBaseT matrix switch at $500 or $1,000 per port.”

But the benefits of switching to IP-based transport from traditional matrix switching extend far beyond just the simplicity and cost effectiveness. Another key aspect is the flexibility it unlocks. “Now that everything is on the network, IoT and cloud connection has become another important factor to guarantee those endpoints can be managed and monitored over both a standard infrastructure and standard management tools,” said Alex Peras, technology manager of DigitalMedia at Crestron Electronics, one of the leading AV solution providers and a pioneer in IP-based AV distribution. 

“In addition, the need to control devices with standard APIs is also driving AVoIP adoption,” Peras said. “The ability to receive audio streams to and from any device using standard AES67 means that the video and audio manufacturers are working together to equip customers to build the best system for their environment and application.”

For Peras, the primary obstacle to greater adoption is concerns of security. “One of the biggest impediments is ensuring that the AVoIP products meet the demands of living on an enterprise network,” he said. “From security to interoperability to networking standards, it is critical to ensure that dealers and installers can manage and deploy the solutions successfully.” Again, this comes back to the issue of education: Peras pointed out that there are systems available that incorporate features like 802.1X, Active Directory, and JITC certification for enterprise-grade security. “[These AVoIP systems] are built to provide peace of mind to IT operators overcoming these impediments,” he said.”

What You Might Not Know

Crestron’s Peras identified an emerging trend that can help pave the way for more widespread acceptance of AVoIP: creating hybrid technologies to bridge the gap between HDBT and AVoIP for AV installers, dealers, and consultants. “This will allow existing HDBT systems to integrate with new AVoIP systems,” he said. 

SDVoE’s Kennington underlined an attribute of IP-based systems that he finds “a little frustrating” that more people don’t know: the robustness of their capabilities. “[An AVoIP system] is not just a matrix switch replacement; it’s also a video wall processor replacement; it’s also a multiview processor replacement; it’s also a KVM replacement,” he said. “And what we see from our manufacturer members is more embracing of those capabilities. And as the end users and system designers get ahold of this information, they become very excited about what’s possible.”

Reaching Convergence

It seems inevitable that a time will come when the vast majority of installs utilize AVoIP. To help realize this, Peras said that Crestron is working with standards-based protocols like AES67 to ensure interoperability with audio systems and to enable cloud connectivity for manageability and scalability on all networks. And, Kennington and the SDVoE Alliance are forging a path of interoperability that’s bringing together an increasing number of manufacturers under its umbrella.

AV and IT must collaborate for successful IP network convergence.

Once again, it will take continued education to reach the ultimate goal. “I think what IT guys get nervous about is the idea of someone showing up and screwing with their network,” Kennington said. But, he’s found that those who understand what AVoIP can bring are more than eager to embrace its potential. “I’ve never met an IT guy who’s not excited about his network, and doesn’t want his network to do cool new things,” he said. “If you tell them that ‘I’ve got a killer application here and it’s going to be an excuse for you to buy more bandwidth,’ he’s going to be happy to hear that. He’s going to say ‘Cool, I get to beef up my network and now I have a real reason for that.’”