As a livestream operator and delivery manager, I constantly find myself engaging with AV over IP. When things go smoothly, I do not even have to confront the complex delivery standards and structures that make it possible to deliver intelligible, live audio and video to an audience of many thousands of viewers, spread across the globe. I just click “Go Live.”
Nonetheless, there is actually a lot that goes into delivering a successful livestream event. Being well-versed in the behind-the-scenes layer of AV over IP delivery helps me perform as a stronger operator, and in general, it is one route to keeping AV relevant to our customers.
IT is the new backstage. This cannot possibly come as a surprise to the AV industry. Methods of delivering audio and video signals over internet protocol have been developing carefully and deliberately for decades, which has given AV pros plenty of opportunities to get used to working with the concepts.
In fact, AV over IP has already worked its way into daily life for everybody, not just AV/IT professionals. Everyday folks receive entertainment streams for mass consumption over the public internet at home. We all stream informative communications at work, and we stay in touch with both colleagues and loved ones through our computers and mobile devices. All of this is delivered thanks to the invisible ability to encode and decode audio and video signals for delivery over a standard network.
AVoIP presents concerns for IT departments
AV over IP is certainly here to stay and has made a place for itself in any type of installation or workflow. As soon as you work around an upload restriction or video processing time constraint by livestreaming a recording to a cloud, your show has crossed over into AVoIP territory. For exactly this reason, AVoIP presents a host of concerns for IT departments, and it is important that the engineers delivering from the AV perspective understand exactly what we are doing and why it works.
We often only find out why it works when it doesn’t. Although troubleshooting is an excellent learning experience, getting ahead of failure is a primary concern in an IT environment. You never want to find out that your delivery method is in danger right before, or worse, after go-time. The old answer to getting ahead of surprises was rehearsal and saving the state of the environment so that it would be predictable and play back the same way every time. That is not always possible in the network realm. As such, consistent testing in collaboration with the IT engineers and a microcosm of your final consumers is of the utmost importance as a pre-show ritual in an IT environment, where changes are constant and sometimes come with unexpected results.
Getting personally comfortable with the deeper aspects of IP delivery is also of great benefit to AV practitioners, and it is easy to get close to the material. For one thing, we are already touching it every day and can use this practice to proactively question our local IT SMEs about the foundations of the platforms we work with. Familiarity with the underlying concepts that make the buttons we push and click work on a daily basis, and ability to discuss these systems with our IT counterparts will solidify our understanding for why it is important that we utilize the network in ways that are safe for the network, first and foremost.
Protecting the network
Protecting the network should always be the primary concern in any AVoIP instance. AV stakeholders and implementers should come to the table with this concern at the top of their minds, thus ensuring that our IT clients see us as allies who have their best interests in mind. Everything else a business does on its network is more important than delivering AV. Most clients and companies would sooner revert to phone calls and expensive, traditional broadcast methods before endangering their networks with oversized AV bandwidth requirements or questionable proxy holes for AV communication. As such, the AV sector should be prepared to live without some aspects of our ideal delivery if the IT team considers them to be potential threats.
In AV, the thought of sending AV information as packets regularly evokes nostalgia for simpler days when signals were confined to their own neatly partitioned copper networks, free to transmit uncompressed, reliably, and without latency. But the value of going IP greatly outweighs the opposing impulse to keep AV signals isolated. Flexibility in delivery process and speed, shattering signal distance constraints, and tapping into an ability for nearly infinite I/O expansion are reasons enough to enthusiastically absorb IT networking into the AV toolkit.
The next generation of AV technicians, designers, and engineers will be innately well-versed in how AV traffic behaves in a networked environment and will likely be required to have knowledge of internet protocols and network theory as part of their basic qualification outfit. They will be firmly immersed in an IT backstage experience, starting with a natural education gained at home from streaming games, schoolwork, and entertainment. Those of us who are here now can prepare by expanding our knowledge of why AV needs to behave the way it does in this emerging environment and continuing to build strong IT relationships to push forward AV’s safe, reliable, and respectful interactions with our client’s IP networks.