It’s a noble quest — the mission to design and integrate professional AV systems from best-in-class manufacturers with products that all interoperate. This scenario would allow manufacturers to specialize in their unique product offerings. Similarly, integrators (external or in-house) could design and deploy systems with the right devices to fit all of the clients’ needs regardless of whether or not those devices "work together." This would be nice, but this is not how things are…and that’s okay.
The latest questions of interoperability are coming from AV over IP (AVoIP) devices. Largely intended for transporting video streams, with or without embedded audio, these devices will convert video formats to packetized Ethernet data so that it can be widely distributed over switch networks and with Cat-5e and Cat-6 cabling. As this is not a deep dive on AVoIP as a technology solution, it’s perhaps best that the general definition of it stops there. With many vendors using AVoIP as a description of how their video distribution devices and platforms operate, it creates an expectation that systems using this same description might work together.
This is not really the case; they usually don’t work together. And some of the questions and concerns about this could be coming from a misunderstanding of what AVoIP really is. “AV over IP isn’t a standard, it’s a technology category,” says Bob Ehlers, vice president, business development for RGB Spectrum. This is an important point. In the AV industry, we are quick to assign importance to anything with acronyms and we want to presume that if two manufacturers are using the same acronym, those things should work together. With the exception of the Software Defined Video Over Ethernet Alliance, or SDVoE, there is not an allied group of vendors working on AVoIP standards. That AVoIP is a technology category and not an attempt at a standard explains why systems aren’t interoperable, but should they be?
“AVoIP is in its infancy. It will take some time for it to mature and this could lead to a universality of solutions,” suggests Malik Khan, senior vice president, product design and integration for ANC. “Technology managers should work within the solutions that are available today, which are not interoperable, but plan their infrastructure for three to five years out. If the technology or solutions available change, upgrading the system is easier if the backbone is built to handle it.”
Ehlers also has advice for technology managers navigating the current landscape. “Manufacturers can’t really produce every possible device that every system needs. If they could, then interoperability wouldn’t be a concern. Look to manufacturers who provide platforms and ecosystems built with technology partnerships with other manufacturers.”
It’s tempting to feel as if this is another battle over formats or protocols; all of these AVoIP devices are interconnected through network switches and Cat-X cables. Perhaps there will come a time when a standardized solution, such as SDVoE, makes interoperability possible. But for now, it is very helpful to recognize that AVOIP is not a protocol, a standard, or an industry alliance. AVOIP is a solution to distributing video streams that utilizes IT infrastructure and harnesses the benefits of network topography.
AV Technology magazine's technical advisor, Justin O'Connor, has spent nearly 20 years as a product manager, bringing many hit products to the professional AV industry. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Music Engineering Technology from the Frost School of Music at The University of Miami. Follow him at @JOCAudioPro. Subscribe today for The Agile Control Room newsletter sponsored by RGB Spectrum (distributed twice per month, every other Tuesday).
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