The Future of Pro AV: Why the Network Foundation Should Be a Commodity

(Image credit: Milan)

Commercial audio engineering has become more complex as more devices require the use of IT as core to their functionality. Audio and systems engineers require technologies that can empower them to deliver the most innovative experiences to users while still being simple to use. 

One challenge is that more and more devices are being connected to networks, making pro AV a key component of the Internet of Things (IoT). But the future of AV requires more than just successfully connecting the growing mass of connected devices; rather, it will require sophisticated functionalities that can only come from deep system integrations. 

In other words, the future of AV will champion a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, with the focus shifting to building an integrated system instead of wrangling isolated, individual products. 

The Current Challenges

Unfortunately, as the industry presently stands, interoperability is not guaranteed in this future of AV; in fact, as products and systems become more complex, users can be easily overwhelmed, and interoperability becomes an increasingly elusive challenge. 

This challenge begins with two major requirements for networked audio platforms. Even at the most basic level, these platforms must guarantee the delivery of high-quality audio that is not subject to dropout, phase shifts, or comb filter effects in line arrays. At the same time, platforms are expected to deliver this sophistication and robustness in conjunction with simple installation that can be managed precisely even in a time crunch. Moreover, users expect that these platforms also have the endurance to withstand support as media and data needs scale over time. 

Today, users are turning to proprietary network solutions for their audio engineering needs, such as in the live sound market; while these solutions can deliver the functionality users seek, they come at a heavy price, requiring extensive design, installation, and ongoing support work from industry professionals. At the end of the day, proprietary solutions are a short-term game, as their unavoidable excesses in time and effort render them unfit for efficient long-term use. 

To satisfy audiences who are increasingly expecting more from their AV experiences, the industry needs to re-calibrate and focus on delivering an audio solution that is easy-to-use, scalable, and future-proof. For professional media, it is simply not enough to deliver high-quality audio with fast deployment; this must also be done with a long-term, stable, and viable platform that can evolve with the market's requirements. Equally important is that networks are able to scale without a competitive market stifling innovation. 

To create this kind of solution and achieve the high-quality audio that can satisfy audiences now and into the future, manufacturers must join forces to openly share information on both technology and products and to define the requirements for greater network interoperability. 

A Case for Milan

This effort is being championed by Avnu Alliance, where manufacturers who are in direct competition with one another have come together to drive the change they want to see the in the pro AV market. Working together over the last three years, these manufacturers have created a vision for a complete media network that is: easy-to-use, future-proof, open for creativity, scalable, and capable of delivering a convergence between audio, video, and control with IT on one network. 

This architecture is Milan, a deterministic network protocol for professional media that will enable a streamlined specification and certification process through Avnu Alliance that guarantees interoperability among Milan devices and assures devices will work together at new levels of convenience, reliability, and functionality. 

While Milan was created as the application layer on top of an AVB network and developed mainly by live production and audio manufacturers, its applications far surpass live sound, as the protocol can also be leveraged in fixed-install applications like enterprise or entertainment settings. 

The manufacturers responsible for Milan built this common network technology on an open standard in order to create a link between AV, IT, and silicon industries. Because of this broad market appeal, Milan is supported by IT and is interoperable with the entire stack of standards technology in multiple markets, making it an enduring standard that both AV and IT departments can embrace. Furthermore, by building Milan on an open standard, the protocol’s creators also ensured that Milan can satisfy their individual and collective requirements for their own products and customer demands, enabling manufacturers to build their systems while having ownership over the network.

The Future of Milan and Pro AV

In the future, we will see a pro AV industry that is dominated by industry standards in very much the same way that open standards have taken over and revolutionized the IT world. Expectations for audio and video have rapidly increased in the last few years, and users will only continue to demand more from AV experiences as the industry progresses. As the number of connected devices increases and data and network connections quickly grow, AV will increasingly reside on the network and become a bigger part of the overall IT ecosystem.

Milan is primed to keep pace with this dynamic industry. Already, we are building on our experience to streamline the product certification program so that it will be quicker for all Milan devices to go through the certification process, while still ensuring inoperability. Milan is continuously evolving, and members are focused on finding new ways to make the protocol an even better solution for end users. 

A Milan Module certification program was recently developed, for example, and made available for manufacturers who wish to implement a Milan-certified module (like one from member Neutrik) into their device and submit for certification, without having to go through the full certification testing; this will help speed the adoption and growth of certified product availability.

Now more than ever, the AV industry needs to be efficient and cost effective. Open source control and transport of audio and video over Ethernet is the clear solution for growth and innovation, and as we all move forward together, we will surely find Milan as the best foundation for this growth. 

Richard Bugg has been the lead user support person and instructor for digital products since 1999. His background includes several decades as a live sound engineer and electronic technician. Early formal training in instrumental performance and composition has provided the incentive to look at modifying system designs to meet artistic requirements. He is currently the digital products solutions architect in Product Management at Meyer Sound; Bugg is also the Pro AV Segment chair of the Avnu Alliance.