The Basics of AV over IP Infrastructure

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Mark Bohs (Image credit: Mark Bohs)

It’s hard to remember a more exciting time in our industry. The shift from analog to digital, and now to IP-enabled AV technologies is creating new energy and opportunities—and with good reason. Networked-based AV systems offer remote monitoring and access, scalable setups, and centralized control options. 

For some AV specialists, though, AV over IP is still new. For others, migrating AV to IP is a work in progress. Budget realities and debates about 1Gb versus 10Gb add to the confusion. Regardless of where you are in the process, IP-enabled AV is quickly becoming the reality, and AV stakeholders need to firm up on IP knowledge. Here are a few basics of an IP infrastructure to help you and your team get started.

Start with the Basics

When preparing for a reliable IP infrastructure, start thinking about it on the physical layer. More specifically, start with the most fundamental element of the infrastructure: the cabling.

The importance of Layer 1 infrastructure in AV over IP networks

We already understand the limitations of hardwired HDMI connections, DVI connections, or high-speed HDMI 2.0 connections. They do the job, and they do it well. But there are serious distance limitations to physical native connections and native cabling. These limits can also be costly. 

Go the Distance

When you move AV into the IP world, we can dramatically extend our range. We know how far we can go over a gigabit Ethernet copper Cat-6 cable. We also know how far we can go over a single-mode, fiber connection. IP functionality lets us expand our range and capabilities dramatically, far beyond sending a signal from point A to point B. 

Installing AV over IP systems today affords future expansion possibilities

Seven-Layer OSI Model

In the seven-layer Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, the Data Link layer is layer 2. Layer 2 provides node-to-node transfer and is responsible for media access control, flow control, and error checking.

The Network layer is layer 3. Layer 3 is where the packet-forwarding and routing happens, and through intermediate routers. Layer 3 also manages quality of service (QoS), recognizes, and forwards local host domain messages to the Transport layer (layer 4). 

Once you start moving up the layers, you can start thinking about breaking up and segmenting a network depending on what type of traffic you have, and what type of priority is required for it.

Ethernet Switching

Switches for AV traffic introduce a world of capabilities. Generally, we're not going to want to put AV/multimedia content on an existing corporate network. Facilities and applications differ, but think about the benefits of segmenting AV traffic because of the sheer bandwidth requirements of some AV applications. Strongly consider your own separate AV network.

Of course, it all depends on how much AV traffic your facility expects. If we're looking at a simple point A-to-point-B scenario, AV might not have to touch a switch network. That could be easily done with an IP extender.

Switches and Segmentation

When you do have to put AV into a switch network, that is where it's hitting some sort of Ethernet switch either 1Gb or 10Gb. If it is a corporate network and the traffic is not overwhelming, that network can sustain the added AV applications. Consider splitting it into a VLAN (virtual local area network) at the data link layer, or a subnet, parsing off into a separate topology so it can live on that same network.

What to consider when choosing a gigabit Ethernet network

If your multimedia content needs will be greater than what the corporate network can sustain, then start thinking about a separate network devoted to AV. We see large organizations that are loading up lots of visual signage traffic, corporate AV traffic, corporate AV traffic, and videoconferencing. That larger-scale scenario would be well-suited to have a separate network just for AV. Ultimately, it is important to lead with the application. Let your facility needs and your applications drive the switch strategy and your choice of AV-over-IP protocol (AVB/TSN, Dante, Q-SYS, AES67, just to name a few).

Keep Learning

Whether you are just getting started with IP-based AV or you are a seasoned pro, regular training and education are key. AVIXA offers various IT-centric courses and tracks, such as Networking Technology Online.

Mark Bohs is Datapath’s director of Sales, the Americas. Read Part 2 of this blog, which covers switches and VLANs, here.

Mark Bohs
Mark Bohs is Datapath’s director of Sales, the Americas.