Pro AV is in the midst of its biggest revolution since the transition from analog to digital, and unless you’re brand new to the industry, you’ve been hearing about it AV over IP, or the convergence of audiovisual systems and internet protocols, for several years. While it certainly isn't the only technology driving the industry, AV over IP is one of the most impactful trends in 2020. The AV over IP transformation is far from complete, but like the analog-digital switch, it’s almost certainly inevitable.
Why AV over IP?
AV over IP uses standard IT networking equipment to transmit and switch audiovisual signals. AV over IP offers a number of advantages over the way that AV signal distribution has typically been handled, so it's smart to consider embracing IT innovations for AV applications.
For years, audio and video sources have been sent across rooms, buildings, and campuses over traditional, dedicated AV infrastructures. As an example, the signal from a source, like a conferencing camera, is sent over HDMI into a transmitter, then to a matrix switch, and out through a receiver and into a flat screen display. This works great for small systems.
But AV is growing rapidly. Whereas in the past only a few rooms in a building would be equipped with video, companies are now working to extend solutions to as many spaces as possible—and with the rise in remote work creating further demand for conferencing systems, this trend is only accelerating.
While traditional matrix switches work great, they’re very constrained. With a fixed number of inputs and outputs, you have to buy a bigger, more expensive switch to add more endpoints to a system. They’re also limited by distance. With traditional infrastructures, it can become prohibitively expensive to extend signals over great lengths of cable between boxes.
By replacing the transmitter, matrix switch, and receiver with an encoder, network switch, and decoder, signals can sent over Ethernet, enabling much longer distance transmission and flexibility for system expansion—if you run out of ports in your network switch, you can simply connect another one to augment the system.
Another advantage to AV over IP is management. The status of devices connected to an IP network can easily be monitored from a central platform, and some platforms even enable devices to be configured and updated remotely as well.
We asked thought leaders from several of the industry’s top AV companies to share their perspective on the State of AV over IP and provide a glimpse of their roadmap.
What to Consider When Switching to AV over IP
Perhaps the first things to consider when entertaining a switch to AV over IP are the desired quality and latency. If your installation is small—limited to a handful of rooms—and pristine quality is required, then it probably makes sense to stick with a matrix switch. However, installing AV over IP systems today offers future expansion possibilities. If there's a chance you'll be expanding the network in the future, then it would certainly be wise to consider AV over IP.
Currently, there are a number of standards for AV over IP transmission, and not all are compatible with one another. Some manufacturers have proprietary standards for encoding sources for IP transmission, and will require the use of their encoder and decoder products throughout the installation for compatibility. Standards like SDVoE and SRT, on the other hand, are compatible with devices from multiple manufacturers.
Beyond interoperability, the most important thing to consider when selecting a standard is bandwidth. The most common solutions require either 1 or 10 gigabits of bandwidth to transport AV over IP, and most manufacturers offer solutions for each. For the majority of applications, where near-zero latency and flawless 4K video quality are not paramount, a 1Gb solution is usually sufficient. For more intensive applications, or where higher-resolution video like 8K is anticipated, it typically makes sense to spring for a 10Gb solution, which will introduce less compression and latency.
As adoption rates for AV over IP increase, the professional AV community has the chance to grow along with it.
What You Need to Get Started
What do you need to know about AV over IP convergence? As mentioned before, AV over IP systems require an encoder, decoder, and a network switch. They also require Ethernet cabling to carry the signals. Let’s start with this, as it’s the most extensive component of an installation.
Cabling: If you’re planning a system from scratch, you’ll want to run higher-grade category (Cat-6a or Cat-7) or fiber optic cabling throughout your facility, as this is required for 10Gb transmission. If your facility is already wired with Cat 5e cabling, you’ll need to choose a 1Gb AV-over-IP solution.
Encoder and Decoder: This is where you must choose a proprietary or open-source system for your AV over IP network. There are advantages to both approaches. By selecting encoders/decoders from a vendor with a proprietary transmission codec, you get assurance of guaranteed performance and specifications. The more controlled nature of this choice also typically makes for easier out-of-the-box setup and easier support.
Choosing encoders and decoders that use an interoperable standard will allow you more freedom to customize your AV-over-IP network with solutions from a variety of manufacturers, giving you the option to pick different capabilities for different parts of your deployment.
While encoders and decoders are typically distinct boxes, some manufacturers offer units that can be used either as an encoder or a decoder, providing for increased flexibility.
Network Switch: The switch that takes your signal from the encoder and sends it out over the local area network can be either a standard switch from an IT company like Cisco or one that’s made for AV-over-IP applications, like those offered by NETGEAR. While 1Gb switches still offer the lowest cost per port, the price of 10Gb solutions has been rapidly falling, making these higher bandwidth solutions more attractive.
Since AV over IP uses standard IT hardware, it’s possible to simply run your system through your organization’s existing networking infrastructure. For applications where security is particularly important, however, it may be prudent to deploy the system over a completely segregated network, eliminating the possibility of access to the organization’s data network.
How to Make Your AV-over-IP Deployment Secure
A common concern for those considering the switch to AV over IP is how to keep their converged IP network secure. However, most security concerns can be avoided with some simple, common-sense setup, like ensuring your endpoint devices have proper password protection. For their part, manufacturers have been working to add encryption into their devices, further adding peace of mind.
Ultimately, it’s best to collaborate with your facility’s IT team during the earliest planning phases to ensure that all parties are informed on how devices are connected to the network.