For quite some time, the AV industry has been hard at work engineering product offerings that integrate with IT. But how many IT companies are working to produce solutions that cater specifically to AV?
Netgear is certainly one. Last year, the company came to InfoComm to proclaim its commitment to facilitating the industry’s transition to IP networks, and debuted three advanced switches configured out of the box for AV over IP and multicasting. One of these was the M4300 series, a 40G, 10G, and 1G stackable platform with non-stop forwarding. Available in sizes from eight to 96 ports, these switches feature “zero-touch” configuration designed to make integration with AV-over-IP networks as simple as plug and play, with no need for programming. The company supplied us with an M4300-8X8F 10G with 16 ports, eight copper and eight fiber. How does it stand up to the test of networked AV?
Evaluating network switches as they relate to audiovisual systems operations can be difficult. There are many different manufacturers, protocols, and compression algorithms, and it can be hard to find the “Swiss Army Knife” of switches. Does it have enough power for PoE? Will it allow for VLANs and QoS with proper monitoring? Will it allow for easy setup of control, video, Dante, AES67, and other traffic? It can be difficult sometimes to determine if the equipment you have is capable enough to get the job done.
With the Netgear M4300, these worries can be laid to rest. The feature set is just about as robust as any switch I have seen—the PoE+ will run almost any device out there. Having this much speed makes the most sense for network distribution or video encoding/decoding as most devices will not be able to keep up. However, there is something to be said for having the capabilities for current, and potentially, future equipment.
When first opening the box, the product is packed well and not shaking around. Plus, it includes all the needed full-length cables for international use. It makes life easier when you have the correct cables versus universal plugs with swappable tips, which seems to have become the standard in electronics recently.
The unit feels solid, but it is a little lighter than most PoE+ switches I’ve worked with. The half-width 1-rack-unit form factor of this model works well and would be ideal for situations where space is tight. The switch is whisper-quiet when it’s in operation: I had to place my ear against it after it was done booting to make sure it was even running.
Another feature I enjoyed is the quick-release modular power supply. If the supply goes bad or needs upgraded, it could not be faster or easier to replace. Plus, keeping a spare power supply on hand is less cost-prohibitive than keeping a spare switch for those situations where downtime is not an option.
As I’ve mentioned, the feature set for this switch is extensive and impressive. As a Layer 4 switch, it is also able to manage network traffic flow in addition to the lower layer functions, which proves that this switch truly was designed for network video distribution. The interface to set up the switch is simple and responsive; I was able to find every feature I cared about without having to refer to the manual. Being able to work without a manual is rare in today’s world, and the intuitiveness speaks to the effort that went into the design process. I was able to quickly establish VLANs and shape traffic on my test environment.
The built-in monitoring is also a nice feature. In the AV world, we are often presented with situations where we need more speed than a normal gigabit switch would provide, but it’s tough to imagine a realistic scenario that would be too much for this Netgear switch to handle.
I deal with a lot of enterprise-level equipment in my daily work, and I assumed this switch would be extremely expensive, as the network cards to upgrade a computer to 10G still go for over $100 each. The M4300 was much more cost-effective than I expected, and in line with the price of a typical 1-gigabit switch from only a few years ago.
I didn’t encounter many issues in my testing. The menus are well designed, and it has more features then I can imagine using for our work. It was less costly then I would have guessed given the capabilities, and I could not push this switch to its limit—even the above-average use for audiovisual systems today—it is just too fast to be phased by anything we have available. But, honestly, nothing short of the demands from a Fortune 50 or college campus is going to make it break a sweat.
Jeremy Caldera, CTS-D, CTS-I is the CEO and chief design engineer of audiovisual systems at IAS Technology.