Audio Customers Seek Flexibility, Functionality

Ask any audio products manufacturer to list some of the biggest trends in the broadcast industry and they’re likely to put IP networking at the top. Following the relatively recent publication of the AES67 and SMPTE ST 2110—which incorporates AES67—standards, AoIP is increasingly being adopted worldwide, and those network infrastructures are in turn driving innovations in remote broadcast operations and virtualized audio systems.

As Focusrite Pro’s Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing Rich Nevens observes, one segment of the broadcast business was an early adopter of AoIP. “Mobile broadcast companies such as NEP and All Mobile video have been using our RedNet AoIP interfaces in their trucks for years now, realizing early the benefits networked audio could provide for audio distribution and comms in mobile environments,” he said.

Audio console companies are leveraging AoIP to revolutionize remote broadcasting by enabling streamlined and cost-effective REMI or at-home workflows. Calrec, for instance, introduced its RP1 unit a couple of years ago. The remote production box sits at the distant site where a local operator can set up latency-free monitor mixes and IFBs while a mixer back at the plant has full control of the remote inputs on his console.

At this year’s NAB Show, Wheatstone is introducing a product that provides its clients with a full-featured remote solution. SwitchBlade is a 1RU appliance for the WheatNet-IP audio network that the company says is “the first product of its kind to combine the power of AoIP logic control with SIP connectivity and codec bandwidth optimization to transport both high-quality programming and the control logic critical for full studio operation between sites.”

“Not only will it carry the audio, it carries the control, which means you can send and receive router commands, automation control and even fader levels across the two locations,” said Jay Tyler, sales director at Wheatstone. “This is a real game changer because Switchblade finally makes it possible to monitor each point of the audio chain and switch audio locally from network operation centers around the world.”

AES67 is not the only game in town, of course. Several of the console manufacturers, including Calrec and Wheatstone, have relied on proprietary protocols to go beyond some of the limitations of the AES standard. There is also AVB Milan, a protocol that encompasses a subset of the AVB open standard and is increasingly being adopted by live sound product manufacturers, but could potentially gain traction in broadcast applications.

At the same time, MADI, otherwise known as AES10, was standardized in 1991 and is still in use.

According to Focusrite’s Nevens, “With the adoption of AES67/ST 2110 in broadcast we have seen demand for our RedNet MADI interfaces to bridge existing digital audio infrastructure platforms onto an AoIP network. MADI is still prevalent in OB trucks and our MADI I/O was used recently in the Olympics to bridge MADI streams from a remote sports location onto a network where it was then sent over dark fiber to central production facilities.”

Enabled by the adoption of AoIP, virtualization is making some headway in the broadcast industry. “More of our customers are working on roadmaps that do not include any dedicated audio processing hardware,” said John Schur, president, TV Solutions Group, The Telos Alliance. Those customers were previously investigating virtual machine and cloud environments, he said. Now they’re working on specific projects where all the processing is handled by commercial off-the-shelf hardware, offering the flexibility to spin up broadcast channels and assign resources as needed.

Some local news stations no longer have an audio operator, which means there’s no point even having faders, said David Letson, vice president of sales at Calrec. Responding in part to that trend, “One of the things we’ll have at NAB Show is a headless console, the VP2. It doesn’t have a surface, just some software that you can pick up and control anywhere. It’s feasible for an automation system in Dallas to control a VP2 in, say, Los Angeles,” he said.

One U.S. network is considering moving their electronics off-site, Letson said. “They can throw the hardware into service centers and keep talent and control surfaces locally. Operationally, nothing changes.”

All that said, not everyone is ready to jump on the AoIP bandwagon. Manufacturers have been introducing software products to ease the discovery and management processes, functionality that was not included in the AES67 design brief, which may be why some customers remain wary and confused, as Stephen Brownsill, audio product manager at TSL Products, has observed when visiting clients.

“What all the sensible customers seem to be doing is proof of concept,” said Brownsill, and setting up test labs. “That allows them to validate and look at the products available. It also gives them a good training ground.”