Everything from personal computers to mobile technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, and the same is true of audio and video facilities. But audio and video routing topology for use within a given facility has been stagnant for decades. This technology, which relies on purpose-built hardware and point-to-point cabling, is ready for a change. Internet protocol (IP) based solutions are revolutionizing the way audio and video signals are transported and should be integrated into any facility update.
Where it Began
Audio and video routing started with patch cords and augmented analog routers in a centralized, point-to-point configuration. All signals were transported to a central location where the routing was done. As formats changed from analog to digital, this basic routing methodology held on, even with the introduction of AES audio, SDI video, and SDI with embedded audio. The only thing that changed was the signal being transported, and each time a new signal was introduced, all the cabling and routing equipment needed to be replaced. This meant expensive, frequent systems overhauls done by a specialist.
The Promise of IP
IP routing doesn’t just replace a router– it eliminates it. With IP transport, the audio and video routing fabric is distributed throughout an entire network. This network is built using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware– the same hardware used in any commercial enterprise system. With the use of COTS hardware, manufacturers leverage the research and development costs across a very large install base, rather than developing purpose-built routing gear for the relatively small audio/video market, driving the cost down for everybody. This also allows for the faster rollout of new technologies and equipment, which means simpler and more cost-effective upgrades.
Even further, utilizing existing IP technology allows new capabilities to be added quickly. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) provide the underlying IP networking standards used by all networks, so the audio and video organizations like the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and Audio Engineering Society (AES) can focus their attention on layering of application-specific protocols.
Adapting to IP Routing
One of the concerns when implementing an IP routing solution is interoperability between manufacturers. These concerns are, in part, addressed by the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS) consortium, which tests compatibility in equipment manufactured by its 100+ members, along with the maturing and general adoption of SMPTE ST-2110 standards suite. Many end users are already working their way through the transition to IP transport and routing, realizing greater flexibility with a smaller footprint and cost. It’s been a huge success.
In the past, with traditional routing systems, the design, install, and troubleshooting skills needed have remained about the same for the entire lifecycle. Today, IP systems require a completely new set of skills for the same tasks, starting with a full understanding of underlying IP protocols and IP switching, as well as audio and video protocols.
Support for Multiple Formats
In today’s audio-intensive environment, the various sources and formats– including Dolby-Digital (AC-3), Dolby-E, Desecrate 5.1, Desecrate 2.0, alternate languages and descriptive audio programming for the visually impaired– all place stress on the broadcast plant audio infrastructure. Each of these services may originate from various locations or be inserted in the stream separately, and need to be routed to a destination while maintaining frame accuracy with the corresponding video. Video formats can vary greatly, ranging from legacy standard definition (SD) to 4K HDR and everything in between– including compressed formats. All of these variations can be accommodated in an IP routing solution. IP infrastructure allows the user to transport any format that exists.
Traditional routers are monolithic blocks of purpose-built hardware that usually take up a lot of physical space, power, and cabling. Each source and destination device has to be connected to a centrally-located router, and when new formats are introduced or you need more space, the solution– replacing the whole router– is often costly and inconvenient.
In an IP routing environment, the routing fabric can be extended at will, allowing for growth and expansion without replacing the entire routing system. As you onboard support for new formats, you don’t need to replace the whole system, just add interfaces on the edge.
Making the Switch
IP is poised to transform video and audio transportation over the next five years. SDI will be rendered obsolete by SMPTE ST-2110, and SDI is expected to become the new NTSC (RS-170A). Moving to an IP transport system eliminates the need for large, expensive hardware and supports a range of formats. And maybe best of all, it’s a flexible solution that grows with shifting technology and the organization’s needs.
This transition requires planning and consideration. Moving to IP-based transport and routing isn’t the right solution for everyone, but it’s imperative to periodically assess if your business should make the switch. It can be expensive, but the potential transformation to your workflow, hardware, and upgradability can greatly offset the cost and provide big payoffs in the future.
Work with Adorama Business Solutions
As your organization considers or prepares to transition to IP technology, Adorama Business Solutions can be your technology solutions partner. With an experienced Technical Services team and dedicated account management, your organization can receive expert guidance on technology requirements, customized training for staff, and personalized assistance in making decisions about upgrading hardware.