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Lawo
A Lawo mc256 is shown being used during a musical production. All connections and processing take place backstage. The console’s timecode also controls the lighting desk’s automation.

Laying the Professional Groundwork for Future Expansion: Audio over IP

If something is up for renewal, ask yourself whether dated solutions with an IP translator are really worth the expense, when you could just as well purchase cutting-edge technology that speaks IP natively.

An IP infrastructure for live and broadcast applications in a house-of-worship context offers a number of benefits. One of them is easy resource sharing, i.e., the geographical separation of a live event and the places where it can be attended and complemented through live input.

Are there any downsides to going ST2110-compliant IP?

Data streams (rather than signals) can be sent from the main church to campuses in different cities, states or countries, on a so-called wide-area network, or WAN.

Flight-away case

A compact flight case with all you need for establishing an audio, video and control network spanning several geographic locations (WAN).

Of course, IP signals can also be distributed on-campus, i.e., on a local-area network  or LAN. And by “data streams” we mean audio, video and control signals.

So, if there are plans to share entire events, and more importantly, inviting all venues or campuses to contribute to weekend services, Bible studies, church meetings, weddings and funerals, Audio over IP is a fundamental first step on the way toward inclusive events.

Why?

Because it’s flexible, scalable, and can be based on the same open-standard technology, SMPTE2110, that subsequently added video gear uses.

Imagine being able to control not just the mixing console for the front of house and monitoring systems at venue A, but also what people in venues B, C, D, etc., hear and see, while at the same time recording the audio and video for clips that can be accessed on your church’s website, by those who were unavailable at the time of the event or would like to watch it on-demand.

It’s all About Clever Networking

In its basic form, Audio over IP, or AoIP, means that audio streams are transported over a network.

There are several Audio-over-IP protocols out there, some proprietary, i.e., developed by a given manufacturer and usually unable to talk to other brands, others slightly more generic, but lacking crucial options for future expansion, with no WAN support, and finally, what the broadcast world calls “real” Audio-over-IP: vendor-agnostic, perfectly interoperable solutions that do away with the most limiting restriction of other Ethernet-based approaches—manufacturer lock-in.

Originally developed for the broadcast world and its exacting specifications, Lawo’s native IP solutions are today used in a variety of contexts, ranging from radio and TV, over corporate and industrial communication, recording studios, live events, to houses of worship.

Lawo’s experience with such solutions is largely due to a forward-thinking roadmap, based on the idea that future audio and video systems would consist of various bricks that can be assembled to a “house” of just the right size to cover all aspects of the intended purpose.

One of the contributors to the RAVENNA protocol, Lawo paved the way for the AES67 standard, which has today become SMPTE2110, the generic standard for interoperability of (physical and virtual) devices by a variety of manufacturers.

It sounds expensive, right?

Well, it doesn’t have to be.

Natively ST2110-compliant devices cost about the same as solutions based on proprietary or limited-scope generic AoIP protocols. But they have modularity in their DNA and offer the guarantee that ST2110-compliant devices by any manufacturer will talk to one another.

Modularity means that you can start small, with a mixing console and a stagebox, for instance, and then add components as your needs evolve. Simply connect more distributed stageboxes and the required video equipment to the same network switches, as you go.

Here, There, Everywhere

As stated above, data streams can be transported over thousands of miles. One of Lawo’s customers, for example, has taken advantage of this flexibility for productions involving engineers in Tokyo, Sydney and Los Angeles, who work on the same project.

The underlying technology works equally well on a local, regional or country-wide scale. Depending on the scope of your applications, top-notch professional results can be achieved with a small number of devices.

Things to Bear in Mind

Simplified cabling, drastic weight reduction and flexible, format-agnostic connectivity are only three advantages offered by native IP solutions. Provided, that is, the gear you purchase speaks IP natively and does so in a universal language.

Until two years ago, there were almost as many formats as there were manufacturers.

Everybody thought they had found the best solution.

True to the outcome of previous “format wars,” open standards eventually prevailed. In the case of IP, they were initiated by the Alliance for IP Media Solutions, or AIMS, which fosters the adoption of one set of common, ubiquitous, standards-based protocols for interoperability over IP.

A bunch of far-sighted manufacturers ventured into IP with open environments in mind and actively contributed to the development of standards like RAVENNA, AES67 and Ember+ for interoperability; SMPTE 2110 for the accurate transmission of audio, video, control and timing data; and SMPTE 2022-7 for redundant operation. Professional users expect vendors to follow the standards of the AIMS Roadmap.

Users who stick to legacy solutions — called “baseband devices”— still believe that all existing equipment needs to be replaced in one go. This misconception is put to rest, by the availability of IP-native devices that offer a variety of “baseband” inputs (and outputs) and convert SDI, AES3 and other formats to IP, and back. The migration toward IP can thus be a gradual process.

There is a caveat, though, as some manufacturers offer so-called gateways, i.e., units that convert “baseband” formats to IP, to allow users to stick to their existing equipment.

Other vendors, on the other hand, build this gateway functionality into their next-generation devices, with a much more powerful feature set. There is even a solution called V__matrix where serving as a gateway is only one of many things the device can do.

If something is up for renewal, ask yourself whether dated solutions with an IP translator are really worth the expense, when you could just as well purchase cutting-edge technology that speaks IP natively. More often than not, add-on gateways are essentially an attempt to make old technology appear current.

Benefits of ST2110-based IP

Thanks to IP, a lot of users have developed distributed setups involving studios in two or even more cities. Control formats like Ember+, which are also transported over IP lines, allow a user on the East Coast, to remotely control video cameras, mixing consoles and a variety of other devices on the West Coast—or anywhere else on the planet.

Some users have started to leverage the WAN capability of their equipment to a point where the processing cores are centralized in one location. Users in need of that processing power are located elsewhere and can access a given device from different locations simultaneously.

Hit the Ground Running

Are there any downsides to going ST2110-compliant IP? Not as such, if you accept that IP requires a paradigm shift: people need to think in terms of data packets and switch configurations. This is something that can be learned.

While only a year ago, the biggest challenge posed by an IP network was that nobody really knew the routes taken by data packets or how to troubleshoot issues, this has since been overcome by system monitoring and telemetry software, such as SMART from Lawo, that makes the entire network transparent and easy to maintain.

Although this makes most sense in larger systems, this option exists from the moment you purchase your first IP-native mixing console. An mc²-series console from Lawo, for instance, would allow you to hit the ground running.

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