Managing flexible spaces
Places of worship are more than just buildings being used just one day a week. Across different faiths, they often amount to serving as the center of communities, hosting different events and services year-round, from celebrations and weddings, to educational programs for youth, and much more. As these activities expand, so has the use of media, and with it, the need for flexible deployment of audio and video systems.
In a typical mid-sized church in the United States, main sanctuaries house sound systems that are often augmented by speakers in the lobby areas. Screens and speakers are frequently installed in overflow rooms to share the service, as well as in classrooms used for religious study by young members.
If you are interested in learning more about networking within houses of worship, check out the following session, "Networking for Today's IP Based Production Environments," slated for the WFX Conference & Expo this November in Orlando.
In the past, these systems may have been “hard wired” into the building using analog equipment. While initially effective, this type of installation is very inflexible and requires extensive manual labor to move signal-specific cables routed inside walls whenever a new location or channel count is needed. Analog installations are also susceptible to signal degradation, noise and interference, especially when long runs of cable are required to reach distant endpoints.
In short, once an analog system was working, the rule of thumb was, “don’t mess with it.”
Moving beyond point-to-point with networks
Analog systems (and some early digital systems) are connected “point-to-point,” meaning that each signal-carrying connection starts at one end of a cable and ends at the other, thereby interlinking only two devices. While intuitive and easy to understand, this arrangement is rigid and limiting — each output may connect to only one input, determined by physical jacks and cables.
Changing signal flow means, by definition, moving these connections from one jack to another, swapping one cable for another. When new functionality is needed, labor is involved, to where risks can be uncovered.
Networks operate upon a fundamentally different model of connectivity. On a network, all devices are always connected together via a common fabric of switches, Ethernet cables and routers. Software is then used to determine where data is sent and received, and so any combination of signal routes can be configured to happen quickly and easily with no change to physical connections.
This difference is profound.
Networks have nearly infinite flexibility regarding how an AV system functions and how endpoints can be deployed. Integrators and end users alike are no longer left to be bound by the limitations of analog distribution, connectors and cables, to where they can easily expand systems as desired.
None of this additional capability would be very compelling if it were difficult to figure out and use. Fortunately, popular solutions like Dante from Audinate focus upon delivering a great user experience, providing easy-to-use software tools that automatically discover all networked audio devices and allow connections to be made instantly.
Extending audio with a network
In legacy analog systems, adding additional speakers to address overflow spaces and classrooms meant running single-purpose signal cables over long distances, usually in or on walls. Once in place, the functionality in such systems would be fixed, until the devices are changed, and different cables run. As a result, the quality of audio in these spaces has been subpar, and difficult to adjust once in place.
Switching to a network can be a simple and beneficial fix for such situations with poor performing audio. Networks only require a building to have structured CAT5 cabling in the walls, which is incredibly common and inexpensive.
Once wall jacks are in place, any networked audio device can use it to connect to the larger network. The device can be anything from a single microphone or loudspeaker, to a massive, 64-channel audio mixing console. Networks can handle all of this with ease.
An overflow room or classroom with a network jack can now host any desired audio devices. Powered loudspeakers, for example, can pipe audio from the sanctuary into these spaces, and the same connection allows for simultaneous recording, or even streaming, of these worship services.
Networked microphones can allow people in any space to participate with the larger group, with no need to run separate or different cables. Each space can host its own audio devices to form individual PA systems for larger classrooms, using the same network as the main sanctuary, with no problem.
Audio networking vastly simplifies the physical connections between devices, while simultaneously expanding how connections work and are managed.
How to address latency, compression and interoperability
For those new to audio networking, questions may linger from earlier technologies, such as VoIP phone systems or even CobraNet. The good news is that things have changed since the days of those earlier technologies – a lot.
Is latency an issue for networked audio?
No. While early VoIP systems in the 1990s may have suffered noticeable lag on the order of hundreds of milliseconds, modern audio networks, like Dante, have very low, consistent latencies, far below audible thresholds. A typical fixed value for a large Dante system is one millisecond.
Is the audio compressed to fit onto a network?
Again, no. Modern networks operate at a data rate of 1 gigabyte per second, which is more than enough bandwidth to accommodate up to 512 bidirectional channels of uncompressed, professional quality audio at a 48 kHz sample rate and 24-bit depth on each device. Audio compression is simply unnecessary for real-time networking.
How do I know devices will work with each other?
While audio networking protocols are built on a common set of standards, they are differently implemented to suit the objectives of the maker. As a result, some devices are built to primarily operate with others made by the same company, while other makers choose solutions that are shared by many others.
For example, Audinate’s Dante is a popular audio networking solution in use today. It is developed and sold as a general-purpose, complete solution that allows manufacturers to build products that deliver guaranteed interoperability, using a common set of software tools for configuration and everyday use. Dante also supports AES67, an interoperation standard that allows for basic audio connections between other network types.
Dante is used by more than 400 manufacturers and used in more than 1,500 products, allowing technical directors within houses of worship to specify seamless multi-vendor installations.
Budgeting and Networks: Where to Invest
Networking infrastructure is now a common feature of many newer buildings and is frequently retrofitted into older ones. Because the cabling is slender, lightweight and inexpensive, this job is not so onerous, as audio installations once were.
Any network cabling that is installed may be used for all the things networks do: supporting office computers, printers, Wi-Fi for attendees, and, of course, the audio system.
There is no need to invest in “special” networking equipment to run audio networks. Just be certain that high quality, managed gigabit switches are employed. An integrator or IT consultant can easily configure typical network switches to address any special needs that arise.
Approach to networking
Audinate differs from other manufacturers in the AV space. The goal of Dante has been to create a common audio networking platform, upon which manufacturers could build products that are certain to interoperate.
By developing and refining a complete suite of tools for vendors and end users alike, Dante provides a consistent set of methods, expectations and performance across the widest possible range of products, freeing audio specialists to do what they do best.
Dante is built upon IP standards, and is compatible with all standard TCP/IP networks. No special switches or cables are required; Dante data appears as ordinary traffic. Critically, Dante implements IEEE1588, Precision Time Protocol (PTP). This allows Dante to impose strict time alignment upon all connected devices, ensuring that they are each synchronized to within +/- 1 microsecond of each other.
PTP clocking eliminates old issues with using multiple digital devices – in a Dante system, there is no “time smear” or jitter to worry about. Audio that is transported between devices is always bit-perfect.
Audio networking provides a level of flexibility and ease of use that aligns well with activities in nearly any house of worship, from classrooms to lobbies, from sermons to wedding celebrations.
Connections can be rearranged, speakers and microphones moved to where they need to be, and a network jack is all that is needed, to get the system up and running.
The low cost and universal utility of installed network cabling means that investments in this area pay off quickly and pave the way for future innovations.