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Making an Inspired Transition to IP-Based Audio Workflow

Just as the digital transition brought new production philosophies to the process, the IP transition is evolving and yielding even greater speed and flexibility.

The transition to IP-based workflows in worship production has begun to transform facility design at a much faster rate than did the Y2K-era transition from analog to digital consoles.

The production tools for the design and administration of these systems are the fastest-evolving technologies that provide a standardized, future-proof roadmap.

Just as the transition to digital incorporated new production philosophies into the process, the IP transition is evolving and yielding even greater speed and flexibility. The only constants included in these transitions, is the anxiety that accompanies such a major technology shift, and the need to first understand and then adapt to the new technology, related terms and methods.

Early attempts at audio over IP (AoIP) did pave the way for wider adoption of IP technology.

While the embrace of Audinate’s Dante protocol for audio distribution by larger churches, though, was a valuable first step toward IP-based FOH applications, this and many other legacy network technologies developed by individual audio equipment manufacturers are restrictive — limited in their expandability and in their ability to address real-time production demands and how to integrate with video-based systems.

Today, IP-based production technology is rapidly advancing toward more refined and standardized solutions.

The advent of the standard of SMPTE ST 2110 and the move to open standards and broader interoperability are fueling the transition to IP infrastructures.

Manufacturers continue to adapt their products to support these new standards and to accommodate the functionality required for modern, integrated production infrastructures that support audio, video, and metadata, along with control and monitoring — all on the same platform. 

Included as a subset of SMPTE ST 2110, AES67 audio is now a standard for audio transport streams in the IP world.

The production tools for the design and administration of these systems are the fastest-evolving technologies that provide a standardized, future-proof roadmap.

Houses of worship that already have Dante-based systems can bridge into AES67 topologies, with products from most manufacturers. If they are designing from scratch, such facilities can use an all AES67-based system to bypass these unnecessary bridges and build a standards-based solution that fosters broader interoperability and a path to future expansion.

Once all audio and video signals reside on the switch fabric of a single campus or a multiple-city wide-area network or WAN, the IP-based workflow possibilities multiply. Such solutions have been employed successfully in large-scale sports productions, such as the Olympics, to where the possibilities for innovation and expansion are growing, thereby accelerating the migration of such IP workflows for worship facilities as well.

Maintaining all audio, video, and associated data on a single network has other benefits.

The management, control, and monitoring of a single network is much easier than is the task of managing two (audio and video) different systems.

Although the argument can be made that separate network systems provide a degree of redundancy, the standard of SMPTE ST 2022-7 provides a single network solution, by defining network redundancy and automatic signal switching to redundant paths, which is also referred to as seamless protection switching (SPS) or hitless merge.

The addition of a control layer unifies the audio, video, intercom, multiviewer, and IP routing control into a single broadcast control and monitoring environment, where a single button push can launch a predefined volley of changes that instantly reconfigure the production environment.

A control system like this eliminates the need for human intervention to access and manage individual hardware and software packages. As a result, production and engineering personnel can focus their energy and efforts on delivering the best possible experience for the congregation.

As the transition to IP-based production tools and infrastructure continues to accelerate, so does the need to evaluate planning and personnel, to keep a facility and its capabilities current.

The tech director role within a house of worship is quickly changing from an audio/video/lighting/staging position, to an IT position. Sourcing personnel who are comfortable and competent in that role and who also understand the functionality and requirements of all other aspects of the production infrastructure can be a challenge.

Beyond the day-to-day operation and oversight of facilities and personnel, technical staff will also be engaged in managing the network, a task that requires new talents and tools.

A staff typically relies on software capable of monitoring, analyzing, and reporting on the performance of not just the network, but all connected edge devices. Software for system monitoring and real-time telemetry can bridge the production and IT operations, helping technical staff to more quickly identify and resolve issues such as packet loss, jitter, oversubscription, and more.

If, for example, part of a Sunday worship service gets lost, it can be difficult to sort out the problem and its origin.

As a result, production then blames IT. Only for IT to blame production.

With full network and media visibility across all broadcast infrastructure and robust analytical tools, technical staff can rewind the telemetry of the network, and take a deep dive into the network’s operation. They can quickly identify and address the issue at the root of the problem, with a high level of confidence.

House of worship tech staff members have many resources at their disposal to assist them in the transition to IP-based production, and one of the best ways to enter this realm is to become acquainted with the AIMS Alliance. AIMS is an industry consortium led by broadcast engineers, technologists, visionaries, vendors, and business executives that are dedicated to an open-standards approach, moving broadcast and media companies quickly and profitably from legacy SDI systems to a virtualized, IP-based environment. 

While there may be differences of opinion about the pace of change in our industry, there is no doubt that change is afoot, and that having a clear technology roadmap is essential to a successful transition.

Houses of worship must carefully consider decisions regarding infrastructure and workflow for their production facilities. The choices they make today should not lead to technological or commercial (proprietary) dead ends. 

With help and assistance from qualified professionals, staff members do not have to go it alone.

When house of worship tech staff members approach the IP transition and positive potential of this new generation of tools and techniques, with all the passion that they bring to every worship event, they will be rewarded with a new world of possibilities.

(Mike Franklin is the senior sales manager for Lawo, a company based in Rastatt, Germany, specializing in the manufacture of digital mixing consoles and other professional audio equipment.)

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