Audio over IP: Audinate and Barix Talk

The development of more and more complex audio systems, aimed at very different purposes ranging from concerts in large venues and stadiums to retail and advertisement installations, has created the need of specific networks and control processors to “move audio” and connect all the elements of a system, in order to have them “up and running”, communicating with one other, and possibly to control them remotely when suitable, in an effective and reliable way: this, in a nutshell, is Audio-Over-IP.

Many are the companies and protocols fighting in this arena, but two of them stand out from the crowd for their professionalism, thier commitment to both the industry and the clients and for their ability to develop what have become benchmark products/protocols for the sector: Audinate and Barix. We think they need no further introduction.

We had the chance to exchange some ideas with Landon Gentry, Manager, Global Support Services – Audinate, and David Gostick, Product Manager – Barix, whom we both thank heartily for sharing some of their time with us.

So, here we go, in strict alphabetic order!

Landon_GentryAudinate – Landon Gentry, Manager, Global Support Services

ZioGiorgio.com: Can you give a general description of Audio transmission and networking over IP?

Landon Gentry: Digital media distribution significantly reduces implementation by separating the logical and physical connection attributes of the AV system. In so doing a digital network can offer significant costs saving in time and money, while providing better performance than analog wiring. Digital audio distribution eliminates masses of bulky, heavy, expensive, and inflexible copper wires. Installation is made simple using digital networking; a single lightweight, inexpensive CAT5 cable can carry all the required inputs and outputs as digital audio data.

IP (Internet Protocol) over Ethernet is the most widely deployed approach to networking and represents the best available foundation technology for media networking. Cat 5 cables, switches and other hardware components used to build such networks are mass-market items in the IT domain.

Digital media distribution significantly reduces implementation by separating the logical and physical connection attributes of the AV system.

ZioGiorgio.com: What is the network which is best suited for Audio over IP?

Landon Gentry: Dante is built on global networking standards including Internet Protocols — not just Ethernet. With true IP routing, Dante technology works as an IT network capable of transporting professional quality audio and high definition video with no limits on your layout options.

Dante runs on inexpensive off-the-shelf computer networking hardware, and does not require dedicated network infrastructure. Ethernet switches transmit Dante digital media streams alongside ordinary data traffic, so you can integrate professional media operations into properly designed pre-existing networks.

ZioGiorgio.com: Are some protocols more suitable than others?

Landon Gentry: The most suitable protocol is the one that provides the best solution for your needs. In the case of Dante, we believe it is the most interoperable solution. More than 135 manufactures are world-class Dante partners. Dante also gives the most choices to design a system. It is the most specified networking solution, simple to deploy on existing networks. There are hundreds of products available today and under development. Dante is used in tens of thousands of installations today, and there were more than 3.5 million channels shipped last year.

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ZioGiorgio.com: What is the approach followed by your company in developing products based on this technology?

Landon Gentry: Unsurpassed media networking expertise is at the root of Dante. We pioneered standards-based, high-quality audio over standard IP computer networks. Dante is a complete plug and play solution for simplicity in networking. We also offer a virtual soundcard that operates on both PC and MAC platforms.

The most suitable protocol is the one that provides the best solution for your needs.

ZioGiorgio.com: What are the main advantages and drawbacks, if any, of this technology?

Landon Gentry: Our motto is that Networking Matters. There are many benefits to converged networks, as in merging media, control and data traffic over one network. These benefits include:

  • Lower Cost of Ownership: Eliminates the need for duplicating networking switches and cabling
  • Simpler to Manage: Single set of management tools to manage and monitor its entire network
  • Reliability: Management and monitoring systems are integrated into single network, allowing faster problem discovery, troubleshooting, and resolution
  • Minimize Support costs by leveraging common spares and training

ZioGiorgio.com: What are the main challenges in developing Audio over IP solutions?

Landon Gentry: The challenge with IP technologies is the notion that they are difficult to configure and made to work properly. Any solution that is overly complex is always doomed to fail.

The best way to solve the problem is to break it down into the underlying issues. First how do we make audio-over-IP devices and applications easy to install, configure and operate? And next, how to make configuring the IP network infrastructure that interconnects these applications as easy as possible?

 

Gostick HeadshotBarix – David Gostick, Product Manager

ZioGiorgio.com: Can you give a general description of Audio transmission and networking over IP?

David Gostick: From the Barix perspective, distributing audio over IP means taking an audio signal at one end, moving it across the digital network and then presenting it as an analog signal again at the remote end. That typically involves sampling the signal, converting it to a digital format and then packaging it up for transmission over the IP network using a pre-defined format (protocol). At the receivers (there can be many) the process is reversed and the analog audio presented for use.

You can choose the sample rate and number of bits of data used for each sample – these affect the quality of the audio reproduction at the receivers. You can also choose whether to send the data ‘raw’ or to encode the data, which can reduce (compress) the amount of data sent. This is important if the network connection has limited capacity (bandwidth). An example is the familiar mp3 encoding standard.

Finally, there is the network transport to consider. Exactly how will the data be sent? IP Networks support many agreed ways of moving the data around (protocols) and the one you choose depends upon your requirements.

Distributing audio over IP means taking an audio signal at one end, moving it across the digital network and then presenting it as an analog signal again at the remote end.

The network ‘transport’ can be likened to sending a large manuscript through the post using standard A4 envelopes; the manuscript has to be split into many envelopes (called packets in the networking world) and the address written on each one. The letters (packets) are then posted (put on the network), each stage of the postal system looks at the address on the letter and forwards it towards its destination. This is exactly the same for our packets on the network, with the same result: a stream of letters (packets) arrives at the destination.

ZioGiorgio.com: Are some protocols more suitable than others?

David Gostick: The different protocols are designed for different things. They are designed to fit a specific need or use case, and as such they have different pros and cons.

The most appropriate protocol to use depends upon what you are trying to do. For example, where low latency and speed of delivery over an IP network is desired, RTP (Real Time Protocol) is optimal. Where guaranteed delivery of all audio packets is needed, TCP makes sense, but it comes with a cost in terms of delay (latency) due to the need to store (buffer) the incoming data. Why? Back to the post analogy… the letters (packets) do not necessarily arrive in the same order that they were posted, so the incoming letters need to be sorted to get the manuscript back together.

RTP’s philosophy is ‘get the data to the destination as fast as possible.’ If some packets get lost, or arrive out of sequence, “that’s life”. The data packets hold milliseconds worth of data. Typically, audio integrity is not lost if a small number of packets drop by the wayside.

ZioGiorgio.com: What is the approach followed by your company in developing products based on this technology?

David Gostick: The Barix approach is threefold: One is to support open standards for interoperability with other systems, to be as flexible as possible; second, providing solutions that can be tuned to suit the local environment; and finally, to keep things as simple as possible. We want to make it so that the depth of IT knowledge required to set up a Barix systems is minimal at most. Our Reflector (IP audio bridging) and Simple Paging solutions are the latest examples of this philosophy.

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ZioGiorgio.com: What are the main advantages and drawbacks, if any, of this technology?

David Gostick: The advantages are:

  1. Low cost of installation. Most buildings have an IP network these days, with internet connectivity. Installing a PA, Intercom, or background music system no longer requires expensive, dedicated cable runs.
  2. IP Technology is easily scalable. Just add loudspeaker points, or intercom help points as and when they are needed.
  3. IP Technology is world spanning – there is no limit to how remote devices can be: one customer used our technology to send whale songs captured underwater from Antarctica to their website in Germany!

The drawbacks, on the contrary, are:

  1. some locations don’t have reliable internet connections: this is precisely the reason we developed our “Store and Play” in-store radio solution, the latest generation of which is part of our new SoundScape platform.
  2. IT departments can sometimes be extremely protective of their networks – with good reasons. In these cases, installation can be more complicated.

ZioGiorgio.com: What are the main challenges in developing Audio over IP solutions?

David Gostick: Audio over IP has the same key challenge as everyone else: understanding what the customer really wants, and convincing them that we have the answer.

ZioGiorgio.com: What is the main field to which your company’s products and solutions can be applied?

David Gostick: Barix has two principal focus areas. The first is Audio distribution in Retail, which encompasses background music with localized advertising insertion; and Audio Signage, which we demonstrated at the ISE 2014 show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD1VZs2OVWY. This application synchronizes audio feeds with digital signage to give shoppers a more personalized and multi-sensorial experience.

The second focus area is Intercom and Public Address applications, which are especially popular on campuses (schools, universities, offices), Mass Transit facilities and large shopping centers, including malls.

ZioGiorgio.com: What is the largest event that your company has recently been involved in?

David Gostick: Barix supported the Pope at the VII World Meeting of Families mass rally at Bresso Airport in Italy; the last Commonwealth Games in India, where Barix broadcast-quality IP devices were for audio contribution from sports venues; as well as the World Youth Day in Sydney. At World Youth Day, hundreds of thousands of people were kept informed and directed using Barix audio over IP technology. Typical Barix installations are permanent parts of a facility’s infrastructure, however.

In the future we will see audio being used in ways that wasn’t practical before

ZioGiorgio.com: What is the future of Audio over IP?

David Gostick: Audio over IP has become established thanks to the expansion of the internet and proliferation of network devices. TVs with built-in Skype cameras are one example. What new uses can the audio be applied to is a different question. New uses will spring from collaboration and integration of different technologies.

One leading edge example is a totally automated and adaptive Passenger Information System, implemented using a natural-sounding text to speech system integrated with the flight information database. This results in a system that can automatically update zoned flight announcements as the arrivals and departures information changes.

In the future we will see audio being used in ways that wasn’t practical before – how about analyzing the sound of a crowd to determine its mood? Are they coming happy out of your concert?

info: www.audinate.com
info: www.barix.com

 

Alex Panella
ZioGiorgio Network

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