Routers Evolve in Two Directions
A year ago, the router was poised at a tipping point: it had become smaller, lighter (a key point for trucks) and denser, offering more crosspoints in the same amount of space. A year later, those evolutionary trends have positioned the router closer to its goal of replacing manual routing aboard remote trucks, though not quite as pervasively as some had hoped.
The goal for truck operators has been to reduce cabling complexity and the weight associated with signal routing while accommodating the increasing demand for more audio channels tied to each video signal. Two distinct approaches have evolved for addressing this: one is the use of separate audio routers, generally integrated with the digital audio console on the truck, that interface with the video routers aboard; the second is the implementation of a video router that also accommodates audio-signal routing via internal audio de-embed/embedding capabilities. The former has become more dominant in European remote-truck operations; the latter has been gaining traction in the States.
As with some other key operational aspects of remote trucks, cultural differences affect decision making. Steve Dupaix, director of marketing at Grass Valley, points out that separate operation of audio and video signals, joining them when needed via embed/de-embed mechanisms, requires sophisticated and expensive software management systems, such as those made by L-S-B Broadcast Technologies (Virtual Studio Manager software) and BFE Studio und Medien Systeme (KSC Router Control). These systems add to the initial capital costs of trucks but reduce long-term operating expenses by reducing personnel requirements. This, he says, better suits the European business model for operator-owned OB vans.
The freelance A1 model more common in the U.S. has encouraged a trend toward integration of audio- and video-signal routing within a central video router.
Dupaix believes that keeping the audio and video signals separate is preferable because it reduces latency and creates a cleaner, less complicated workflow that does not require audio embedding/de-embedding. “It’s a matter of where you prefer to put your capital, too: upfront or at the backend,” he says.
“There’s still a bit of a cultural gap when it comes to audio routers installed on remote trucks,” agrees Rusty Waite, president of Stagetec’s North American operations, one of several European companies, including Lawo and Calrec, that have been proactively advocating full integration of audio routers and digital audio consoles aboard remote trucks in the U.S. market.
Waite says that a distributed approach to audio-router implementation — one in which nodes are placed at specific locations on an event campus and tie back into the truck as its own node — is his company’s preferred way to integrate more digital routing into the sports-broadcast workflow.
And this is not incompatible with the use of embedded audio using larger video routers, which are also seeing greater penetration into new truck designs. In fact, audio-router design itself continues to progress even as manufacturers’ marketing departments try to encourage more acceptance for integrated routers by broadcast users.
Waite notes that Stagetec’s NEXUS audio router has a new XDIP interface board that connects the NEXUS network system to networks running Audinate’s Dante architecture. The board uses existing standard Ethernet infrastructure using TCP/IP and is compliant with the emerging AVB standard IEEE 802.1BA.
“We’re backing Audinate because we believe that the AVB protocol and IP-based distribution of audio are the way of the future,” says Waite, adding that the current versions of its NEXUS products continue to be introduced to the larger sports broadcast business via such as events at the NBA All-Star Game.
Scott Bosen, director of marketing for Utah Scientific, says integration of audio routing into video routers has been simplified and expedited by the more extensive use of MADI as an audio transport.
“With a 2Kx2K audio router integrated into the video router, you can handle up to 16 channels of discrete embedded audio associated with each channel of video that can be extracted from any video source or embedded into any video output in the router, in addition to the normal audio routing functions,” he says. “It’s a very efficient, effective package for a remote truck.”
The idea of the hybrid AV router has been around for some time. What’s improved are the control systems for them, says Mark Nelsen, market segment manager for production at Miranda/Nvision. Control systems, he adds, are not premium-priced in the U.S., which they tend to be in Europe, where highly customized control systems for truck routing are common. The challenge, he feels, is to design routers that can work seamlessly in conjunction with various other manufacturers’ routing and storage systems yet still offer some level of custom functionality based on the user’s particular needs, such as dynamic channel renaming.
“That kind of functionality is as important as the routing capability is,” he says. “The router has to be kind of agnostic in its ability to be integrated with other systems today. The flexibility and feature set of the router-control system has become as important as the router capability itself. Because of this, customers sometimes want to use a third-party control system, so it has become important that the router can support third-party protocols directly, without the need to add an external protocol translator.”
Routers will continue to evolve based on the changing requirements of sports broadcasting. But the driving force going forward seems to be convergence between audio and video. Herbert Lemcke, president of Lawo North America, which manufactures audio consoles with integrated audio router and announced its SDI-Dock combined audio-video product at the recent NAB Show, puts it plainly: “We’re betting the future on that kind of convergence, and we’re not alone.”