SVG Sit-Down: Focusrite’s Phil Wagner Talks Networked Audio
Networked transport of audio will be a hot topic in 2016. MADI won’t give up its well-entrenched place as the format of choice for routing audio around and between OB vans — and, to a lesser extent, within the plant — but the rapid proliferation of networked audio in virtually all pro-audio environments, including broadcast, suggests that mobile production environments will make greater use of that modality in 2016 and beyond. Here, Phil Wagner, president of Focusrite Novation, maker of the RedNet series of network-audio interfaces, talks about that landscape with SVG.
SVG: Broadcast tends to be slow to embrace new ways of working, and sports are no exception, especially since it’s almost all live. So how is networking evolving in the broadcast plant — the studios in New York and Los Angeles? What’s the uptake been like?
Phil Wagner: Broadcasters are deploying IP-based networking on an increasing scale. We just finished the SVG Summit in NYC, and IP-based media was a topic of much discussion. The broadcast industry is moving toward an all-IP-based infrastructure, as it will provide scale for existing plants and allow for easier transition from 2K to 4K and beyond. The uptake at major networks is very solid, with one major incorporating 50 RedNet units. We are seeing others getting started.
SVG: Even slower to change is field production. OB vans here have been very happy with MADI for a long time. How is networking making its way into that arena? Are comms and IFB a way in?
PW: Remote trucks are adopting audio-over-IP, with several entertainment-oriented vehicles going for significant complements of RedNet interfaces. Networked audio provides space and weight savings. For All Mobile Video’s new vehicle, they have RedNet 1 8-channel units wherever they need audio. For MTV Nashville, they are incorporating RedNet 2 16-channel units with their RTS intercoms, as several other broadcasters have done. RedNet D64R MADI units tie into the consoles, and very soon we’ll offer AES67 to do this as well. We have about a half dozen sports and entertainment vehicles using our RedNet D64R MADI-to-Dante Bridge with very good success, including NEP and Game Creek.
SVG: What are the efficiencies that networked audio brings to broadcast sports? Especially, how will it help broadcast on the streaming side?
PW: Everything is going IP. Networked audio takes advantage of the one-hundred-fold investment the IT community has seen over the last decade. We now have affordable 10-Gigabit switches with availability of 40-Gigabit switches. This development will rise to ten times that over the coming years. As mentioned earlier, IP technology for professional media provides usefulness that dedicated production technology cannot. Broadcast customers are taking advantage of the significant savings that Ethernet cabling provides. We’re seeing the development of XLR connector for networked audio with the new AES67 standard. The SMPTE 2022-6 standard and VSF TR-03 recommendations pull the various protocols together, presenting a complete audio and video production solution. Customers will transition from HD-SDI to IP-based workflow, in a similar way to the analog-to-SDI transition that occurred 20 years ago. OTT initiatives require IP-based infrastructure for distribution to mobile platforms. In a complete IP infrastructure, program is IP-based from acquisition to distribution. This places a burden on production, as broadcasters must provide several “streams” for traditional and newer platforms.
SVG: And as broadcast television moves to an object-based model?
PW: Regarding the “object-based” model, I assume you are referring to Dolby Atmos and the like. For Atmos, RedNet is consistently employed between the MADI side of the Dolby processor or console and the speaker processor, which accepts Dante. As broadcasters adopt object-based mixing, the networked audio approach works as well, since the console can sit on the network once you employ [the right interface] device.
SVG: Considering the slow pace of change in this environment, broadcast will likely be working in hybrid environment as the transition unrolls, much as it did during the transition from analog to digital and SD to HD. Any advice for how to integrate networked audio into that scenario most effectively, as we go from AV to IT?
PW: We’ve seen this happening already. Facilities are incorporating and planning IP-based infrastructure alongside traditional HD-SDI plant routing. Plant routers are incorporating IP infrastructure. The environments will morph. This is akin to the digital transition that film-mixing facilities underwent in the 1990s. Until the last sprocket-based transport was gone, you still needed bi-phase sync. So we will see new plants that are solely IP-based, and we will see existing facilities that are in a hybrid as they transition to the IP base. As far as advice, the old simple rules apply: get involved with trusted vendors who take responsibility for the application. Transitioning to new technology is always complicated.
SVG: For the bigger picture, what is the transition from copper to fiber going to mean for broadcast audio going forward? Sound quality, workflow, etc.?
PW: Many of our customers have noticed the difference RedNet makes to the sound quality. We focus on very high mic-pre and audio-conversion quality. Network switches operate at 20 times the clock speed of traditional PCM audio, and this helps the technical performance of the digital audio signals; the clocking is much tighter and as a result the sound is improved. Of course, networked audio eliminates most cabling issues. The density is significantly improved with 512 bi-directional channels possible on a single Cat-6 cable. Workflow is dramatically improved. The concept of simply plugging in a cable for an additional split without any additional hardware is amazing. It just works.