NAB 2016: DTV Audio Group Annual Meet Drills Down on IP

By Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

The DTV Audio Group’s annual meeting — a small but intense conclave of top-tier broadcast audio professionals, held on the eve of the NAB Show — doesn’t officially set an audio agenda for the convention, but it often accurately anticipates what the industry will face at the Las Vegas Convention Center. That’s what it did this year, with its focus on the incipient virtualization of much of the broadcast process, from content creation to delivery.

DTV AG Executive Director Roger Charlesworth pointed out that virtualization, which is converting hardware-based processes to software in all aspects of industry, is accelerating in broadcasting. “On the infrastructure side, we’re moving away from hardware with a specific function and moving towards ‘soft’ networked infrastructure,” he told the audience of about 75 attendees, including sponsors Calrec, DAD, Dale Pro Audio, Dolby, JBL, Lawo, Linear Acoustic/Telos Alliance, Sanken, and Studer. This, he continued, applies as well to broadcast audio: “Advanced surround is no longer channel-based but being rendered into objects placed appropriately for the environment. We’re seeing the transition to networked [signal] transport for audio and video.”

One network engineering VP looked ahead to the next decade, when broadcast data centers would be indistinguishable from those of Google or Amazon. Virtualization there would allow those centers to scale their processing as needed, giving networks operational flexibility. And that scaling would extend to the hybrid cloud, with processing also taking place in remote servers when additional power was needed. We needn’t look too far into the future to see this in action, he said, pointing out that the most recent Super Bowl used live IP routing, as will the upcoming U.S. Open golf tournament.

Speed bumps on the way to virtualized production remain, however, mainly because of the absence of universally accepted standards and protocols. It’s an initiative being undertaken by the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS) and its initial emphasis on VSF TR-03 and TR-04, SMPTE 2022-6, and AES67 protocols. That approach differs from that of the ASPEN Group (Adaptive Sample Picture Encapsulation), which promotes uncompressed UHD/3G/HD/SD over MPEG-2 transport streams, although some key members of ASPEN have also backed AIMS. As next-generation audio formats emerge, industry consensus on IP transport will become more critical.

The recent evolution of audio-networking formats was cited as an example of how market forces can come up against open-standards approaches for finding consensus. Ravenna, Dante, and AES67 can coexist on the same network, one presenter pointed out, but that’s not the same thing as interoperability, which depends on a number of factors, including choices that individual manufacturers make even when adapting the same formats into their products.

But, when all the pieces fall into place, the benefits are substantial. One manufacturer cited a leading European motorsports network that needed a wide variety of system configurations for various events. Networked audio scaled easily, let them put microphones where and when they were needed, and reduced the production footprint while also reducing costs.

An update on wireless reallocation under the spectrum auction that began this month laid out the not so good that goes along with the good: more non-professional users gained access to remaining UHF spectrum, further diminishing what’s left for broadcast users; on the other hand, new products that leverage the GHz range are coming to market, offering a new avenue for professional wireless users.

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