Tech Focus: Digital Audio Networking, Part 2 — Product Development Speeds Adoption
New products, platforms push integration with venue IT networks
Having been relatively isolated from live sports production, networked audio is coming in from the cold. As sound becomes more integrated with the IT networks in sports venues, the industry is developing products and platforms that will further accelerate that process.
Riedel’s Bolero wireless intercom product was announced in March, just ahead of NAB 2017. The 1.9-GHz DECT system uses decentralized antennas running over a standards-based AES67 network. The antennas connect to switches that connect to AES67 client cards in the Riedel Artist mainframes to provide a fully integrated point-to-point intercom ecosystem with seamless roaming capabilities.
According to Rick Seegull, manager of systems consulting, Riedel Communications, the development and introduction nearly two years ago of AES67, part of the SMPTE 2110 standard, set the stage for accelerated development of networking products. Riedel, which also has a proprietary networked-audio solution called RockNet, can navigate a range of other networks, including the ubiquitous Dante, thanks to AES67. A typical signal path would take input from a commentator or other on-air talent and send it to the main mix console, where the signal will be added to studio commentary and sent to the venue mixer for broadcast.
“Networked audio for sports venues is inevitable, but third-party interoperability for those kinds of intercom applications is huge in terms of moving it forward,” Seegull says, adding that three-quarters of proposals now include AES67 in the design.
New products have also been announced for Dante, whose assertive market strategies were likely as important as its networking capabilities in moving audio networking forward. According to Kieran Walsh, regional manager of global support services/EMEA for Dante parent Audinate, Dante Domain Manager will come to market in the fourth quarter. The virtualized application runs on Windows and Linux desktop and server platforms, with a web interface for desktop, tablet, and mobile browsers. It will provide user authentication, role-based security, and audit capabilities to Dante networks, while allowing nearly unlimited expansion and organization of Dante systems over any network topology.
Dante Domain Manager places heightened emphasis on network security, an area that Walsh notes has historically been a point of contention between IT specialists and the audio professionals who want access to their networks. “[Network] security was never really a bandwidth issue; it was always a control issue,” he says, pointing out that the new software’s beta trials included at least one sports venue. “Among other things, Dante Domain Manager will let users limit the access of audio over a converged network, because not all audio in a stadium has the same requirements: you don’t want your voice evacuation alerts running on the same network paths as the halftime show. This will bring a higher level of control over that.”
Q-SYS Goes Fully IT
Reflecting a tighter integration with conventional IT culture, QSC this year introduced the fourth generation of its Q-SYS networking platform. It uses centralized data-center processing and can run on a standard Dell EMC PowerEdge R730 server.
“The Q-SYS platform is centered on audio, video, and control solutions that take advantage of existing IT hardware, protocols, and standards and uses standard Intel processing, Linux operating system services, and IEEE networking protocols,” explains Martin Barbour, product manager, installed sound, QSC. Moving control of networked audio closer to the SaaS (software as a service) model, this iteration of Q-SYS decouples existing Q-SYS software from proprietary hardware and creates an architecture in which centralized AVC processing can live in the data center, allowing processing-intensive features, such as AEC and feedback suppression, to become a shared resource across an enterprise.
The Concept Has Come a Long Way
If it sounds very IT-centric, it is. George Douglas, VP, sales/performance venues, for systems integrator AVI-SPL, was involved in what was reportedly the very first implementation of networked audio in a sports venue: at Vancouver’s BC Place, home of the CFL’s BC Lions and the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps. Since then, through the advent of Dante and other new-generation networking platforms, he says, the concept has become the standard for venue audio-signal transport.
In fact, says Douglas, who is now based in Dubai, the U.S. has become the benchmark for sports-venue audio networking, thanks in large part to the deep integration between sports broadcasting and the venues.
“At the new Yankee Stadium, which we worked on, there are a dozen truck locations, all connected via networked fiber,” he explains. A typical major soccer stadium in the Middle East? “Maybe two,” he says, because of the lock that state broadcasters have on sports there.
The connection between broadcast sports and networked audio is clear, Douglas believes: “They’ve greatly helped each other’s development over the years.”