Last week, I wrote about Biamp and the announcement that Dante will now be an option in their smaller TesiraFORTÉ DSP units. While it is an interesting story and the TesiraFORTÉ DAN units do fill a niche, it might not be as important as it appeared to me at first reading. I’ll tell you why not and relate a nice chat I had with the good folks from Biamp, but first we really should talk about baseball.
With pitchers and catchers due to report this week, baseball season is upon us — even with snow remaining on the ground. What I want to bring up isn’t the upcoming rite of summer, but the player trade and acquisition side of the game. Two years ago, for example, my beloved New York Mets traded Robert Allen Dickey who was, at the time, the best pitcher in the game. Their return was a number of younger players who wouldn’t be ready for another year or more. Last year the New York Yankees traded closer Aroldis Chapman (with whom I have other issues – to be discussed in an upcoming post on my personal blog) at the trade deadline. Both clubs likely lost more games than they won in the short term, but in the long term the teams were made better by enacting a longer-term plan.
Why am I talking about baseball and what does this have to do with Biamp, AVB or Dante? The first point is that as a fan, we’re conditioned to want to see our team have the best players and win the most games. As an AV systems designer, I want solutions that fit the needs of my immediate and near-future clients. A manufacturer is more like the front office of the baseball team; yes, they want to win games and yes, they want to see their gear specified into as many products as possible. They also have a long-term roadmap in mind, and what makes the most sense short-term does not always fit their longer-term vision.
I had a discussion with Graeme Harrison, executive VP of marketing from Biamp, following my initial comments on the introduction of the new TesiraFORTÉ DAN units. While acknowledging that Biamp lost some projects because of their choice of AVB over Dante, Harrison contends that it was the right choice for their roadmap and if given the option to do it again, they’d still make the same same decision. It’s because that, like a smart general manager, Biamp’s eyes were not on the next year or the next RFP, but on long-term, sustainable success.
Why do they see AVB as long-term success while Dante is more questionable? The first reasons are technical: AVB does allow more robust time-synchronization than is available with any other protocols. To create a network-based audio and video ecosystem requires an answer to the question of synchronization, and Biamp believes this to be the best answer in the long term. The second reason is more of an organizational and philosophical reason, and one with which I have sympathy: Dante looks like a standard, but it is not a standard; it is a product, wholly owned by Audinate. As such, development of Dante is out of Biamp’s hands in the way that application of an open standard — such as AVB — is not. To rely on Dante as the backbone of their architecture would leave the entire future roadmap dependent on another company developing the required features at the required times, in near-perfect sync with Biamp’s development team. This was, in their mind, not a reasonable goal.
The alternative to AVB was not, in fact, Dante. The alternative would have been to make the choice QSC made and create a new proprietary standard. This would allow control of the roadmap without being beholden to a third party. Harrison noted that one of the strengths of the Dante technology is also its weakness: ease of implementation. A manufacturer can purchase Brooklyn II modules from Audinate and integrate them with other hardware without developing a strong understanding of how the network protocols work. They leave some of us ignorant of the broader language of IT and allow us to implement technologies without fully understanding them. At best, it’s a nice shortcut allowing those with expertise in audio ingress to the world of networked transport. At worst, it’s a crutch. For a manufacturer of endpoint devices, this kind of shortcut makes sense. For those building an entire ecosystem it might not.
So where do the TesiraFORTÉ DAN units fit in all of this? I’ll go back to my baseball analogy to the Mets bringing in an aging but still capable Daisuke Matsuzaka for parts of the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Matsuzaka was not going to be part of the team’s long-term future plans, but did fill an immediate need for the team. That is more akin to what happened with the Dante models of the TesiraFORTÉ; this isn’t a move away from AVB or even towards Dante, but an answer to an immediate need from their customer base to use the Shure MX910 ceiling microphones in small, standalone spaces. In the on-going story of Biamp’s AV platform, Dante products are a footnote.
So what does this mean overall? In practical, immediate terms, it doesn’t mean all that much. The new Dante units are available and will fill certain needs. In a broader sense, thinking about it in a different way changes the story. Biamp is building an ecosystem based on open standards and the long-term direction in which they see the industry moving. We need to learn, to understand and to build our systems around IT best-practices as well as AV practices. For my part, I should remind myself that while one can look at new products with the same breathless anticipation as tomorrow night’s game, we need to look at choices of technologies with an eye towards the season, the next season and the season after that.