2019: The Year of AV-Over-IP — But Don’t Believe the Hype!
There’s no doubt in my mind that 2019 will be the year we look back on that the industry transitioned from signal routing and distribution via HDMI and so-called “digital-media” to AV-over-IP. Certainly not the entire industry — just most of it.
But buyer, specifier, installer and designer beware. Not all AV-over-IP is the same, not all AV-over-IP is interoperable and not all AV-over-IP is will work with routing everything.
Oh, and you MUST have solutions for BOTH 1G and 10G signal routing — 1G is NOT enough for every single application.
At this time, the AV-over-IP industry is dominated by the power of three — two companies and one “standard.” You likely know the companies off the top of your head — Crestron and AMX. But, the standard, you may not. Let’s digress for a moment.
Nearly 10 years ago, a tiny company called Southern Vision Systems, Inc. was started by a guy with a PhD in atomic, molecular and optical physics — Andy Whitehead. Andy found a way to send video over an ethernet network and branded the products SVSi — thus, Andy could easily be credited as the father of AV-over-IP. As you likely know, just as AMX was purchasing SVSi back in 2015, Harman purchased AMX — the timing was either dumb luck or brilliance. Either way, the SVSi product line has become the primary thing the AV industry buys from AMX now — once a top-three control system company. SVSi has more installed AV-over-IP systems than the rest of the industry combined.
The SVSi product line uses a 1 Gbps network (e.g., 1G) to send AV signals via Ethernet. So, depending on the resolution of the signal you are sending, it’s compressed between four to 16 times its original bandwidth. The quality of that compression determines the quality of the signal — and, how “visually lossless” it is truly depends on two factors — the human looking at it and their reference to the original source. So if for example, you are sending primarily video that’s constantly moving, or even PowerPoint slides with large fonts and color blocks, it’s likely you may not notice the video “loss” or trade-offs in compression from the original source. But, if you are showing finer details like medical imaging, art or excel spreadsheets, you very well may notice the artifacts (video noise) or loss of visual quality — especially, if you have strong memory recall of what the original source looked like. Since most people in an audience never see the original source in a presentation or meeting, most people don’t notice any problems with the video quality of 1G AV-over-IP.
Of course, there are a lot of other issues and considerations that need to be considered in 1G AV-over-IP video distribution but, this is a column, not a white paper. If you want to understand more, please feel free to watch my AV-over-IP keynote presentation from 2018 here.
Back to 1G and its limitations: If you’re displaying fine detailed material, color-critical detail or very high-resolution source material (like 4K or 8K) you may opt for a 10G (or 10Gbps) network method. Of course, both the AMX and the Crestron 1G systems are capable of 4K AV-over-IP and they both religiously tell you that their systems are good enough for 4K AV-over-IP with videos (here’s Crestron’s and here’s AMX’s) but, depending on the detail of the material being displayed, the viewer’s reference to the original source or the colorimetry of the source, 10G may be required.
In the 10G space, the only system that’s shipping right now is from the SDVoE Alliance. SDVoE is a member-driven organization with over 40 companies that have joined together to support the SDVoE (software defined video over ethernet) standard. Originally created by a company called AptoVision and branded as BlueRiver NT (AptoVision was purchased by chip manufacturer Semtech a couple of years go), the 10 Gbps capable AV-over-IP standard uses less compression than 1G, obviously. For example, if you have a 10-bit, 4K video signal with HDR @ 30fps, you end up with an uncompressed signal of (spending on the color chroma sampling rate) of somewhere between 10.2 and 18 Gbps. So, there’s obviously more compressing happening when you convert an 18G signal to 1G than there is from 18G to 10G. That’s math. Again, what you use or choose to use may depend (and should depend) on the application. For example, at the University of North Carolina (UNC), we will likely use 1G AV-over-IP between rooms (from room-to-room and between buildings) and 10G inside of each room for signal routing over the network. That way, we get the highest quality image from the source to the projectors in the classrooms (where there’s a source and the display sitting side-by-side) and then the more-compressed signal can be used for streaming, room-to-room broadcasts, recording and/or content sharing. (Note: Extron has launched its own 10G system — alongside a 1G system called the NAV — it’s not shipping yet, but here are the details.)
The point is, do NOT believe the “one-size-fits-all” marketing scheme. In AV-over-IP, it’s very much application-dependent — like my example above on how we’ll use AV-over-IP at UNC. Likewise, at a live staging event, you’ll want to use 10G to ensure no video or audio lag via the network. But, in the breakout rooms for the event, 1G will likely be fine. A boardroom — maybe 10G, but all the meeting and classrooms, likely 1G — again, depending on how critical the content is. A house of worship? Likely 10G in the worship hall and 1G everywhere else.
Remember, it’s all compressed. 10G and 1G. Both use compression. But the amount varies. And the amount a data going across the network matters too. In fact, not all 1G systems are made alike. Some use a lot more data than others. You’ll see this when you do your own tests.
Speaking of testing it for yourself, you NEED to get this. The company you’ve probably never heard of, called SecurityTronix has a product called the IP Buddy+ — it’s awesome. It allows you to quickly identify, configure and troubleshoot IP networks — something you will NEED to do in an AV-over-IP world. Almo ProAV is a distributor and here’s a video I shot of it at the E4 AV Tour in the Fall:
In the meantime, beware of marketing hype in and around the AV-over-IP space. It’s creeping up all over the place.