The software-defined-everything age reaches professional AV

Consortium promoting SDVoE - software-defined video over Ethernet - emphasizes the need for 10-Gbit/sec networks to support AV applications.

By Patrick McLaughlin

The SDx (software-defined-whatever) era is reaching professional audio-visual (AV) networks. In January the SDVoE (Software-Defined Video over Ethernet) Alliance announced its formation with a stated mission “to standardize the adoption of Ethernet to transport AV signals in professional AV environments, and to create an ecosystem around SDVoE technology that allows software to define AV applications.”

The alliance’s founding members are AptoVision, Aquantia, Christie Digital, Netgear, Sony, and ZeeVee. The alliance contended these founding organizations “bring different perspectives to the SDVoE initiative, spanning the entire ecosystem with expertise in chipsets (AptoVision, Aquantia), switches and storage (Netgear), and AV endpoints (Christie Digital, Sony, ZeeVee). The alliance’s president, Justin Kennington - a director with AptoVision - commented, “For years we have lived with the idea that AV/IT convergence is coming. The SDVoE Alliance and its technology finally provide the platform that is necessary to enable it. Using 10-Gbit Ethernet hardware to move video with flawless quality and zero latency is only the beginning. The creation of a software platform enables the development of whole new classes of applications not yet conceived.”

The alliance further explained that the use of Ethernet switches will enable more-cost-effective architectures for AV signal distribution, and Ethernet-based AV networks will provide a reliable and more-versatile alternative to point-to-point extension and circuit switches. Furthermore, the alliance said, it seeks to facilitate AV/IT convergence such that high-quality AV networks and data networks can simultaneously share a single infrastructure platform.

The physical layer

In addition to its founding members, the SDVoE Alliance enlisted contributing and adopting members. Panduit is a contributor. When the company announced its membership in the alliance, Panduit’s vice president of enterprise business, Dennis Renaud, said, “Panduit is excited to be the first cabling and connectivity manufacturer to join the SDVoE Alliance as a contributing member. The alliance and Panduit have similar goals of promoting the expansion and standardization of an AV-over-IP solution. This gives Panduit an opportunity to introduce our high-quality, industry-leading network products and solutions to the pro AV market.”

Kennington added, “SDVoE is the only off-the-shelf technology for pro AV that offers a full-stack solution addressing the entire seven-layer OSI stack with solutions at every layer. Panduit provides vital infrastructure that supports the Ethernet physical layer - the basis upon which all the other layers are built. We welcome their valuable contribution and participation in the alliance and look forward to working with them as we provide the solid, stable, reliable and cost-effective AV-over-IP platform the pro AV market seeks.”

The SDVoE Alliance also announced recently it will present a series of training sessions at InfoComm 2017, taking place June 14-16. Kennington noted that the alliance’s goal of educating professionals is “particularly important now that every major manufacturer of AV signal management gear seems to have an IP solution and disturbingly, many are making overblown claims. The matrix switch truly is dead, but meeting the performance capabilities of the matrix switch cannot be done using high-compression and 1G networks. It’s only possible on 10G networks.”

Different direction

Not everyone necessarily is on board with the notion that the matrix switch is dead. Take for example Belden, which recently agreed to acquire Thinklogical for $160 million from private-equity firm Riverside Partners. Thinklogical provides KVM, video, audio and computer peripheral signal extension and switching technologies. Riverside Partners’ chairman Steven Kaplan commented about the deal, “Thinklogical has been an exciting investment for Riverside Partners. During Riverside’s investment period … Thinklogical introduced more than 80 new products to the market. The management team has led an aggressive expansion of sales and marketing worldwide, while expanding its technology leadership position with the introduction of an innovative, industry-first TLX 10-Gbit/sec solution.”

The company describes its TLX matrix switch portfolio as “protocol-agnostic, non-blocking [with] 10-Gbit/sec performance and a flexible and efficient hybrid fiber/copper architecture.” The product line is scalable from 12 to 640 ports.

Belden chief executive officer and chairman John Stroup said, “We are extremely excited to welcome the talented Thinklogical team to the Belden family. The business is uniquely well-positioned for success, given its numerous market growth drivers, industry-leading proprietary products, and difficult-to-obtain intelligence and defense accreditations. This is a very compelling opportunity for Belden.”

In addition to the TLX matrix switches, Thinklogical offers system-management software, a line of Velocity 6.25-Gbit/sec matrix switches, video and KVM-extenders, chassis, and other products - including a 10-Gbit Ethernet extender for service-provider and wide-area networks.

The company says its products are deployed throughout the air-traffic control, broadcast and post-production, energy/utilities, oil-and-gas, professional AV, secure-facilities and staging/events industries.

“Our modular and flexible fiber-optic based products will allow you to win more business, operate more efficiently and effectively, minimize installation times and maximize the bottom line,” Thinklogical says about its professional AV portfolio. “Whether it’s a corporate campus, a video conference room, or a multi-screen control room or operations center, industry-leading pro AV companies count on Thinklogical products to deliver … Designed and built for demanding video-rich environments, Thinklogical’s fiber-optic-based products deliver high-performance audio, video and data-signal extension, conversion and switching ideal for many pro AV applications.”

It says its KVM extenders, matrix switches and routers, signal converters, and camera extenders are particularly suited for the pro AV industry.

Don’t take Belden’s acquisition of Thinklogical as an indication that it shuns Ethernet for AV. Steve Lampen, multimedia technology manager and product manager for Belden - and a widely recognized expert on AV technologies - authored a white paper titled “Here Comes Ethernet.” In a summary description of the document, Belden explains, “Audio Video Bridging (AVB) is a popular topic of AV emerging technologies today. While networked audio has been around for some time, today’s systems are proprietary, not the free open standard Ethernet is meant to be. Steve Lampen writes about these proprietary systems and the advantages of IEEE AVB, an open standard for networked audio and video. Ratified in 2011, IEEE 802.1AVB addresses issues of compatibility, latency, reliability and redundancy.”

The paper contains chapters devoted to latency, multi-channel delivery, reliability/redundancy, and different generations of AVB.

In the paper, Lampen points out, “While not mentioned as part of AVB, reliability and redundancy are critical factors for many professional audio and video users. Broadcast facilities and networks now require mission-critical status with equipment to match. Luckily, there are mission-critical switches and other Ethernet-based devices to meet these requirements ... A new generation of switches now offers HSR (High Availability Seamless Redundancy). Switch times are effectively zero microseconds, with not one bit lost in translation.”

We will continue to follow issues related to AV-over-Ethernet, and keep you updated on the business and technological developments taking place.

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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