In the two-plus years since the AES67 standard was ratified and published, there has been extensive industry debate surrounding the potential of this interoperability standard to help audio over IP (AoIP) achieve its full potential. With the unveiling of a 22-device demo at AES in New York last month, there is no doubt that this discussion has now transformed into something rather more tangible.
Even at this stage in proceedings it bears repeating that AES67 is not a networking solution in and of itself – rather, it provides interoperability recommendations (covering the areas of synchronisation, media clock identification, network transport, encoding and streaming, session description and connection management) that allow devices using existing AoIP technologies to work together successfully. The messaging around AES67 has therefore been relatively straightforward – particularly when compared to some other recent high-profile networking initiatives one could think of – and that is surely a major contributing factor to the current excitement around the standard.
“I am glad that you think it feels like there is a momentum behind AES67; it seems that way to us,” says Kevin Gross, founder of AVA Networks and the technical work group chairman of AES67-promoting organisation the Media Networking Alliance (MNA). “Part of that is down to the general growing acceptance of AoIP, but I think that having access to a reliable, proven standard that can offer assurance to those investing in [networked products] is also a critical factor.”
Behind the demo
The live streaming presentation at AES drew on the products and expertise of a broad cross-section of MNA-member manufacturers. ALC NetworX, Archwave, Digigram, DirectOut, Focussrite, Genelec, Lawo, Meinberg, Merging, QSC, Solid State Logic, Telos Alliance companies Axia Audio and Linear Acoustic and Yamaha all participated in a demo which saw successful co-existence of devices employing ALC NetworX’s Ravenna, QSC’s Q-LAN, Telos Alliance’s Livewire+ and Audinate’s Dante networking technologies.
Gross points to the precedent of the large-scale, multi-manufacturer testing that took place at a Munich ‘plugfest’ in 2014, but confirms that this is by far the largest public display of AES67 to date. “It is a significant moment and there has been great cooperation between everyone involved in the demo,” he says.
Whilst “everything worked as we intended it to do”, Gross emphasises that the standard is “focussed on getting media across the network – not on user interfaces. It is clear that engineers and developmental teams have grasped the core idea of the network transportation, but in terms of having user interfaces that are intuitive to use there is still more to be done.”
Nonetheless, the size and scope of the AES demo underlines the extent to which the standard has resonated with an industry that has been seeking networked audio clarity for many years now. “I think there are several factors that have led us all to this point,” suggests Will Hoult (pictured, left, with Gross, at the AES Convention), who is MNA marketing work group chairman in addition to his ‘day job’ as product manager of Focusrite. “Firstly, we have had a couple of years since AES67 was published for different manufacturers to really get to grips with it and deliver products that adhere to the standard. Secondly, there has been a general growth of acceptance of audio over IP – and within that a widespread desire to ensure that customers can be safe in the knowledge that product A will work with product B, regardless of which implementation is deployed. They just want it to work.”
The extent to which the standard has been so enthusiastically embraced should underpin the MNA’s case as it seeks to spread the word even further in 2016. “Having a reliable and powerful standard associated with [AoIP] is vital if companies are going to make major investments,” says Hoult.
Meanwhile, the MNA continues to enhance its own status in the market: Solid State Logic became a member in October,while the Alliance’s board is now led by QSC’s Rich Zwiebel (chairman) and Yamaha’s Terry Holton (vice-chairman). The line-up has also been strengthened by the appointment of The Telos Alliance’s Marty Sacks (who will serve as financial officer), Bosch Communications Systems’ Bill Scott and Lawo’s Andreas Hilmer.
Another development highlighted at AES may also contribute to the standard’s acceptance. Whilst there will be no requirement to use it in conjunction with AES67, the forthcoming proposed AES70 standard – which will formalise the open control and monitoring technology that the OCA Alliance has been developing for some years now – is set to provide another important piece of the networking jigsaw. In addition to hosting a live lightweight hardware demo at AES, the OCA Alliance also welcomed a new member in the shape of Atlas Sound.
Wrapping up his thoughts on AES67, Hoult says that he expects “broadcast to be the first place where we see a big step forwards – that market is so standards-savvy, and this is also a period when so many broadcasters are looking to put in IP networks. More generally, as a product manager I am looking forward to a time when products will be specified more on the basis of features, and not on whether they can work on this or that network. It simply becomes that AoIP is the way we do things now… Well, I would say that day isn’t looking too far away now.”