Networking in general and connectivity over IP technologies in particular have wide ranging applications and implications for all types of pro audio installation but broadcasting is in many ways the archetypical target sector. Which explains why many of the recent events promoting the potential of networking through the AES67 interoperability standard have either had a broadcast bias or been held in television or radio centres.
This year alone has seen AES67-oriented presentations and demonstrations at post-production specialist Scrub, BBC Broadcasting House (BH) and IT/post reseller Jigsaw24. The high attendances at all of these highlights the level of interest in audio over IP (AoIP) networking and appetite for more educative information regarding how technologies such as AES67, Dante and RAVENNA can be used and integrated.
Since the original version of AES67 appeared in 2013, compliance with the standard and the ability of equipment to integrate with it and each other has been given practical exposure at a series of Plug Fests. These gather together manufacturers and broadcasters to test systems and discover how much AES67 is capable of and what changes could be made to it.
Until February this year all Plug Fests have taken place in mainland Europe. The first UK event took place at BH and featured equipment and technology – connected by great coils of cable – from Merging Technology, ALC NetworX (RAVENNA), Audio-Technica US, Bosch Security Systems, Audinate (maker of Dante), Calrec, Digigram, DirectOut, Genelec, Imagine Communications, Riedel, Prism Sound, Neumann, Shure, Sonifex, Thum+Mahr, Tektronix, Telos, Swedish Radio and Yamaha.
Newly appointed AES standards manager Richard Cabot was among the 50 attendees, together with AES standards chair Bruce Olson, who was also representing his acoustical and technical systems design company Olson Sound Design. Cabot outlines the role of Plug Fests as "an opportunity for manufacturers and some users [in this case broadcasters] to test out the interoperability of equipment". He adds that they also allow people to explore aspects of the standard that might appear confusing, especially to those coming to the technology for the first time.
Olson does not see AES67 as still being in its early days but does acknowledge that there are still manufacturers and users that either are just implementing the standard or are yet to do so. "What we're finding, and it's the point of the Plug Fests, is there's a whole new group of manufacturers with their first implementations of AES67," he comments. "So it is early days for some people and we want to see how they and their equipment works with everybody else that has been using AES67 for the past four years."
AES67 is undergoing what Olson describes as a "steady take-up", with broadcasters, including the BBC, developing systems for the future. The UK Plug Fest was, Olson says, "audio centric", with a primary focus on radio broadcasting. "We've also been involved with Plug Fests revolving around the SMPTE 2110 video streams over IP standard, which includes AES67 for the audio component. So while our Plug Fests are primarily audio we are happy to see people involved in video."
Richard Cabot observes that AES67 now covers a wide variety of devices, from microphones to mixing consoles and everything in between. He characterises the standard as being in its adolescence, with the basic pieces necessary to create networks and systems now in place. Roland Hemming of RH Consulting, which has been involved in a separate series of events discussing AES67 and AoIP, feels this is still a period of "ironing out the bumps" in implementation.
Hemming comments that anecdotal evidence suggests there is only a ten percent take-up of IP-based networking. "There is still a huge educational task because not all flavours of AES67 are the same," he says. Attempts to offer more education in this still tricky subject began with RAVENNA and Genelec co-hosting an event at Scrub in Soho.
This has been followed by RAVENNA teaming with Merging Technologies at Jigsaw24 to launch the Audio Network Manager (ANEMAN) software programme, which is designed to offer new ways to patch AES67 audio. Jointly developed by Merging and Digigram, ANEMAN has two main functions: to configure networks quickly and efficiently and to monitor network activity. "Users don't want to worry about IP addresses or complex system set-ups, they just want to patch audio," comments Merging’s Audio-over IP expert Nicolas Sturmel.
Further events looking at RAVENNA and AES67 are planned for this year, potentially in May/June and late September. There will be a Workshop session during AES Berlin this month presenting 'The Plug Fest Reports', with contributions from Nicolas Sturmel and Bruce Olson.