AES67, AVB and Audinate's Dante: An Audio Networking Update After Infocomm 2017

It's become an annual tradition-since 2009 I've been writing about audio networking from a live sound perspective after recovering from Infocomm. You can see last year's entry here

This year, it seems, there's not a whole lot to write, since there was more of the same, with some exciting directions for the future which I'll get to in a bit.  It was interesting that the AVNU Alliance didn't have a booth as they did in previous years.  From what I can see, as I've been detailing here over the years, AVB/TSN has been accepted by some manufacturers in the live sound industry (Meyer, Avid, etc), and it's holding strong there. But the number of Dante products seems to keep expanding, both in the live sound and install markets.  Here's the Audinate display on the Infocomm floor:

Audinate kicked off the week with their AV Networking World, which as always features some interesting Dante-based products. Here's a couple favorites, based on Power over Ethernet (my fave). PoE speakers from SoundTube:

Dante PoE headphone amp from RDL:

They are also soon introducing Dante Domain Manager, which looks pretty cool for very large systems.

At the training as part of the event, Audinate rolled out Level 3 of their training program. Level 3 isn't really necessary for most users of Dante systems; it's really aimed at geeks working on large systems. It covers a lot of foundation networking technology, and some very esoteric issues you might encounter in complex systems. 

I think it's very smart of Audinate to put forward this training; Levels 1 and 2 (and some new tools available in Dante controller) really changed the way I look at these systems, and increased my confidence when working with Dante networks, where so much of the underlying functionality is invisible.

AVB/TSN

There were of course some AVB products on the show, but in my world of live sound, I didn't see a whole lot of new development. There was talk of new AVB capable switches, but as of this writing there's still only one that's been certified (Extreme), even though Cisco had an AVB switch on display last year.  Looking on that certification list, I do see L'Acoustics has added a couple new AVB-connected amplifier products to their line; unfortunately I missed their booth at the show.

I am excited to see that Meyer is now shipping their Galaxy (Galileo replacement) system (I love the Galileos and use them a lot), which interconnects via AVB:

A friend from Meyer assured me that there would be some solution to get audio in/out from their products to Dante; my uninformed guess is that it will be AES67.

AES67

As I wrote back in 2013, AES67, an open standard audio exchange method, may be the key to the success of audio networking for the future and there was a lot of buzz about it at the show. With AES67 in the picture,  manufacturers can choose the networking system of their choice, and then just include AES67 interfacing to get audio out (if not control functionality) for other systems. Even with AES67, though, there is still a very important place for Dante, AVB, Ravenna, etc.-all of these systems offer important functions to manufacturers, and in the case of Dante it offers an interface for the users through Dante controller.  I still view this unified interface as a key part of the system; it's literally all that most users see of the system.

And as of late last year AES67 is available in Yamaha products, and since we own a lot of Yamaha stuff at the school, I would love to get my hands on some AES67 compatible gear, and see what the process of patching and so on is like. If you have access to some shipping AES67 gear (something like a stage box would be perfect) please get in touch!  

I posted a lot of Infocomm photos and updates on my twitter feed; I have a photo gallery here as well. We also did our annual geekout; writeup here.

Controlling Brightsign Players from Medialon Manager for the Gravesend Inn

In the Gravesend Inn, we have several video playback systems. I originally developed the effects on Dataton Watchout, and this is a great and very powerful technology, but kind of overkill for this straightforward playback application. And the bigger problem over the years is that we would occasionally have problems with an HDMI or display port connector getting pulled out accidentally by a technician, or jostled out by overactive audience members (we mounted the computers near the displays, and the walls of the attraction get slammed),  All of this would then cause the display computer to un-recognize the monitor in Windows, and cause it to drop the display, or get into some weird state. This was infrequent but when it did happen it caused a situation that was kind of complicated to reset, with the keyboard on the other side of the scenic wall, the displays sideways, inexperienced student technicians, etc, etc.

So this year, I decided to move all the playback video effects over to Brightsign HD223 players that run on micro SD cards. These amazing little solid state, dedicated players cost about $350 and are made for 24/7 heavy duty digital signage applications; to reset them you just power cycle them. I went back and forth with the sales guy and couldn't really figure out how to control them, but then I ran into Drew Dalzell at IAAPA last year and he told me that they would work; he has used many of them in attractions all over the world. So I took the plunge, ordered them, and worked with my (now former) student Maxime Verdière to get them working over the last semester, and now with summer here got them debugged and tested out.  

What had been confusing me before I talked to Drew was that I was trying to find out what the control protocol was. I was thinking of the units as sort of video player. But in fact It's not really a video player, it's a digital signage system, with software custom developed for each application. So there isn't a standard control protocol--you create it as part of the Brightsign program; using a program called Brightauthor, you create a number of "States" which are then linked together:  You can then publish this code (with the media) to the box over the network (and the box has a very good network implementation, with default gateway, etc, which we need in this application).  We used the "Networked with Local File Networking" mode. 

The code above is for the "Dining Chamber" area of the Gravesend Inn. In this case, we need a still frame that looks like a painting, and then we run a video clip when the painting comes to life. For operational purposes we also needed a screen saver mode between shows. In the figure above, you can see the three states. The top one is the "still" frame (which is actually a one second video because we were having problems with smooth transitions from JPG to video files), the bottom left is the main video, and the bottom right is the screen saver state.

Each of the little connector icons is a UDP Input Event, which triggers the next state, such as:

So there really isn't any overall control protocol; there are events that you can use to transition from one state to another. This also means that (as far as I've figured out) you need to duplicate many of these events, because the UDP commands only act from the currently active state. That might be a bit confusing but that's why you see each state in the program above has three events out the bottom (one to trigger each of the other states and another to retrigger itself). This means, for example, you have to enter the same "play" command above three times into Brightauthor, which felt a little weird but seems rock solid in my testing.

Update June 28: Brandon from Brightsign tech support wrote: Just wanted to throw in a quick tip. For "global" events that should apply to multiple states, if you put all the states into a Super State, you can put the events on the Super State and they will be triggered as long as the playback has on a state in the Super State.

Our second setup in the haunted hotel is a bit more complicated, since it has three monitors that play in sync and two separate video files:

Brightsign offers a "brightwall" feature for making video walls, but in this case we already had three 1080p video files done that needed to run in sync, and we decided against using the brightwall and instead having the left screen mastering the other two. To do this, you put all the players in the same "sync domain" and then issue a "link" command from the master player as part of each UDP event:

Then on the slave players, instead of UDP events, you put Syncrhonization events that follow the master:

Instead of UDP strings, the sync events follow the linked out synchronization keyword:

This worked great, but we did notice one weird glitch.  Even though the master unit was set to hold its last frame at the end of video clips, the master (not the slaves) would loop the media forever in a jittery, weird way. Brightsign tech support was quick to respond with a solution--adding a "Media End" event on the master which triggered the idle (still) state.  Apparently this glitch was due to a tiny discrepancy between the lengths of the master and slave files and the system trying to resolve the difference.

To control all this from Barco/Medialon Manager was pretty straightforward--just creating the UDP commands:

I whipped up a little user screen, which includes a little feedback from the units that I created using the UDP Send commands from each state entry:

Because the fall is so busy, I typically introduce new technologies like this into the Gravesend Inn in the summer when I have time to debug everything and then test the hell out of it.  I made a heavy duty test program in Medialon and pounded all the players repeatedly, let them run over a weekend, and they all were rock solid. Once the code was debugged, the only issue I had was when the monitors were put into power save mode overnight, the monitors would power off.  Disabling some power off settings in the monitor seems to have fixed that; we'll see for sure this fall!

My Solo Photo Show In Coney Island Is Open!

I mostly post news about my photography on my portfolio page, but I have a solo show of my Coney Island photos in Coney Island!  The show is now open, and runs through August 26.  The opening reception is July 6.

Because the room in the library is used for outside events, the opening hours are a bit spotty, please check this page for more info.  Here's a video of the photos:

controlgeek.net/Timberspring Orlando 2017 Show Control Geekout Wrapup!

Jim Janninck's and my annual Geekout during Infocomm this year was the best yet! More than 50 people came and watched four great presentations; and afterwards we joined a Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) mixer just outside the doors.

A very special thanks to Loren Barrows of Alcorn McBride and Eric Cantrell of Medialon/Barco, who sponsored our space and also created the TEA mixer. Eric also brought a Barco Clickshare that saved the presentation from problems in the house video system.  

First up was Mitchell Schuh of Smart Monkeys, who presented "Show Control Pushing IT: A Case Study in Large Show Control Networks for Warner Bros. Abu Dhabi".

Next was Drew Dalzell and Ian Burch of Diablosound presenting Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood

Drewgroup-usethisone.jpg

Third was Robert Schoneman of Blumenthal Performing Arts who presented on the one man show Basic Training. 

And finally was Marc Rosenthal of Personal Creations, who presented on his work on the Strike Force at Binhai Aircraft Carrier Theme Park.  

All the presentations were great, and Jim and I extend a special thanks to all the presenters:

I chose two attendees at random and gave away two copies of my book and it ended up Mr. Shoneman and also Gavin Cannan of Rational Acoustics!

We will be looking for presentations again next spring; watch this space and the show control mailing list for more info.

I need your help! Looking for Show Networks and Control Systems Book V1.1 Update Suggestions/Corrections

This summer, I am in the process of doing a ".1" update of my book, Show Networks and Control Systems. I'm not anticipating adding any new chapters, I'm just planning on updating anything that's out of date, fixing typos, replacing photos, putting things into an updated context, etc.  If you have a correction, suggestion, or addition for the update, please fill out the form linked below.  If I implement your correction/suggestion/etc, I will send you an 8 x 10 photo of your choice from my website www.johnhuntington.photography. Everyone who submits will be entered into a drawing for a copy of the updated print edition when it comes out (anticipated Fall, 2017).

Please check the errata page before submitting: http://controlgeek.net/book-errata/   

The form closes on the summer solstice: June 21 2017 at 12:24 am NYC time.

Click here for the submission form!