AVB and Audinate's Dante: An Update After Infocomm 2015

In recent years, Infocomm has become the go-to show for the convergence of Audio, Video, Networking, and Control (all the areas I follow most closely), and this year was yet another great show.  My primary focus in my audio work and teaching is live sound, and walking the audio areas of the floor the hottest topic of conversation amongst my live sound-focused friends was Audinate's proprietary Dante audio network transmission system, and of course IEEE's open Audio Video Bridging (AVB) standard.  

Work on AVB started back in 2005, and I first saw a demo of it at Infocomm 2009 (my initial writeup with an introduction to the technology here).  It seemed like a great idea, and I was a big proponent of it.  However, by 2013 I was concerned that the AVB development was dragging behind the needs of the live sound market, and after Infocomm in June of that year I was thinking that it might succeed if it could be integrated with Dante, who by then was well established with major players in our market like Yamaha and Shure. Later that summer, I visited the AVnu testing lab in New Hampshire, and was still somewhat hopeful about AVB's prospects, but after AES in November of 2013, after the release of the AES-67 inter-operability standard, I peered into my crystal ball and wrote, "Audinate's Dante has won the race, while AVB is still being tweaked by the mechanics over in the pit lane. ".  That was further reinforced by what I my visit to Infocomm last year, and even more so this year.  Here's the products on the AVB/AVnu Alliance stand:

And somewhat telling in that exhibit was the Yamaha console:

That Pivitec expansion card apparently gets 16 channels of AVB in and out of the console (this 16 channel limitation, of course, is due to Yamaha's ancient MY card architecture--not AVB), but notice that the Dante support for a virtually unlimited number of channels is built in. Unless you wanted to interface with a Pivitec monitor system, which apparently uses AVB, why would you buy this expansion card?  And I write "apparently" here because looking at the Pivitec product page for that card, it doesn't even mention AVB:

Dante was in so many places on the trade show floor that Audinate was running a scavenger hunt promotion and were giving away T-shirts to people who could find a certain number of products. You can see the Dante booth in the photo at the top of this post, and here's just some of the several racks of Dante gear available today they had on display.

While there is still one big player in our live sound market--Meyer--holding onto AVB, it seems almost all the other big live sound market players have jumped onto the Dante bandwagon.  And this includes Avid, with their upcoming S6-L mixer; this is particularly interesting development since Avid was one of the few companies selling an AVB-based mixer system. [Update July 9--Avid's system is based on AVB but they now have a Dante interface card, see comment below]. And it seems that Harman (JBL, etc) is heading towards Dante as well.  

At the show, I asked an old friend at Meyer who would know the company strategy about connecting to Dante, and he wouldn't say anything. But it seems to me they have to come up with a way to at least interface with it.  Why? Back in May I co-designed and aligned a large, complex all-Meyer speaker sound system for the Youtube Brandcast at the Madison Square Garden theater.  

This is how we got signal out of our Yamaha CL-5 FOH and Monitor consoles (black Dante I/O boxes) and into Meyer's Galileo output signal processing system (blue boxes):

Fortunately this system was buzz-free and clean due to the excellence of our crew, but this mess could be replaced with a few Cat 5 cables if Meyer added support for Dante to their Galileo product line (to be fair, those Galileo boxes don't even yet have AVB--only analog and AES). Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Meyer fan, but when everyone else is using something different, and your users need to connect, we can't stay analog forever. And its just not likely the rest of the world will go Meyer's way and suddenly switch to AVB tomorrow.

At the show, I also saw that some other live sound stalwarts are also now supporting Dante. Digico have long been basing systems on MADI, and at the show they had an Dante bridge (sorry for the photo quality):

SSL also was showing something similar:

And I like the redundancy--Focusrite also now has its Rednet Dante I/O boxes with redundant power supplies.

And I didn't even mention Dante's Via, which Audinate was pushing at the show and introducing soon.  It's pretty cool and has a lot of theatre sound-style applications.

So where are we today?  I no longer need my crystal ball--Dante is currently the defacto audio networking solution for the live sound industry. And don't take my word for it, take some actual data from an excellent white paper from Roland Hemming's consulting firm (and funded by Audinate).  Mr. Hemming kicked off Audinate's AV Networking World sessions with a very bold slide:

Again, sorry for the terrible camera phone quality, but what the slide says is:

  • Protocols are products
  • Protocols are ecosystems
  • Protocols should not be standards
  • Protocols should use standards as building blocks to allow interoperability

Hmm, "protocols should not be standards" That one got me, because I've long advocated for open standards. But I think he's right at least in the case of audio networking. Dante is doing--and doing well--everything we need today, it's affordable, and as flexible and inter-operable as Audinate wants it to be (and it seems they want to connect it to anything that makes sense). And they were able to get into that position because they were able to be agile and innovative (and no one who knows anything about the standards-making process would use either of those words). Mr. Hemming went onto make a substantive case as to why Dante has come to this position--and much more thoroughly (and with real data) made the case I've been making here on the blog for the last six years.

So where does that leave AVB? I talked to a guy from Extreme Networks at the show, and it seems they are still the only company making AVnu certified switches, and the ability to carry AVB is still an option that costs about $400 per switch.  Biamp is often mentioned as an AVB success story, and they had an enormous booth on the floor, but don't really have much presence in my world. And while I heard from a few people at the show "more cool AVB stuff is on the way real soon", I'm afraid I've heard that too long--I just can't even imagine what the product or solution would be that would make everyone drop Dante and go to AVB. For example, we've been using Dante for distribution of audio on our Gravesend Inn haunted hotel for four years successfully.  Why would we throw out tens of thousands of dollars of stuff to switch to AVB now?

But AVB still has a potential (and fascinating) future: As I wrote back in January of this year, It seems that AVB and the AVnu alliance has shifted to offer a solution for Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), and this was reinforced on the show floor with an AVB/TSN graphic, which listed only a handful of live sound companies and Audinate itself, who list some of same companies as licencees:

Also the automotive market is apparently very interested in AVB/TSN as well--using special connectors and AVB they can use Ethernet to save lots of weight in cars, which is a big deal.

And so I'll be interested to see what the next year brings, but I'm willing to bet anyone a significant donation to a charity of their choice that Dante will be available in more live audio products on the floor of Infocomm 2016 than any other audio networking solution (beyond that, who knows). And in the end, as I've been saying for a while (and Mr. Hemming substantiates in his paper, which you should read), that's all users who actually buy this stuff really care about.  Anyone want to take that bet?

Update July 25:

After the comments closed, Kevin Gross, key developer of Cobranet and now a leader in AES-67 development, wrote in with this:

Although Dante clearly has critical mass in many classes of audio products, the same could have been said about CobraNet 10 or so years ago. Proprietary technology is dependent on its owners to sustain adoption (against the headwind of the license fees they must charge), for maintenance and support and to keep the technology current with respect to market and technological advancement. Over the long term, it is simply not safe to assume that an individual technology owner will be able to negotiate the business and technical changes required to sustain their creation. Although Dante is the current leader in this ongoing horserace, realistically, based on recent history, we have to expect there to be a new contender before the end of the decade.
While a succession of proprietary technologies may move AV technology forward, technology based on open standards offers a more robust alternative. Standards already exist for audio networking in VoIP, ACIP, AVB and AES67. Standards exist and are under development for professional video over IP. Audinate has recognized the importance of standards-based interoperability by implementing AES67. Based on how things play out in IT, it is hard to imagine a future where the means of network audio interconnect is not open standards based. The only question is how long it will take to get there.
Kevin Gross - AVA Networks

controlgeek.net/Timberspring Orlando 2015 Show Control Case Studies and Geekout during Infocomm Wrapup

On Thursday, nearly 40 people attended my and Jim Janninck's fourth free case studies session and geekout during Infocomm!  This year, the Melrose Center at the public library in downtown Orlando was our excellent host) and they said this was one of the best-attended events they've had.  

Jim got things started off:

Up first (running order changed due to traffic jam) was Joseph White, CTS(-D as of Infocomm!) of Alcorn McBride, who talked about the DreamPlay by DreamWorks in the City of Dreams Manila which runs on Alcorn show control systems.

Up next was Paul D. Henderson, Ph.D. and Justin Hames from Wave, talking about the Lifepoint Church in Fredericksburg, VA, which has a large system based on Medialon Manager.

After that was Tyler Gothier, CTS, talking about the QLab based Celebrate America fireworks show.

After that was Kevin Zevchik of AV Stumpfl talking about their show control retrofit of the the T-Rex Cafe at the new Disney Springs (formally Downtown Disney).

At the end, I gave away a copy of my book to a randomly-chosen audience member.  The event was totally open to the public, and it's cool that the winner was James Elmer, who doesn't work (yet!) in our business but was a member of the library and thought this would be a cool thing to check out!

It was a really fun event, and afterwards a group of us went out for drinks and dinner. We'll likely do it again during Infocomm in Las Vegas in 2016. Please propose a talk on your project! 

Wrong Since 1998: It Was Lactose Intolerance, Not Gluten

Note: This is a personal blog entry that is off topic for the blog, but I'm posting it here so it's public and searchable by others who might have had similar issues.

I've had a sensitive digestive system my whole life, and back in 1998 it got so bad that I went to my doctor about it. He gave me a sort of prescription strength Immodium, and not happy with treating the symptom and not the problem, I went to a different doctor, went through a bunch of blood tests and an elimination diet, and ended up cutting out gluten (long before doing so was trendy). I definitely had less issues and lost some weight, but things were still never quite right, and I would occasionally have serious problems (although less frequently than before). In recent years, cutting out gluten has gotten trendy, and a lot more quality gluten free options have become available, and I started availing myself of them--and had even more problems. I would occasionally binge on excellent gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, or local gluten-free cup cakes, or fresh cooked gluten-free pizza, and in each case I would have terrible digestive problems the next day. So late last year, I decided to followup with a gastroenterologist. He did more tests, didn't find anything physical and suggested that I take a probiotic and keep a food diary. Things got a little better, and I actually started eating gluten again, but I still got occasional problems which seemed pretty mysterious.

After a month of eating gluten again, things seemed better but still not 100%. So I went back through the food diary, and found that the day before any problem day, I had eaten food with lactose (not all of which was immediately obvious, see below). I had long suspected that lactose intolerance might have been my real problem, but in most of my online research I always turned up things that  said, "symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours", where my problems almost always are the day after I eat a problem food--typically 12-24 hours later.  

In addition to digestive problems, I had long had what I thought was an allergic reaction to some (typically greasy) foods--I'd get post nasal drip, and would have to clear my throat for half an hour or so after eating. So with all this information I went to see an allergist who specialized in food issues. It turned out that he himself is lactose intolerant and also had the long reaction time, and he suspected that lactose was my issue too.  But being a good diagnostician, he gave me some more info and suggested that I continue my detailed food diary with this in mind and come back in a few weeks. He also did a bank of food allergy skin tests, and I came up completely clear, and that the throat clearing/post nasal drip was actually "silent reflux".

After being wrong for so many years I was a bit hesitant about jumping on the lactose intolerance bandwagon, but carefully avoiding lactose, further food diary recording and a followup visit with the allergist had me pretty convinced that it was lactose all along, and a few things recently have supported the lactose intolerance hypothesis pretty strongly. First, it turns out that some breads are made with butter and some are not.  So by cutting out bread all those years I cut out a source of lactose. In addition, by cutting out things like bagels (which are generally not made with dairy products) I was really cutting out the problematic cream cheese; by cutting out the pizza I was really cutting out the mysterious pizza cheese blend. I love cheese and this was another source of confusion--lactose is the sugar in milk and while some cheeses have a lot of it, aged cheeses (like cheddar, parmesan and swiss--not likely coincidentally my favorites) and processed cheeses have very small amounts of lactose and I seem to be OK with them.

So for the last couple months I've been judiciously reading food labels and cutting out as much lactose as possible.  But that's not easy to do on the road. So on my recent storm chasing trip (writeup here), I was careful about what I would eat--or at least I thought I was. I was doing fine, and one frantic day (storm chasing can mean eating a lot of crappy foods) I ate a couple candy bars (my only dinner while on a storm) that I thought didn't have dairy, and I ended up with horrible problems.  I went back and more carefully read the label, and sure enough it had a milk ingredient in it--I had just missed it.  As an experiment, the next day I tried the same candy bar but took some Lactaid, a digestive enzyme that you take with the first bite of food.  And the next day I had no problems. So for the rest of the trip, with every meal that I didn't cook (which was all of them) I took Lactaid and had no problems.  And when I got home I tried one last experiment--I ordered a regular, gluten-containing pizza, and took Lactaid as I started eating and when I finished, and had no problems the next day.  Last night I was at a party and ate some likely butter-containing bread, but forgot to bring the lactaid, and sure enough, had problems today.  It seems pretty likely to me that the lactose intolerance hypothesis is correct.

So after these experiments and continuing to study food labels, I'm avoiding lactose whenever possible, but it's great, after so many years, to have a better handle on the situation, and with the Lactaid I have a solution for travel, which I love to do and has long been problematic. I'm going to focus the food diary now onto figuring out the foods that cause the silent reflux.  

And why the picture of Double Stuf Oreos?  Oreos, it turns out, don't contain milk and therefore also don't contain lactose (just don't eat them with milk).  My biggest problem after avoiding these kind of foods for 17 years or so is now to restrain myself from making up for lost time and overdosing on Oreos.

Storm Chase-cation 2015

For the last few years (here's last year's writeup), I've headed out storm chasing (explanations here and here) on the Great Plains as soon as my classes end, which is also generally also the end of peak chasing season in the southern plains.  This year I flew into Dallas (best flight/car rental pricing), and then headed up to Wichita Falls, Texas. This time last year, Wichita Falls was under an epic drought; this year, they got years' worth of rain just in the month of May.  I've got before and after photos of Lake Arrowhead here.  And from there, I ended up doing 3500 miles in a couple giant loops of north Texas and southern Oklahoma, with a brief jaunt into eastern New Mexico.

The first part of the trip there wasn't a whole lot going on weather wise, and I missed some of the few big storms that happened, but I did see flooding in Wichita Falls, a severe-warned gust front gust front, and then more flooding, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, and even a wild boar.  I saw him jump across a little gap in a field and then he was washed away and had a long swim.  After that, I got on the north side of a crazy tornado-warned blob of hail, and it ended up chasing me into suburban Wichita Falls, TX, where I rode the storm out in a car wash (there was big hail in this storm).

Click on any photo for a larger version:

On May 27, I picked a target of Shamrock, TX, which put me in a great position to get on the amazing (and well documented by 100's of chasers) Canadian, Texas storm.  This storm moved slowly and erratically, and I was one of only a handful of chasers to end up on the back (West) side of the main tornado, as you can see in the photos below.  This storm moved slowly and dropped at least four tornadoes if not more.

After that storm, things got spotty again, and I drifted back to Amarillo (and the Cadillac ranch) and then onto Lubbock where I set up for the arrival of a huge severe-warned gust front.  I didn't get great photos because I got road raged by a redneck in the first town I set up in, then eaten alive by mosquitoes in several other spots because of the severe and widespread flooding.  I ended up in a bank drive through west of Lubbock and held down the tripod through 30-50 MPH winds and many technical problems to get a few lightning shots.

The weather then moved too far north for me to get to and make it back in time to Dallas for my flight, so I met some old friends in Fort Worth and saw a couple great bands (photos here) thanks to the recommendation from another friend.  I also saw some of the Trinity River flooding.

All in all, it was a great trip, and I hope to be back out there again next year...