Audinate's Dante (and SDVOE?), AVB/TSN and AES67: An Audio Networking Update After Infocomm 2018

It's become an annual tradition-since 2009 I've been writing about networking from a live sound perspective after catching up from Infocomm (and this year after storm chasing). You can see last year's entry here, and in this overly jargon-filled post I'm assuming you're familiar with the A/V networking landscape; if not, much of the terminology I use here was defined in previous write ups.

This year, I would describe the state of the A/V networking world to be pretty much the same as last year, with some interesting developments on the horizon. The lion's share of the products on at the show running audio over ethernet are doing so with Audinate's Dante; a few (important) companies are running AVB. 

Update July 6, 2018: Roland Hemming's annual audio networking survey data has been released, it's an interesting read and supports my anecdotal observations above.

Audinate's Dante

I unfortunately missed the Audinate networking world day-long event this year, so I might have missed some new products. But seeing new Dante product at Infocomm is such a common occurrence now that I didn't even really bother to try and document it. The AVNU (AVB/TSN) alliance did not have a booth as far as I know, but Audinate was there with a Dante booth and there were numerous "Dante spoken here" signs throughout the hall.

One of the trends I saw is that there are now quite a few small Dante I/O boxes on the market now, including the original ones from Amphenol, from Audinate itself and also NeutrikAll these smaller boxes that I've seen only deal with line input and don't have head amp control or phantom power, so if you want to use a mic input you need something like a Yamaha Rio. Yamaha showed their new V2 series of boxes but I completely forgot to get over there to look.  To control the head amp/phantom on these you still need to use a modern Yamaha console or their R Remote software.  Update 12:11pm: See comment from Uwe Weissbach below--apparently the new Rio's can be controlled from the front panel, which I think is great.  

One cool new Dante product I saw was a USB DANTE Interface from RME that supports redundant Dante operation. This is a great a benefit over the Audinate Virtual Sound Card, and also offers more flexible clock options (I'll be looking into these for our haunted house to increase our redundancy). They also are making an AVB interface.

 

 

 

AVB/TSN

Cisco's Catalyst AVB switches were announced in 2016 (see my writeup here) and are now finally AVNU certified (and Cisco has a section on their website devoted to AVB). This is a long overdue development for AVB in large installations where the users can have the IT support to manage these high-level switches. Personally, though, for most typical live sound applications I recommend simpler switches; I personally use the Cisco small-business switches and that's also what Yamaha typically recommends. I asked the Cisco rep if AVB was coming to that line of switches but he didn't know.

Presonus also had an AVB switch on display, but, like the MOTU AVB switch which came out a few years ago, it's not AVNU certified. The Presonus sales rep on the stand didn't know what AVNU certification was (here's a writeup and photos of my visit to the AVNU Testing lab in 2013), so it doesn't seem to be a priority for them and they don't have any products on the certification website in any case. In 2015, a rep from MOTU said on the theatre sound mailing list in response to a thread I started, "AVnu certification is a priority for us but our interfaces and switch are not certified nor have we applied for certification yet. There were a couple of corner-case AVB features that kept us from starting that process when we released our first AVB interfaces last year. Once those are ironed out and solid, we plan to get certified."  That was three years ago, and they are still not listed on the AVNU site, so it seems that certification is no longer a priority for MOTU either. So what's the value of the certification, if these well known companies are out there selling AVB product that is not certified? Since last year's Infocomm, in addition to the Cisco switch, there's only four new products on the AVNU certification list: the L-Acoustics LA4X amp/controller and P1 Measurement Platform/AVB Processor; and the Control4 S3-24P PoE switch, which describes itself as a "leader in the smart home market" (and I don't think they were at Infocomm as far as I could tell). 

Connecting Dante and AVB and AES67

There seemed to be more connecting and interfacing boxes available, and AES67 functionality was advertised all over the floor (and I'm still looking for some non-Dante stuff that speaks AES67 so I can learn it--please contact me if you have any gear I could borrow!). Point Source Audio had this on their stand, the AuviTran AVBx3 Audio Toolbox, with both AVB and Dante card. Presonus was rumored to have a similar product, but the sales rep there said it wasn't ready in time for the show.

 

 

To Watch For the Future: AVB/TSN and Milan

The biggest A/V networking news at Infocomm was the announcement of "Milan", a new effort to help with AVB inter-operability. They had a roll out at Infocomm, but I was not invited--I only found out about it at all because I was hanging out talking to friends on the d&b stand. My friend and audio networking expert Roland Hemming, who I missed at Infocomm, did make it into the meeting and has written his insights which you should read here. "It was a nice presentation from the Avnu team", he said in his write up, "but gave the impression that the rest of us are crawling around in the dirt, barely able to connect anything presumably due to our lack of opposable thumbs."  This is kind of the tone I too felt reading through the AVNU Milan web page here, and the whitepaper which you can download here if you register.

What is Milan?

The AVNU Milan website describes it this way:

AVB is an open standard that each manufacturer can use in their own implementation, but device interoperability isn’t guaranteed without certification. Avnu Alliance compliance testing and certification is ideal for network infrastructure switches and ensures interoperability at the network layer, but doesn’t outline specification requirements for the application layer such as media formats, media clocking, and etc. It doesn’t assure interoperability amongst Pro AV end devices. Milan does.

Effective inter-operability was a goal of AVB from the beginning. The first thing I wrote on AVB in 2009 had a quote from a (now gone) roll-out article written by one of the key developers of AVB saying a key goal of the effort was to, "...enable the construction of highly interoperable Ethernet networks capable of streaming audio and video with perfect QoS." So the very existence of this Milan effort for me points up the shortcomings of AVB, and one of the reasons I think AVB hasn't gained broader acceptance: nothing in the existing standard offers the user anything like the plug and play patching convenience we already have today with Dante (of course I've written a lot about that already). Even in Milan, from what I understand, the way the patching will done--which is what the users actually interact with--is still left up to individual manufacturers (or maybe a third party?) to handle. For competitive reasons there's not really much incentive for clean, unified plug and play multi-manufacturer signal routing that is consistent for the user, and I doubt it will happen any time soon in AVB systems, if ever.

What Will Milan Offer?

In the section titled benefits for "AV System End Users" (who are listed fourth after Manufacturers, AV Managers, and IT Managers), the Milan white paper gives us the following:

* Milan fulfills expectations for real plug-and-play net-work setup and functionality. Network structures don’t require setup or complicated switch configuration tasks.
* Networks as signal and control transport structures becomes easy, fast to set up and reliable. Users can concentrate on their creative tasks.

Neither of these things is true today in AVB systems, where real, practical multi-manufacturer inter-operability exists only in limited ways. But every time I fire up Dante Controller I'm always impressed at how fast it discovers everything in a truly plug and play way. Most Dante networks require little or no switch configuration, and I would say already allows users to concentrate on their creative tasks. 

The whitepaper goes on to lay out a list of promises, and while the word "Dante" doesn't appear in the document it's clearly targeted at some perceived version of the Dante world, with references to not depending on a "single company", etc. And there some inferences in the paper that, if interpreted as veiled references to Dante, are not accurate (like they imply that you need to configure switches and QoS for Dante, which you only have to worry about for the largest of systems (think airport size systems). 

In terms of technical details, the white paper offers the following four things:

  • Media Clocking Specification
  • Stream Format Specification
  • Redundancy Specification
  • AVDECC Specification for Endpoints

This is pretty low level, basic stuff; Roland has more detail in his writeup. And of course none of this changes the fact that to run AVB you still need to buy AVB-capable switches (certified or not). In terms of actual benefits for the user, the most interesting thing is the AVDECC implementation (which I had to look up).  Regarding this, the whitepaper says, "... Milan defines a profile for professional audio devices with a small subset of the standard, and tries to remove all ambiguities from this subset in order to achieve basic inter-operability at the Control layer." 

"Control" of the discovered devices is promised, and, being the controlgeek blog, this is something that caught my eye. As we've seen many times, real, multi-manufacturer control that is successful in the market is something that is rare in a competitive industry, and I've documented this in my book since the 1990s and here on the blog (I have examples under the heading "limitations of standards" extracted here).  But specifically for the audio market, we can look back to the development in the late 1990s of AES24 and its eventual market failure and withdrawal in 2004. AES24's legacy lives on in OCA/AES70, but for similar reasons that's only achieved limited success in the market, as I've detailed starting in 2012.  Again, OCA and AES24 were developed by very smart and capable people (and friends of mine), but market adoption has been limited for the usual competitive reasons: many audio manufacturers put EQ in their products, but it's very difficult to get them all to agree as to how that EQ should be controlled. And it was amplifier manufacturers, back in the days where you would buy them separately from speakers, who all offered incompatible, non interoperable control solutions and did not support the initial standardization effort. Sound like a familiar situation?  Easy exchanging of digital audio streams, on the other hand, is something that's in everyone's interest. (And ironically, Audinate is actually in a position where it could dictate some basic control functionality, like at least head amp gain and phantom power status).

Who Developed Milan and Why? 

This part of the whitepaper really felt condescending to me, and seems to have been written by a bunch of very smart people who haven't really done their market research to see what people are actually doing today in the field (or the text was fluffed up by a very competitive marketing person):

Milan is the result of 18 months of close collaboration amongst direct competitors including AudioScience, Avid, Biamp, d&b audiotechnik, L-Acoustics, Luminex and Meyer Sound. Milan was created by the technical experts designing the systems and driving product roadmaps to impress upon other manufacturers the importance of this technical transition for the future of their business. 
Market leaders decided long ago that AVB is a technically superior network technology that guarantees deterministic delivery of audio, video and data, and offers a sustainable standard technology that is not limited by one company’s vision and its future development and support decisions for its technology.
...
Today, major manufacturers in the Pro AV space have taken the lead with the first tangible solution to promise deterministic, reliable and future-proof delivery of networked media.
...
The Milan initiative is a long-term approach to bringing about change across the Pro Av market, and product certification will guarantee fool-proof interoperability of deterministic networked Pro AV devices.

This all seems to reflect the viewpoint of many of my manufacturer friends who are not on the Dante bandwagon. They understandably don't want to base their products around a core technology from another company (Audinate), and many of them seem to think that Audinate will eventually get bought up and could stop development of Dante (which is what happened to Cobranet), or go in another direction or something. And they think AVB will be there waiting to take over. These are a lot of brilliant people but I think they are wrong. 

Where Will it Go?

At my school, we bought a Yamaha CL-5 mixing console. I picked that board because it's widely used in the NYC event market, many of our graduates will encounter them in the field, they are well made and affordable. Given the reality of budgets, we will likely be using this console for the next 10-15 years. That means we're running Dante for the next 10-15 years, even if Yamaha and Audinate both went out of business. And many rental shops around here and touring sound companies are in the same boat. And with so much Dante product in the world (and the rumor that Yamaha owns a stake in Audinate) if Dante development stopped, it's likely a consortium of manufacturers would continue it anyway.

But in the end this Milan effort seems to be led primarily a group of high-end loudspeaker manufacturers (all of which I'm a fan of), and I'm not really sure how--other than guaranteeing that there will be a group to continue some kind of development--Milan will really benefit users. If you're buying d&b speakers, you're going to have to buy a d&b controller/amp anyway. If you're running all self-powered Meyer speakers, you could use anyone's speaker controller but why would you when Meyer makes such great controllers already optimized for their systems that's integrated with their modelling software?  And L'Acoustics has been moving in recent years towards their multichannel, control-intensive L-ISA system, which is dependent on their own DSP. So while I applaud and wish well any sort of forward movement towards any sort of inter-operability, and I hope Milan succeeds, I don't think it's the game changer they seem to be advertising.

And I don't think I'm alone in thinking this way. I was emailing with a friend who works on major Broadway productions about this new effort, and he already knew about it and said, "It seems to me, as an end-user, unless you can get DiGiCo, Yamaha, Studer, and the console big-boys on board, any discussion of audio transport is missing a crucial component. If they can get DiGiCo to come out with a Milan card, that could be cool."  But that wouldn't mean he no longer needs Dante.  "Right now, DMI-Dante [interface cards are] how we interface with our audio networks, and it works seamlessly at the other endpoints (speakers, monitoring, other consoles, computers, and remotes)."

And Roland Hemming summarized thusly, "Having met with most of the Milan creators, I think, or at least I hope, they know this will not be the audio networking protocol to take over the world.  Milan offers AVB features that frankly should have been there in the first place. It's a welcome addition to help AVB offer a robust, high-performance local audio network."  

Two Networks for the Future

It seems to me (again, in the live sound world) we will remain for the foreseeable future a two-network world (plus MADI, etc of course), and while this is not ideal, that's the way these things always seem to work out. On many systems, Dante will connect the console, microphones, stage boxes, wireless mic receivers, recording rigs, in-ear monitors, measurement systems and associated gear and often the loudspeakers, with companies like Martin offering direct Dante to their boxes. But if the speaker system is Meyer, d&b or L'Acoustics, then these systems will be running AVB, probably on a completely separate network with separate AVB switches, and the two networks will be connected with some kind of rudimentary, small channel-count interface, a converter box, or--if we're really lucky--AES67 based network interchange. 

But while Audinate has embraced AES67 and incorporated it into Dante, companies like Meyer have not embraced AES67 and don't seem to have any interest in doing so. I talked to my friends at Meyer about a huge and very cool AVB-based system they built for Metallica, and asked them how they got audio into their speaker system from the console. The answer?  AES3, the two-channel point to point digital audio over XLR connector standard first developed in 1985. This is better than analog, of course, but we should be doing better than that in the 21st century. But in reality, this is an OK (but limiting for the future) solution, since in a concert system typically only a handful of the many channels of the overall system are sent over from the mixer to the speaker system, and this console/speaker system dividing line also reflects a common division of labor anyway, with the (human) mixer responsible for most of the stuff up to the console outputs and then the system tech handling the speaker systems and alignment.  This is good enough.

And, as I've written for many years, "good enough" is where technology typically settles, until there is a compelling reason to move forward.  Milan, at least as currently outlined, is a useful, incremental, and overdue improvement to AVB, but not compelling (or complete) enough to replace Dante in the market any time soon--certainly not within the time horizon of someone who has to buy or spec a system today.  For the future, who knows, but of course, Audinate is not sitting still:

SDVOE Over Dante?

The world of video over Ethernet is still a bit like the wild west. One really interesting proof of concept on the show floor was Software Defined Video Over Ethernet (SDVOE) implemented by Audinate into Dante. They were doing presentations and had a working proof of concept system; I saw it patch video right through Dante controller, which is very cool.

At least for an end user like me, seeing things like this operate is when it really seems real to me. We've been seeing SDVOE development boards and so on for years, but when you see Dante controller patch video, even in prototype form, then it seems like a real thing.  We'll see what comes in the next year.

More photos from Infocomm here.

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

Update June 25 2018: Latest thoughts here

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.

2016 Show Networking Best Practices

For my Networks On Shows and In Venues: What Do You Need to Know? panel yesterday at the North American Theatre Engineering Conference (NATEAC), I assembled a panel of experts and together we came up with John, Kevin, and Peter’s Show Networking Best Practices. That panel was Kevin Loewen, Engineering Manager at the Pathway Connectivity office of Acuity Brands Lighting  and Peter Stepniewicz, Principal Show Electronic Engineer, Walt Disney Imagineering. Special thanks also to Kevin Gross, AVA Networks, for giving us feedback on the document.  

We came up with the following list of what we consider current best practices for the use of networks on shows.  This list simply represents the personal opinions of the three of us and not necessarily our employers, etc. 

General Network Architecture

  • View cable/fiber plant as a flexible infrastructure, which potentially can be used for networking, audio/video distribution, DMX 512, or even analog signals.
  • Use wireless only for special use cases where you have no alternative.
  • Select entertainment control protocols that are modern and network-friendly where possible.
  • Hire a qualified contractor for permanent installations, or be sure to read and follow specifications and instructions, and performance-test all network links.
  • Consider venue/show staff knowledge and support sources when designing your system.
  • Choose Static or DHCP address assignment by type of gear that will be used
  • Keep in mind that well designed network/cable infrastructure helps to accommodate future technologies.

Network Hardware

  • 1Gb switches give plenty of bandwidth for most entertainment control applications today and likely into the near future.  10Gb might be useful or needed for current or future special applications (like video) or high capacity backbones.  
  • Avoid consumer-grade switches, and consider using managed switches, since in the context of an entertainment control system, switches are cheap, and some more advanced features (like Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP)) available in managed switches are increasingly important in modern systems. 
  • Consider using switches made for the entertainment industry, since they are better focused on the needs of our market and our users, have accessible support, and are made to be easy to use; enterprise grade IT equipment can be very confusing to setup.
  • Consider (more expensive) Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches for some specialized applications like IP surveillance cameras and A/V network devices.
  • Consider (more expensive) AVB capable switches if running audio equipment that uses it (Meyer Sound, Biamp).
  • Ensure that Energy-Efficient Ethernet (EEE) can be disabled (or is not implemented) in switches used for audio networks like Dante. 
  • Incorporate monitoring ability.  Computers are cheap these days.
  • Use physically redundant switches or Virtual Local Area Networks (VLAN) to segregate traffic.  VLANs are very easy to configure with modern entertainment-oriented switches.
  • Use small business or enterprise-grade dedicated wireless access points (Cisco, Aruba, Ruckus, etc.) when necessary (and don’t use Wi-Fi for real-time control). Don’t use home grade routers (you don’t likely need the router anyway and if you do, you don’t want a consumer grade router).

Copper

  • Comply with the TIA/EIA-568 structured cabling standard.  The B version is more common, but either A or B can be fine if used consistently on a show/venue. 
  • Cat 5e Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) is suitable for Gigabit Ethernet and should be fine for most entertainment control applications in North America today and into the near future.
  • Cat 6, 6A or Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) may be required or recommended currently or in the future by some manufacturers for specialized (typically high bandwidth) applications. 
  • Use pre-made patch cables. Companies like Monoprice make cable so cheap that it’s typically not worth crimping your own connectors.
  • Don’t make loops (unless your network equipment specifically supports this sort of topology for redundancy using techniques like Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol (RSTP), or Ethernet Automatic Protection Switching (EAPS)).
  • Keep total Cat 5e segment length under 100m (including patch cables).  Cat 6, depending on the use, can have shorter working lengths.
  • Heavier duty Neutrik Ethercon (and compatible) connectors are available for show purposes.  
  • Heavier duty (and easier to coil) Cat 5e (like Belden DataTuff) is available.
  • For permanent copper installations:
  • Terminate cable runs to a jack in the wall, then use a patch cord for the short run to the equipment. 
  • Minimize the patch cable length since these cables are typically lower performance.
  • Remember that conduit runs are typically specified by others and can often be longer than you think. 80m is a good target length, 90m maximum to accommodate 5m patch cables on each end. 

Fiber

  • Fiber today is still complicated/expensive to terminate and is best for long runs or high bandwidth applications, or where lightning/extreme EMI immunity is needed.
  • LC Duplex is most common fiber connector in our market; you might also see SFP connectors on networking equipment.
  • Single mode fiber is typically needed for very long distances. 
  • Heavier duty Neutrik opticalCON Duo or Quad ruggedized connectors are available.

Security

  • Physical security is very important in our industry and is your first line of network defense.
  • Keep in mind that few of our protocols have any intrinsic security.
  • Consider not using or restricting access to DHCP servers
  • Use firewalls, start with firewall that is totally closed and open from there
  • Use VPN for remote access
  • Shut down unneeded Wi-Fi (which is very useful for programming, etc.) during the show.
  • Keep your network off the internet.  If you have to put it on the internet, limit and constrain access. A useful approach when this is necessary is to have one machine on the show network and use a highly secure external remote access method to that one machine. Then you are virtually in the show network without exposing the whole thing.

Cool Testing Tools

AVB and Audinate's Dante: An Audio Networking Update After Infocomm 2016

 A display in the samsung booth At Infocomm

A display in the samsung booth At Infocomm

Update June 25 2018: Latest thoughts here

Update June 25, 2017: Update now posted here.

Since 2009, when I first saw AVB at Infocomm, I've been writing here about audio networks and their applications for live sound. Over that seven years, the audio networking landscape has changed pretty dramatically.  I was a big booster of AVB, but in the end AVB just didn't get much traction in the live performance audio market, and four years later I wrote, "Audinate's Dante has won the race, while AVB is still being tweaked by the mechanics over in the pit lane."  And while AVB (also now known as Time Sensitive Networking (TSN)) is a great technology, as I wrote after Infocomm last year, Audinate's Dante is now really the dominant player in our live sound market.  So this year at Infocomm it was pretty much more of the same, but there were some interesting developments.

Audinate's Dante Audio Networking World

On the day before the Infocomm floor opened, Audinate held their annual Dante AV Networking World event. The highlight of this event for me in recent years has been Roland Hemming's great talk on the state of the audio networking world.  Here's one of the key slides from his talk, showing the number of manufacturers who have licensed each protocol.

And this is the count of products:

Some of Mr. Hemming's research is funded by Audinate, but from what I can tell his methodology is sound, and he is addressing the audio market that I live in--excluding automotive, consumer and industrial industries, which are certainly future growth areas for AVB/TSN (and in the other fields I cover, industrial control for shows, this is certainly a promising development).  

The key thing that I've been saying all along is that our live sound market is driven by end users, with manufacturers making decisions like what audio networking protocol to use and then selling us a solution. To me, once Yamaha--the 800 pound gorilla of the professional live sound market--started developing their entire product line around Dante in 2012, the choice of an audio network was made for many users.  And my opinion is supported by Mr. Hemming's research; here's another slide from his presentation:

My crappy cameraphone picture may be a bit hard to read, but the reasons for selecting a protocol went from "Most Products" to "Will be around" down to "Easy".  And, at least for the survey respondents reached by Mr. Hemming, that has translated to a lot of Dante projects:

So the continuing success of Audinate and Dante was not hard to see at Infocomm 2016; Dante was everywhere on the floor, and they had a lot of product in their booth (I actually got distracted there and forgot to take photos of the whole booth):

And one of the cooler Dante things I saw at the show was Amphenol's new Amphe-Dante endpoints which cost just a few hundred dollars:

Dante is a proprietary standard, and I of course would always prefer open standards. But seeing innovative, affordable products like this Amphe-Dante interface coming out is yet another sign that Dante is effectively a de facto standard in the live sound market.  

Certification

Another sign of the maturation of Dante is that at this show they rolled out two levels of Dante certification; a third, more advanced level is on the way. Level 1 is an online test that is pretty straightforward and easy to answer for anyone who has worked with Dante. Level 2 involves an online test and a practical test which right now is administered by Audinate at these kind of events. I've been working with this stuff for a while so I actually skipped out of the Level 2 training and jumped right into the practical test (avoiding a huge line later), but I passed, and can now display the logo to the right.

I think certification is a really interesting development and a smart strategic move for Audinate: further positioning Dante as a standard, establishing a baseline of knowledge, and also (of course) benefiting on the marketing front.

Another interesting development that was reported at the presentation that Audinate has left the AVNU alliance (AVB trade association), although some friends pointed out that some of the biggest Dante licensees (Yamaha for example) are still members. This slide from the Audinate presentation sums it up: 

And that leads to the next thing, with Dante so widespread in the live sound market, what about the companies that build their product lines around other solutions?

An Audio Ecosystem--Developments in Network Connections

In my professional work in live sound system design and alignment, I'm a big Meyer Sound fan and user. And Meyer made a big commitment early on to AVB, and their products are built around it  I used this picture in last year's blog to show why I hoped Meyer would at least include hooks into the Dante world; that's Yamaha Dante-based RiO boxes on the left coming out of the console system, and Meyer Galileos on the right feeding the speakers, and a whole lot of analog XLR running between them.

Youtube Brandcast 2015 Audio patch

Note: The picture above shows Meyer Galileos which didn't have any audio network interface, but if Meyer continued on an AVB only path, the photo is what future interconnection would look like.

Apparently I wasn't the only one wanting a networking connection from Meyer's AVB world to the larger Dante world; they had on display the replacement for the rightfully beloved Galileos (which have a limited future because of declining parts availability): the Galileo Galaxy line of processors.

Note the Extreme networks switch on the bottom of the rack.  It was until recently (see below) the only AVNU certified switch, with the AVB option costing about an extra $400/switch.

Friends on the Meyer booth told me that this Galaxy system--in addition to native AVB support--will eventually offer either a Dante interface or AES-67 open standards based audio inter-operability (see my writeup on AES-67 as an interoperability interface from 2013).  So for the future, the mess of XLR cables I show in the picture above should eventually be able to be replaced by a couple Cat 5 cables.  

How this plays out will be interesting to see, since Audinate has included AES-67 support in their products for a while; it's now up the individual licensees to implement it.  This situation was presented by Audinate's Brad Price in a series of slides at the Audinate presentation.  AES67 has been included since April 2015:

They are currently in the manufacturer testing phase:

But there may be some complications:

This discovery issue is an interesting issue, but I think even if it has to be manually configured at first there is enough market push to make this happen.  

And while Meyer talking Dante compatibility was a new development, as in past years other natively AVB-based live sound players were showing Dante interfacing--Avid had this on their stand:

And Digico, who are heavy MADI users was showing this again:

So it's pretty evident that the majority of players in the live sound market are embracing--in one way or another--Dante.  But what about AVB?

AVB/TSN Developments

So is AVB dead?  Absolutely not.  Dante is dominating the live sound market, but AVB/TSN is a well engineered solution that has found a home in portions of the live sound market (most notably Meyer Sound, Avid, Pivitech and MOTU). And at the AVNU booth I had a fascinating conversation with my friend Greg Schlechter who is a technology marketing strategist for Intel and Graeme Harrison of Biamp; they view the whole world of audio networking as an ecosystem with Dante and AVB and Ravenna all as parts of that ecosystem.

Biamp is probably the largest manufacturer of AVB product in the A/V market, and at the show they announced the ability to send video over AVB (I think this is the first company to do this in released, end-user oriented products), which is very cool. And as Graeme explained Biamp's decision to use AVB as the core of their product line it seemed like a very sound decision to me: they wanted to be freed from a single supplier who could disappear or change direction, the way Cobranet did when it was sold to a larger chip manufacturer who eventually stopped development.  But Biamp occupies a slightly different market space than the world of live sound where I operate--they primarily provide complete, integrated, "turn key" solutions to customers like airports or hospitals.  Of course they have to do some system integration, but their main customers aren't often patching up a bunch of mics from manufacturer A into a mixer from manufacturer B to drive speakers from manufacturer C, which is what we do in the performance audio world on a daily basis.

All that said, AVB/TSN is finding acceptance in the automotive and industrial markets, and one of the big developments on the AVB front at Infocomm is that Cisco, the dominant player in the networking hardware market, now (finally) has AVB support in some of its higher end switches:

This is a great development, and had this switch been 7 years ago, the live sound market might be dominated by AVB now. 

Update June 27: Arthur Skudra on the Theatre Sound Mailing List and Kevin Gross pointed out that Coveloz were demo'ing AVB AES-67 connectivity, demo video here.

Ravenna

Ravenna had a booth at the show, and it does seem that this technology is gaining wider use in the broadcast world, but hasn't crossed over much into the live sound arena.  Having different systems operating between live and broadcast audio isn't much of a big deal since Live and Broadcast are pretty much separate disciplines, but once AES-67 interoperability fully comes to Dante, this will give us an easy connection to the broadcast world.  

AES-70 (OCA)

I should mention too that the Open Control Alliance standard effort, spearheaded by my old friend Jeff Berryman of Bosch, led to an AES standard of AES-70, and unfortunately the picture I took is way too blurry to include here. The most interesting development I saw on the stand was that the industrial control manufacturer Beckhoff, whose gear has now found widespread use in theme parks and in stage automation has continued their push to embrace our market by incorporating AES-70 into their products.

Moving Forward

I storm chased my way 8000 miles to and from Infocomm this year (photos here and of the amazing show Meow Wolf in Sante Fe here), and therefore had a lot of time to think.  And one thing that I've been thinking about lately (which I hope to write up further later) is the way our market as a whole has matured in terms of business, techniques, and technology. It occurred to me going through an old missile silo in South Dakota on a boring weather day that things seem old and get obsolete when their underlying technologies are no longer modern. For example, this missile silo was built with almost all analog stuff, and while it was amazingly engineered, it just seemed old, because it's just not the way we would build things any more.  

But even though the newer generation of missile control systems--which is now pretty old--uses obsolete 8" floppies, it's still a computer so it's not really all that different fundamentally than what we would build today. With networks, the underlying technology--Ethernet and IP--is likely to be useful and current for the rest of my career. Maybe we move to fiber, maybe we get a bit faster, maybe we go to IPv6, but I would be willing to place a sizable bet that 25 years from now we'll still be using IP and copper and fiber and radio.  

And that means now that we're on the network as an industry (and nearly every department uses one now), the playing field has changed, and the constant acceleration of dramatic change we saw (for example in the 80's with the initial transition to digital audio), may have slowed a bit. And that's a good thing for the industry. For example, at my school I just got us a Yamaha CL-5 mixing console. I got that console because it is widely used in the audio market that I see here in NYC where my graduates work, and we want to train our students on commonly used stuff. But what's interesting is that the vintage 2004 Yamaha PM5D console we replaced is still fine (we will use it for monitors)--the only real difference from the user perspective of the new console is native Dante and a touch screen. And the CL-5 will probably be in our inventory for at least 10-15 years (our speakers are now nearly 20 years old and still working fine), and that means we are using Dante for the next 10-15 years. After that?  Who knows.  But with the market penetration of Dante now, any future solution will have to accommodate it. And if something new comes along, it too will likely use IP and Ethernet. And audio will still be audio, so as long as we have something like AES-67, we'll be good.  

So my advice continues to be don't choose an audio network, choose the products you want and then figure out how they can connect. As long as you build a workable network (and I have a book about how to do that) you'll be fine.

Note: Other sights from Infocomm are in a terrible camera phone photo gallery here, and I have coverage of our annual show control geekout here.

UPDATE July 13, 2016: Comments from Graeme Harrison of Biamp:

I thought that your blog article was well-balanced for the live sector of the market (things are very different in the install sector) and well written. A couple of things that I would pick up on are:
1. I wouldn’t consider the Cisco Catalyst 3650 mini switches to be that high end - about $1,800 (with the correct level of software to support AVB) for a 24-port switch with fiber uplink ports. Another point is that Cisco are including AVB in their core software - it isn’t an extra cost like Extreme (and Netgear). This is the way that we want to see things going with the ability to run deterministic data just being a tick box in a broad list of switch specifications.
2. The point about ‘AVB AES67 connectivity’ is a little obscure. What was actually happening was that Coveloz were showing AES67 (Ravenna is this case) running over AVB. What this means is using the 802.1 base level protocols already build into the AVB (or TSN!) standard is provide guaranteed transmission rather than ‘best effort’ data flow. Obviously, if one is doing this (and therefore using AVB enabled switches in order to accomplish this) one might as well just use the whole AVB standard to keep things simple (as well as to reduce the cost as there are then no top level license fees to be paid or proprietary hardware to be bought). I appreciate that in the live sound environment, probably best effort works just fine with the correct manual switch configuration, because the network is separated and is reserved for audio. We see in the future more convergence of video with the audio (indeed we, as you mentioned, introduced product to do this). Being able to guarantee end-to-end video latency is huge for our customers and this is just not currently possible without AVB. Looking further ahead (again in the installed AV market) we see convergence of deterministic data (in this case media) within data networks and for this to happen, AVB-TSN is essential.

Thanks to Mr. Harrison for the clarification!

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

Update June 25 2018: Latest thoughts here

Update June 25, 2016: I have a followup here.

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