Teaching With Dante

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A commonly used streaming media technology at schools, conference centers, and houses of worship is Dante (Digital Audio Network Through Ethernet). Dante is a creation of the Australian company Audinate, which develops products and licenses the technology to hundreds of audio device manufacturers around the world. A Dante-enabled device can be plugged into a Dante network using a standard Category 5e or Category 6 network cable; the network connects devices using either 100Mbps or gigabit network switches, typically with Power over Ethernet (PoE) capabilities.

Dante devices auto-discover on the virtual LAN they are connected to. If the network provides a DHCP server, Dante is plug and play. Once a device is connected to the network, it can transmit and receive up to 64 channels of digital audio at extremely low latency: 150 microseconds for hardware devices and as low as 1 ms for software. Since Dante networks are typically designed with switches providing PoE, there’s only one inexpensive cable to run. The network can run on a general-purpose computer network (consuming up to 100Mbps if all 64 bidirectional channels are in use) or on dedicated cables and switches.

A traditional Dante setup for a classroom or conference space would involve at least three Dante devices: a microphone receiver, a rackmounted Audio Matrix Processor for providing digital signal processing of the audio channels, and a distribution amplifier. A good example of a microphone receiver would be one from the Shure Microflex line. These wireless receivers draw power and transmit data for two, four, or eight wireless microphones over a single Ethernet cable. A rackmounted DSP unit would also plug into the network over a single Ethernet cable (or often two for redundancy). A distribution amp would either connect directly to the DSP unit with analog audio cables or to the Dante network if using a Dante-enabled speaker or line array, sending the audio to public address speakers in the room.

To make it all work, you would connect a computer to the network and use the free Dante Controller software to route the virtual microphone output channels from the wireless microphone receiver (audio Sources or Transmitters in Dante terminology) to virtual channel inputs (called Destinations or Recei­vers) on the DSP unit. For a classroom or conference space, multiple microphones might be used: one lavaliere microphone worn by the teacher or presenter and handheld or boundary microphones for audience interaction. The matrix processor would optimally be programmed to apply noise gates to all of the microphones to avoid picking up stray, non-speech sounds and would privilege the teacher’s microphone channel by ducking the audience microphones whenever the teacher is speaking. Dante-enabled wall panels and touchscreens are available to easily switch among different audio channel routing schemes.

In a hybrid world, you would want to route audio to and from Dante-enabled devices and into your videoconferencing software of choice. There are two ways to accomplish this. One would be to use Audinate’s inexpensive AVIO line of adapters or similar devices for connecting non-Dante audio equipment to your network. Some of the AVIO adapters consist of XLR connectors, a high-quality and fast A/D converter, and the Dante interface to connect to the network.

In our case, we would want the USB AVIO adapters that add a Dante-enabled sound card to your computer—exposing a virtual microphone to send microphone audio to the remote audience and a virtual speaker output to send the remote audience’s audio to the room’s speakers. Instead of using hardware, another way to connect a computer to a Dante network is with Audinate’s software (perhaps auto-ducked like an audience room mic or privileged, depending on the role of the remote party). One option is the Dante Virtual Soundcard. This product creates an audio device with up to 64 channels in/64 channels out that connects to a Dante network over your Ethernet adapter and that applications on your computer can interface with.

The other Audinate software solution is Dante Via, a fancy alternative to the popular donateware VB-CABLE, which can expose up to 16 applications or devices (like microphones or speakers) on your computer to Dante audio channels on the network, again using the computer’s existing network adapter. Dante Via and Dante Virtual Soundcard can be purchased as a combo for $70.

A new innovation from Audinate is Dante AV, which exposes 12 bidirectional audio channels and one video channel in or out. Dante AV is set to compete with established low-latency video-over-IP solutions like NDI and can potentially do so very effectively if many of Audinate’s hardware licensees are on board.

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