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Streaming Helps AV Industry Eliminate Cable Clutter

The audio-visual (AV) industry has recently experienced a rapid convergence of traditional AV gear and IP-based devices, and new devices utilizing streaming technologies now provide an alternative to high-priced cabling and local installations. This convergence presents an opportunity that several astute manufacturers have begun capitalizing on.

Before we look at some of those innovations, let’s define our terms. The audio-visual industry provides sales, installation, and service of presentation equipment to schools, places of worship, convention centers, and high-end home users. Typical products include projectors, video players, microphones, and audio mixing boards.

A typical AV equipment installation in an existing or new building relies on significant amounts of specialized cabling that has a much higher per-foot cost than Category 5 or Category 6 cabling. Specialized cabling drives total materials and labor installation costs up significantly higher than labor costs for structured wiring installations. Specialized cabling has been a mainstay in the industry, though, as AV installers relied on traditional analog AV signal-routing in order to achieve full signal transmission. IP-based devices offer a cost-saving alternative.

One new device category receiving significant attention in the AV industry is the networked audio device. Streaming technology is at the core of these uncompressed audio devices. Unlike traditional analog-to-digital (AD) conversion systems that send a maximum of eight channels of digital audio across a few meters of coaxial or fiber cable, a network audio device combines an AD converter with a chipset that parses the audio content into data packets that can be transmitted at distances traditional analog and digital signals cannot travel without expensive repeaters and other outboard gear.

Audio is sent in real-time with latencies low enough to allow the use of encode and decode devices in the same room. Low latencies are imperative in the use of "snakes" that are used to send multiple audio signals from one location in a concert hall or convention center to another portion within the same physical room. Traditional snakes require a 1:1 send / receive cabling ratio, so 24 signals require 24 3-conductor cables. Network audio devices, however, can send up to 64 channels, bi-directionally, all on a single cable, or two if failover/redundancy is required.

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