Programming Simplified?

The AVB standard enables a new approach to network configuration and control.
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Programming Simplified?

Dec 1, 2009 12:27 PM, From Harman

The AVB standard enables a new approach to network configuration and control.


AVB Simplifies Network Architectures

Harman has been one of several leading networking and AV equipment manufacturers contributing to AVB development. The company’s newly released HiQnet System Architect version 2.0 combines advantages of the AVB transport standard with HiQnet’s networking and configuration protocol; an intuitive GUI allows programmers to build an intelligent system based on indicating factors such as function, system application, and system sophistication.

Audio Video Bridge (AVB)—an IEEE initiative to determine standards-based Ethernet for multichannel audio and video transport—has gained considerable momentum in the systems integration community. Nearing ratification as an IEEE protocol, AVB is unique from other failed standards in four critical ways. First, AVB is open and not proprietary to any one manufacturer; the AVB 802.1 Task Group involves engineers and executives from professional audio companies, semiconductor companies, network computing firms, and consumer electronics manufacturers. This openness ensures contractors, consultants, and new manufacturers can deploy AVB solutions today with the confidence that their own roadmaps will not lead to dead ends. Second, because AVB involves participants from many markets—some much larger than the pro AV market—volume efficiencies exist and the cost per node is radically more accessible than the current alternatives. Third, AVB is gaining traction because it enables plug-and-play Ethernet connectivity. This promises not only to simplify systems integration but also to grow the available markets for systems integrators. Now professional-grade multichannel AV systems can be affordably deployed in more applications than ever before—distance learning, conferencing, digital signage, and telemedicine are just a few examples.

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Being cost-effective, open, and easily deployable makes AVB a compelling standard for audio transport, but the fact that it is an audio-video transport is what is making it a mainstream pro AV standard. Together, these four important points made AVB the most talked about development at InfoComm, where it warranted its own pavilion.

Harman has been one of several leading networking and AV equipment manufacturers contributing to AVB development since the formation of the first AVB Working Group by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in July 2005. Robert Boatright, director of research Harman Corporate Technology Group (CTG), leads the AVB Transport Protocol committee (IEEE 1722), and Dave Olsen, principal engineer from Harman’s CTG, is editor of the IEEE 1722 standard. Craig Gunther, principal engineer from Harman CTG, serves as editor of the AVB Stream Reservation Protocol, IEEE 802.1Qat. From this vantage point, Harman saw early on that in addition to the overarching benefits, AVB provided a unique opportunity—the opportunity to develop a standards-based universal programming protocol that would address one of the biggest frustrations and costs of pro AV integration: network configuration and control.

Like many in the industry, Harman had already been chasing this holy grail. In January 2004, the company released version 1.0 of HiQnet. The overarching configuration and control protocol provided immediate benefits, primarily the standardization of system configuration and control. It also set the baseline for scalable development that would be furthered in version 2.0 (now out) and beyond.

Now, together with AVB, HiQnet System Architect provides the integration community with a new level of standardization and control. That System Architect has been evolved through numerous iterations is in itself an indicator of Harman’s long-range commitment to the control protocol. However, if the integrator reaction at InfoComm is anything to go by, it will be the custom GUI panels and standardized programming that generate most plaudits. (Recent studies estimate programming time on major projects to be in the region of 30 percent to 40 percent of hard costs.)

“A typical stadium audio network design, for example, will have several hundred user-operated and other panels that need to be created, with at least a half-hour to create each panel and sometimes considerably longer,” says Adam Holladay, market manager for Harman International’s System Development and Integration Group. “The trend for tools for designing these systems has become increasingly complicated on the software side, which means that even as hardware costs have come down, programming costs—in terms of time needed to configure the software for functions like control panel creation, network audio routing, and so on—have been increasing. In fact, often raising the total cost of the system.”

Holladay cites a case study done by Harman, commissioning a system comprised of 368 panels, of which 250 would be master panels and 118 were to be user panels, each of which would have to be recreated for each new job. But a closer analysis of the project revealed that the 368 panels only really addressed 15 discrete system functions—functions that would also need to be repeated from one project to the next. These included requirements such as cluster tuning, system navigation and panel launch shortcuts, and system-wide monitoring. “Reducing the time required to get the system designer to these goals and eliminate his repeating work from one system to the next is what needed to change,” he says.

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Programming Simplified?

Dec 1, 2009 12:27 PM, From Harman

The AVB standard enables a new approach to network configuration and control.

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The newly released HiQnet System Architect version 2.0 incorporates an intuitive element into the design process by providing users with intelligent choices based on job function, system application, and system sophistication. Instead of programming the system connections and components individually, as is typical across the industry now, the system designer can now essentially educate HiQnet System Architect 2.0 about how devices are to be used. As the process proceeds, it can then do a lot of that grunt work itself intuitively going forward, based on what it’s learned. For instance, once the user has informed the software about how various individual devices are to be used—all of which are networked using HiQnet control panels that are already embedded in the System Architect 2.0 software—it automatically ties to the correct devices and provides source-selection, level, mute, and metering. These settings are instantly accessible for each user-defined space directly from the main Venue View. The factory-supplied panels can also be edited or completely replaced with fully customized user control panels.

Key to achieving this was to orient the software to the user’s workflow perspective by framing input based not only the technology components to be employed but also on how the system is to be used. “The software works in the same order that the system designer does,” Holladay says. “It starts by understanding the venue the designer is designing for, then learns about the responsibilities and behaviors of the devices so as to automate many of the laborious design stages. Interestingly, in the early stages of this project, we felt this new philosophy was all about working in reverse order. Later, it dawned on us that by starting with the definition of the venue, System Architect 2.0 was working forwards, while traditional system design has always worked backwards, finishing with the bird’s eye view control panel.”

Using the HiQnet System Architect 2.0 interface, the designer uses a simplified set of embedded drawing tools to teach the application about the venue, starting with a traced outline of the venue, then overlaying semi-transparent, editable shapes to more precisely reconstruct the venue. The designer then adds components to the venue based on their physical locations, such as the venue’s designated rack rooms. Next, the designer instructs the software about how the amplifier channels are wired to loudspeakers throughout in the venue by dragging and dropping amplifier channels to the virtual rooms or zones within the design. In essence, System Architect enables grouping of discrete amplifier channels and represents these groups to the user in a clear, visual manner.

System Architect 2.0 has been designed to reduce redundant actions. A key way it has started to do so is to make the 15 discrete functions referred to earlier (i.e. cluster tuning, system navigation and panel launch shortcuts, and system-wide monitoring) available by embedding them as preset panels, and thereby automating the process of custom control panel creation for the most common panel types. As HiQnet System Architect moves forward in its new incarnation, it will begin to provide the designer with more and more of these types of functional panels for each area of the venue automatically, and knowing the signal path for each area it will associate the controls on each panel with the relevant parameters in the devices on the designer’s behalf. Another benefit derived from this approach is the creation of a system-monitoring panel, using the layout of the venue. “If a device physically placed in a room has an error condition, the room will be displayed on the GUI as red or yellow, depending on the level of the error,” Holladay says.

AVB Simplifies Network Architectures

Systems designers and integrators will find a fast-growing array of Ethernet AVB-enabled hardware coming to market. The dbx Professional Products SC 32 and SC 64 digital matrix processors are already shipping with Ethernet AVB card slots, the Crown Audio 2-channel CTs series of amplifiers will see an Ethernet AVB card imminently, and BSS Audio will ship both Decora-compatible architectural wallplate I/O and the world’s first Ethernet AVB network switch manufactured and co-branded by Netgear.

HiQnet System Architect 2.0’s implementation of the new IEEE 802.1 AVB standards adds high-bandwidth networked audio distribution to the picture, significantly increasing the scale of systems designs even as it streamlines the workflow by eliminating redundancy in programming. The flexibility of the Ethernet AVB network enables simple drag-and-drop of audio signals to each area or room within the venue design. Using the network as the matrix, System Architect can automatically and collectively instruct the Ethernet AVB amplifier channels associated with each area to switch to that networked audio signal, dramatically simplifying networked audio routing.

Ethernet AVB is an IEEE standard for simultaneously transferring time-synchronized, low-latency audio and video with excellent quality of service (QoS) over existing Ethernet networks. Ethernet AVB will provide significant enhancements for 802-based local area networks: precise timing to support low-jitter media clocks and accurate synchronization of multiple streams, simple reservation protocol that allows an endpoint device to notify the various network elements in a path so that they can reserve the resources necessary to support a particular stream, and queuing and forwarding rules that ensure that such a stream will pass through the network within the delay specified by the reservation.

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