By Rafael Fonseca, VP of Product Management
When you hear about the audio industry’s migration to IP, the “classic” implementation that comes to mind is that of either a greenfield application or a complete equipment replacement. Either response is valid, given that many of the initial implementations highlighted were just these kinds of projects: entirely new builds undertaken by high-profile media organizations.
In most cases, these organizations outgrew their existing facilities and had both the budget and the freedom to start from scratch with IP technology. The reality for the majority of studios and media facilities is quite different, though. Their migration to IP is an evolution, not a revolution. The shift occurs over time as technical and business requirements change.
Fortunately, one of the greatest strengths of IP is its flexibility, which enables countless different use cases and implementations of audio over IP. As a provider of media delivery solutions and PTP Ethernet switches, we’ve seen a variety of approaches to bringing IP into the modern studio.
THE IP DIFFERENCE
In the SDI world, every aspect of the studio is essentially like its own network. Due to the nature of the signals being used, all the layers of equipment and networking gear are effectively independent from one another.
In the IP realm, it becomes possible to converge all of these elements and flows into a single infrastructure that supports all types of traffic and media essence. The network is agnostic, dealing with flows as packets moving through the system. You can not only control endpoints but also set priority levels for different types of traffic. You can specify bandwidth limits for different types of network traffic to ensure that critical time-sensitive flows aren’t compromised by unexpected traffic. Instead of relying on inherent physical separation of flows, as you would with SDI, you can use VLANs to create a logical separation.
Though you could basically recreate your SDI model in the IP realm, the power and flexibility of IP give you many other options. For the many audio studios and other media facilities that aren’t planning a wholesale jump to IP, these options enable a gradual transition based on the technical and financial considerations unique to their business.
STARTING THE IP SHIFT
Every facility begins an incremental IP migration at a unique starting point. In many cases, an audio studio will keep virtually all of its existing audio infrastructure in place and move only intercom onto the IP network. (Ideally, of course, that IP infrastructure has been built with enough capacity to support ongoing onboarding of various systems and devices.) Because voice over IP is a well-established technology at this point, it’s a comfortable, low-risk starting point. General data is another low-risk element that can be shifted to the IP network with relatively little concern.
Existing audio consoles and other equipment that still operates reliably can be slated for replacement when the budget accommodates a new purchase, when the systems’ functionality no longer meets the facility’s needs, or when service and support from the vendor come to an end. If you’ve got legacy production gear that is still relatively new, it may be prudent to wait a while, continue to derive value from those systems, and then invest in a future generation of IP-based systems.
As the migration continues, other common choices for early onboarding to the IP network typically include any other devices that aren’t in a critical path. Control is a good option, and it’s a natural choice because legacy systems typically can “speak IP” to control, and storage and mixers are often next on the list along with monitoring analysis, reporting, provisioning, and legal/regulatory compliance, where applicable.
LEVERAGING NEWFOUND FLEXIBILITY
As you make this shift to IP, you could more or less replicate your SDI flows. But you also have the opportunity to build in significant levels of redundancy — both infrastructure redundancy and application layer redundancy. You could, for example, repurpose another room to serve as a hybrid or backup control room. In addition to supporting usual operations from day to day, this room could accept additional flows and provide the control room functionality needed to ensure ongoing production functionality or business continuity.
By bringing audio, data, control, monitoring, intercom, and other elements into the converged IP environment, you gain much more flexibility in directing those flows to various destinations. If your audio studio is part of a larger operation, you can much more easily share audio with other areas of the organization. No longer treated as a separate network, audio can be leveraged more easily to enrich or complement other types of content.
Understanding the strengths of IP technology as you undertake the transition is critical. Although you likely will need to consider your existing systems, infrastructure, and workflow, as well as your budget and risk tolerance, a thoughtful migration plan that takes into account your newfound flexibility will help you realize the full benefit of audio-over-IP workflows.