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AV, IP and IT – what needs to change (and what already has)

 blog author
John Henkel
Director of SMB Product Marketing

AV Network Nation recently interviewed Laurent Masia, Director of Product Line Management, Managed Switches at NETGEAR. Laurent has over 20 years of experience in the networking industry and has been closely involved with NETGEAR’s entry into the ProAV market. A member of the SDvoE Board of Directors, Laurent regularly engages with AV customers, so he has first-hand experience of what they are looking for today.

One of the main interview topics was IP and AV, particularly what needs to be improved and how that is happening. In this blog, we capture some of Laurent’s thoughts around the challenges that AV over IP faces and how those can — and are — being addressed.

We have been talking about the transition from analog to digital to IP convergence for over 20 years, but finally, AV over IP has become mainstream over the past few years. It brings many advantages for Pro AV users, theoretically making it easier to create, edit and distribute audio and video. Also, it is an unstoppable force: in the same way that telephony, security surveillance, and so many applications have become IP-centric, the same has happened with AV.

IP challenges

However, the network element is still challenging in AV installations. The requirements of AV are very different to IT environments, bringing far more complexity. For instance, delivering IP-based AV packets to multiple conference rooms demands high levels of Quality of Service (QoS). Plus, the amount of time required to configure IT switches for AV is complicated and time-consuming. Get it wrong, and problems such as jittery video or complete downtime are real risks.

A second point is the language around AV, IP, and IT. Most AV people do not speak IT fluently. However, there are certain terms that we can start to understand and bridge the gap to allow better communication between the AV and IT teams. IT network infrastructure needs to become more AV aware, with switches and standards presented more consistently, so that configuration can be more straightforward, with less manual error risk. At the moment, there is a lot of diversity, with dozens if not hundreds of potential network settings to consider.

For instance, if you plug a Dante virtual sound card into a Mac OS computer, it is not super-compliant with the IGMP protocol. So, to make the Mac see the Dante traffic, there needs to be a way to make sure the Dante is visible (which is something we have handled in our switches).

A third point is around the support requirements of Pro AV users, meaning that they need access to professionals who truly understand the AV world, including AV standards and protocols. One of the reasons we entered the AV market was because we could see that configuring network switches for AV installations took a lot of time and education. So we decided that there had to be an easier way to support Pro AV across products and support.

The answers

Fast forward several years and thousands of hours of effort from NETGEAR and many industry contributors later, we developed our AV Line of switches. We started with a blank page, looked at what IT switch interfaces were all about and reimagined them for AV users. A big plus is the way we use preconfigured profiles embedded into the AV user interface, all verified and certified by our manufacturing partners. Plus, all the main AV protocols are supported, including NDI, Creston NVX, AMX, Q-Sys, Extron NAV, Dante, AVB, AES67, and SRT.

We also sat down with our ProAV Council of industry experts (including integrators and consultants) and listened to what they had to say. As a result, our M4250 switches are designed to look good in a network rack, with a sleek and discrete user panel on the front and everything else hidden at the back (though reverse rack mounting is also possible). Our new AV GUI provides even more information if needed.

In addition, the M4250s are designed for AV mounting, with threaded holes on the bottom and in the front, creating multiple mounting options outside the rack. These may sound like small things, but as any Pro AV integrator can confirm, they make all the difference. Finally, these switches are affordable, designed to fit SMB budgets, and provide feature-rich, performance-based return-on-investment. These switches are already widely deployed globally with a strong fan base.

A third factor we have addressed is dedicated Pro AV support. We have a worldwide team of system engineers who live and breathe AV, plus they are easy to contact with just one email address: Once they receive an email, a ticket is created, and someone is assigned to that request pronto. Additionally, NETGEAR ProSAFE Limited Lifetime Hardware Warranty and next-day hardware replacement is included.

AV over IP is here to stay, and for good reasons, so finding ways to take away the hassle surrounding its technology is essential. The worlds of network IT and AV can coexist, making it easier to connect more devices more flexibly and efficiently. It is time to take away the complexity of AV over IP so that Pro AV users can focus on what really matters: creating a great user experience.