Just back from the Pro Light & Sound show in Frankfurt, Germany.
Networking technology is very much at the forefront of people's minds. It's clear that almost no matter which product category you are in, it will be difficult to differentiate if you are not contemplating how you will interact with a network. Sometimes, users don't expressing this concern exactly in terms of needing a network, but the things they are seeking all point in the same direction: the need to reduce the complexity in getting large distributed audio systems to interconnect and share signals more easily, configure themselves with fewer manual steps and errors, report the health and status of all devices to an operator in a single position, and be ready to quickly change their topology in response to the changing needs of the show.
These needs have been emerging for more than a decade in live sound, and so far, no common platform has shown the potential to "rule us all." But Audio Video Bridging (AVB) stands an excellent chance of doing just that...
AVB is a standard which is emerging as an off-shoot of the IEEE Ethernet networking standards set. I went to a very well-attended panel on it at the PL&S show, and found a packed-out room full of both manufacturers and end-users. One panelist pointed out that he had never seen pro-audio manufacturers line-up behind a standard so quickly as with AVB (with the possible exception of MIDI). The reasons aren't hard to understand: a relatively small industry like pro-audio is fiscally unable to support the development and standardization of new solutions to profound technological problems like this. Over the years, various companies have tried to build a business around developing and licensing networking solutions, but the task is so great that they have sought to recoup their large investment through relatively high royalty or licensing fees, and in the tight-margin business we operate in this has placed a drag on the rate of adoption. Within pro-audio, we have often had to resort to likely looking solutions being created by other industries. And now that AVB has been targeted as a solution by manufacturers from the Consumer Electronics, Audio and Automotive sectors, the development cost can be spread widely, and we can all share the benefits with limited individual investment.
Following the money is usually a part of the context needed to understand behaviors of the players in most markets. On the design side in pro-audio, we've all been carefully assessing each new networking technology in the hope that this time, finally, there would be a solution that offered all the right attributes but that wouldn't saddle our products with an uncompetitive additional cost burden. (Told you I could work a horse analogy in here again.) At last, AVB (which is royalty-free for manufacturers) looks set to offer the answer.
A strong set of brand-names are at the starting gates: see AVNU.org for more information on who's in for the ride.