Dante audio networking is now well known in the broadcast industry. It is used by over 2100 products from more than 430 manufacturers, and is used in installations that range from broadcast studios and OB vehicles, to stadiums and recording studios, radio stations to schools and conference rooms.
This article was first published as part of Essential Guide: Audio Over IP Primer For Broadcast
Dante is far more than a transport protocol. It is a complete solution designed to provide every set of users with the tools they need to do their jobs easily and with confidence. From development kits used by manufacturers to the control and management tools for end-users, the solution is designed to ensure success and 100% interoperability between all Dante-enabled products regardless of brand.
Audinate firmly believes that IP technologies are the future of broadcasting, and that great user experience is what drives markets to embrace new possibilities. It’s not enough to deliver high channel counts, ultra-low deterministic latency or sub-microsecond synchronization of all devices; it must make all this performance readily available to users without special knowledge or cryptic, fragile configurations. It must “just work” with exceptional performance right out of the box, like any truly mature technology should. In this paper, we’ll examine the role of Dante’s “full stack” approach in propelling networked audio over IP forward for broadcasters.
Transport Layer and Interoperability
When transport works correctly, it becomes invisible to the user. As long as the system control interfaces remain basically the same, there is little reason for a user to be concerned. The transport layer is thus an area that can be changed without significantly altering the user experience, within limits.
Bringing that user experience to audio networking is largely what managed audio over IP is about. While Dante natively uses its own transport scheme that has been designed and proven for reliability and to implement features, other selected transport layers are also supported and are used to connect non-Dante devices to IP networks using familiar tools such as Dante Controller and Domain Manager.
Dante supports the AES67 interoperability standard, which allows nearly any AES67-compliant device to connect to a network. Devices may send and receive AES67 and Dante audio and data simultaneously, so operators don’t have to worry about vendor specific connections being affected by the introduction of another transport type.
As the configuration of SMPTE ST 2110 devices is quite complex, the Domain Manager provides tools to aid in this process. Once instated, devices can “speak” both native Dante transport and SMPTE ST 2110 at the same time, effectively converting synchronized audio traffic back and forth between the two. As with AES67, once SMPTE ST 2110 devices are setup, operators simply use the management controller to route signals easily and clearly.
Discovery and Control
In legacy non-networked systems, device discovery consisted of physically locating devices and connecting them with cables. The cable between devices defined not only the sole pathway between them, but also what type of signal was being carried. A cable carrying MADI wasn’t doing anything else but MADI, etc. In networked systems, cables don’t tell you what they are doing, and all devices are effectively all connected at once. Determining how devices are passing audio now becomes a crucial design element.
Automatic device discovery is an essential part of making a networked system truly workable. Without it, users would be forced to configure devices manually and determine settings by trial and error, adding friction and reducing chances of success. In contrast, when a user opens the management controller, they are immediately presented with a real-time view of the audio network as it is; all the devices, all the connections, all the settings and names.
Once discovery is in place, there must be equally clear means of controlling the system for common tasks such as routing signals, changing sample rates or giving devices useful names. A single application provides all these elements with an easy-to-understand grid view that lets operators clearly see all devices and all transmit and receive channels. Simply clicking at the intersection of any transmit/receive pair creates a connection and audio beings flowing immediately.
While built on open standards, discovery and control tools are not specified in transport layer technology such as AES67 and SMPTE ST 2110. This is largely because those standards are intended to fill roles that solve particular transport interoperability problems, and no more. Easy, reliable discovery and control is key to driving the use of audio over IP.
Management and Observability
Transport, discovery and control are basic building blocks for any functional audio over IP system. Once that is in place, other questions arise: how does one monitor the status of the system? What happens if a device goes missing, or perhaps an unwanted device is added? How is clocking managed beyond any automatic settings? How can I organize my system around physical locations when the network shows me everything, all the time?
Dante Domain Manager is a server-based management tool to add layers of additional control, alerts, expandability and organization to allow:
- Organize your network into “domains” that represent groups of devices in physical locations, e.g., “Auditorium” or “Studio A”.
- Work with domains one at a time for a clearer, easier view of a complex network.
- Route audio only within a domain for secure, non-interfering usage.
- Extend the network across subnets for nearly unlimited expansion over existing network topology.
- Instantly see the status of the network on the system dashboard, with instant notification of changes anywhere on the system, including device remove, device add attempted, subscription changes, clock failures and/or changes, etc.
- Receive alerts via email or SNMP when anything goes wrong or changes from previous state.
The very good thing and the very bad thing about networks is that they make everything available at once. Good, because services can reach everyone, and bad because everyone can potentially reach things they shouldn’t.
A network system demands network-style security. Fortunately, the IT industry has decades of experience in the deployment of computer systems from which to draw lessons and inspiration.
A security model that closely follows common IT practices is adopted, and starts with robust user authentication. Anonymous use is forbidden, and users see only the parts of the system to which they have permission as configured by the administrator.
User account administration is simplified by allowing Dante Domain Manager to synchronize with your existing LDAP or Active Directory implementation. Users may be granted any level of access on a domain-by-domain basis, from none to full control. All actions are logged and stamped with user name and time information, so troubleshooting is made easier and best practices may be more readily enforced.
Robust security needn’t mean confounding users. All security is transparent to the operator and doesn’t require expensive changes to tools or workflows.
The “full stack” approach taken by Dante provides users with a complete, fully supported toolset that lets them leverage the power of audio networking with low risks and the highest performance. With reliable discovery, easy-to-understand software and robust IT-style security, Dante takes the promise of networked transport and makes it a practical reality for nearly any user or organization.
Dante doesn’t compete with open standards. Rather, it works harmoniously with open standards to provide value and functionality that standards alone only suggest can be done. It is built by a team who understands both the underlying technology and the problems faced by users in the real world, and who work to create products that are consistent and understandable. Dante exists to advance IP usage in the AV and broadcast worlds, simplifying product design for manufacturers and giving users a consistent way to use and manage networked audio across hundreds of brands.
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