Audio At The 2023 NAB Show - IP, Remote Production, Immersive Sound And Deja Vu

If it feels like we’ve been talking about AoIP for the last 10 years, there’s a good reason for that; we have. IP has been a focus for broadcasters for so long that there are actual grown-ups working in the industry who don’t know of a time before IP was a thing.

Back then it was like the wild west, with every manufacturer selling its own ground-breaking proprietary standard. Times may have changed, but as we approach the 2023 NAB show, the second since its post-Covid rebirth, you would be forgiven for experiencing a very real sense of déjà vu.

But don’t panic; it is still 2023 and IP is still a big deal.

In fact, it’s bigger than that; it’s massive. As broadcasters scramble to capitalize on the flexibility that they embraced when everyone was forced to pivot and adapt back in 2020, the promise of technologies like IP and the cloud remain a huge focus.

Flexibility is a key theme across many exhibitors at NAB, with the ability to shift production capacity as well as the ability to work in a more distributed way, with DSP and other resources no longer tethered to on-prem hardware.

While it’s still early days for live cloud production, microservices are also being used to streamline procedures across production, comms and delivery, and there are plenty of manufacturers at NAB embracing these services to challenge traditional ways of working.

The acceptance of these technologies also means that other things are back on the table – immersive and spatial audio are back in a big way after taking a back seat to just getting content out during Covid.

Lawo

“Flexibility is key, in all respects,” says Christian Struck, Senior Product Manager Audio Production for Lawo (booth C4111).

“IP has been at the heart of the mc² platform and of our A__UHD Core and Power Core processors for a decade now. This means that many mc² users have been familiar with the benefits of remote and distributed productions for quite a while. The “Mix Kitchen” concept furthermore proved that remote operation for certain applications is possible without a large console surface.

“A combination of the remote approach with immersive audio mixing has been used at events like the Tomorrowland festival and in Germany’s Bundesliga, and has become a staple among broadcasters with distributed production hubs.”

Providing greater flexibility in those environments, Lawo says its evolving HOME platform is now supported by its entire portfolio, as well as a growing number of third-party vendors who are equipping hardware with APIs to provide HOME support functionally.

With record sales of its mc² audio console line in 2022, Lawo will release V10.6 for the mc² and A__UHD Core platform at NAB, which the company says delivers advancements for immersive audio mixing, multi-channel processing and downmixing. V10.6 also supports Lawo’s new Pooling 8 license designed to share one A__UHD Core with up to eight mixing surfaces.

“We might also unveil a new console model at the NAB Show,” teases Struck.

Calrec

Dave Letson, VP of Sales at Calrec (booth C6107), is of the same view.

“It’s less about technology and more about flexibility,” he says. “The drive is to ensure products are agile enough to be leveraged through distributed production, remotely controlled or virtualized. Remote control is still a major topic in the race for flexibility, and can be on a physical console surface or via a virtualized application like Calrec Assist.”

Such techniques were leveraged last year by NBC Olympics for the Winter Games to give NBC the ability to control the production remotely from multiple control rooms at its HQ in Stamford, Connecticut.

However, Letson thinks that the transition to IP is still a challenge for many broadcasters.

“Some of our customers are at the start of their journey and want to keep existing equipment but are in the process of replacing aging equipment and need to add IP gateway devices while others are investing in IP islands such as a single ST2210 control room. There are also projects where the customer is building a ground-up IP facility where all equipment is ST2110 and NMOS compliant.”

Offering a way in with entry-level pricing, Calrec’s ImPulse1 will debut at NAB 2023. ImPulse1 delivers the same IP capability as Calrec’s established ImPulse core in a 1U form factor and with a new scalable 128 input channel DSP license.

TSL

Meanwhile, TSL (booth C2416) is trying to ease that same burden with two NAB debuts aiming to simplify the move to IP.

“The main driver from TSL’s customers is definitely IP,” says TSL Products Director of Products & Technology Mark Davies. “We’re well past proof of concept and early adopters; IP is mainstream, and we are seeing a mixture of greenfield IP site and traditional network transitions.”

Davies says the big push for audio is running multichannel audio on 1Gb links, both on proprietary protocols like Dante as well as ST2110-30 and AES67. “We’ve tailored our products around those workflows. Early adopters were using our top of the range PAM monitoring units while they were working out the most efficient ways to work; now they know what they want to do and how to do it.”

At NAB TSL will introduce the MPA1-MIX-NET, a 1U ST2110 monitor unit providing 64 channels through a 1Gb AoIP connection which Davies says offers “a cost-effective entry point for broadcasters who need to monitor IP audio.” Meanwhile, X-Connect is an IP routing software and hardware package which aims to make IP routing more accessible.

“X-Connect offers a routing control solution to allow people to get the benefit of IP without having to get involved in the complexities by controlling IP endpoints as opposed to crosspoint routers, presenting it to the user as a traditional crosspoint matrix.”

Riedel

The migration of broadcasting to IP and the proliferation of wireless devices putting greater demand on the RF spectrum, meant that intercoms manufacturers have been across IP for a very long time.

Riedel (booth C4910) will be focused once again on IP at NAB with its range of IP compatible products which spread across many aspects of production; on the comms side, Riedel will present Bolero wireless intercom in both the DECT 1.9Ghz and the new 2.4Ghz versions, including capabilities in combined networks. Plus, TAC, an ultra-lightweight in-ear headset with noise-cancelling microphone and clip-on-mic-boom will be featured. The Artist-1024 will be on display, as will the SmartPanel 1200 and 2300 Series with multifunctional interfaces. Riedel’s SmartPanel concept decouples a keypanel’s capabilities from its hardware and turns it into a software-definable, application platform. These apps include advanced intercom, control, automation and monitoring functionalities, such as the new Audio Monitoring App (AMA). For the 1200 Series Control Panel App (CPA), third-party implementations of broadcast control and automation software will be on display at stand C4910. Riedel will also highlight PunQtum digital party-line intercom.

RTS

The transition to IP is central to RTS strategy at NAB too (booth C3811); the intercom specialist’s OMNEO media networking architecture has full support for Dante+OCA, ST 2110, AES67, AES70, and Dante.

The company claims its implementation of ST2110 enables broadcasters to transition to an IP infrastructure in stages. Firstly, channel-by-channel selectivity means users can choose whether a channel speaks ST2110, OMNEO, Dante or any other supported protocol, rather than requiring all channels in a device to use the same one. The system is also backwards compatible, providing the ability to add ST2110 capability to existing equipment to make it easier for customers to transition.

But it’s not all about IP. In addition to shining a spotlight on its range of ST2110-ready options at NAB, the company will launch the latest member of its RTS Digital Partyline family as well as showcase VLink, its cloud-based communication platform.

VLink is a multi-channel / multi-access communications solution that connects RTS intercoms; VLink Lite can run on iOS or Android devices and scales from to 8PL’s and 64 users, while VLink Cloud can be provisioned quickly for interfacing communications systems from different locations.

This integration of traditional matrix intercom frames and SaaS cloud services talks to the flexibility that broadcasters are demanding, where locations can be adaptable to suit the content.

Sennheiser

At the other end of the production chain, Sennheiser (booth C5217) has also been taking advantage of cloud services to provide consumers with spatialized audio on delivery, working with Netflix to create two-channel spatial mixes on stereo devices.

“The majority of end users are still using stereo systems, either because they do not have a home cinema system or because they are watching on the move,” says Renato Pellegrini, Head of ProLabs, Sennheiser. “Netflix has been the first OTT provider to address this by including our AMBEO 2-Channel Spatial Audio renderer in their cloud which creates a stereo mix from content mixed in Dolby Atmos or older formats such as 5.1.”

Pellegrini sees this crossing over into traditional broadcast, particularly for televised sporting events which are already produced in immersive formats, and says automation is the only way to add such value in a simple and cost-efficient way.

Meanwhile, Sennheiser is also looking forward to sharing information about its Multichannel Wireless Audio System (WMAS) at NAB 2023.

Dr. Andreas Wilzeck is Head of Spectrum Policy and Standards, WMAS: “One of broadcast audio’s biggest challenges on the production side today is the increasingly congested RF spectrum. WMAS technology makes it easier for frequency coordinators and sound engineers to deliver big events or look after large theater and studio installations. We’ve done a lot to ensure coexistence with narrowband solutions in the field.”

NAB 2023

There’s no question that broadcasters are looking to shift their production models, and IP and the cloud are providing robust vehicles to do it.

But it's not black or white, it’s never all or nothing; at NAB all audio manufacturers are combining different technologies in fantastical ways, and there are countless hybrid solutions empowering broadcasters to solve very specific challenges and to provide very efficient services.

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