Wheatstone Offers Careful Migration To Audio Over IP

Virtually everyone agrees the transition from baseband SDI to an Internet Protocol (IP) infrastructure will bring new benefits in flexibility while enabling tight metadata-enabled control of devices. The question then becomes how best to get there.

The Broadcast Bridge raised this question with the engineers at Wheatstone. The company provides a wide range of audio consoles, processing gear and networking devices that offer a flexible approach for television stations wanting to move to an IP infrastructure. 

In one scenario, a station could start with a camera with IP output and an IP audio network. This would allow the technical staff to join both video and audio in the IP realm so they’d never have to step into the edit room again to embed AES audio into the video. Implementing simple changes like this today can impact workflow now and later provide users the benefits of a total IP infrastructure later.

The company's solution, WheatNet-IP, leverages IP technology to enable audio to be intelligently distributed to devices across scaleable networks. A proper IP audio solution will enable all audio sources to be available to all devices (such as mixing consoles, control surfaces, software controllers, automation devices, etc.). Such a network also will allow these devices to be controlled from  other devices. Look for a network that offers an end-to-end solution--one that provides audio transport, control, and a toolset to enable intelligent deployment and operation.

Key considerations

Wheatstone suggests four key design considerations for anyone thinking about a move to an audio IP infrastructure.

1. Think hybrid.

The goal should be a fully interoperable studio, where disparate systems and peripheral gear can talk to one another. Many broadcast equipment manufacturers are working to support this concept. It is important that any selected audio network be AES67 compatible. But until this and other interoperable standards are widely adopted, it’s just as important that an audio IP network be able to work with   variety of existing gear and systems, in other words think hybrid. Look for a solution that supports the ingest of most of today's audio formats including; analog, microphone, AES/EBU, SPDIF, IP audio, MADI and SDI. Such a network will also be future proof by being able to support tomorrow's IP production and broadcast needs.

2. Think beyond access. Think control.

IP connectivity isn’t just about access. It’s also about control. The more logic a user puts on the network, the more control they’ll have over change. For example, WheatNet-IP has an integrated control layer that carries all the logic functions for audio. Such a network can support the unexpected, like needing to repurpose a news set for multiple productions. Having control built into each IP connection point provides access to not only all the sources at once, but also the presets and any associated logic that goes along with each feed. This logic could provide control to switch microphones, change microphone settings, control IFBs or adjust audio processing.

3. Think distributed network intelligence.

Wheatstone maintains that relying on a network that uses centralized system management is a single-point-of-failure just waiting to happen. Distributing network intelligence throughout to every IP point in the network is a smarter approach because distributed networks automatically provide redundancy. If one part of a network fails, the rest of the network remains functional.

In this design, each IP connection point (or blade) stores the entire network's configuration. But wait, exactly what is a blade? A blade, sometimes called an expansion module, is typically a card installed into a chassis that contains other network components. The blade supports additional network functionality, much like an expansion card does for a computer, but often at a much bigger scale.

In this design, any fail-over is immediate. And because the blades talk to each other, adding devices onto the network is easy and fast. This in turn adds more control resources, audio mixing and processing tools, and more intelligence for whatever new services or devices the user needs.

Each IP connection point (or blade) stores the entire configuration of the network.

Each IP connection point (or blade) stores the entire configuration of the network.

4. Think routable tools.

Having the right tools for any job is important. As an example, WheatNet-IP provides audio tools at each connection point in the IP audio network. For example, having two stereo 8x2 utility mixers at the I/O point makes it possible to perform online mixing or segue remotely between feeds, virtually overdub and pan. Because each of the I/O Blades has a built-in CPU and operating system it is easy to add tools and functions.

When planning an IP audio network, what’s needed is a modern, smarter audio infrastructure that provides the flexibility to control and reassign resources as necessary. An effective IP audio network should also include the capability to route, mix, perform audio processing, provide silence detection, support logic control and third-party equipment integration. A sophisticated audio-over-IP solution can serve as the core that supports a wide range of control surfaces and audio functions. 

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