What AV Over IP Means for Integrators and IT Specialists Maintaining AV Systems

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For end users, AV over IP has turned high-quality video into an everyday business and information tool. But for AV integrators and IT specialists, AV over IP has meant a great deal more.

For many years, AV and IT have existed in two separate domains, overlapping mostly by competing for room in cable runs or equipment closets. Today, the space for which AV and IT compete is far more often expressed in terms of bandwidth — and the competition is increasingly becoming a non-issue thanks to continual advances in compression technology and security standards that allow AV equipment to behave and be maintained as another piece of an IT network.

Here, we’ll take a look at the major considerations behind an AV over IP build and how those considerations demand the attention of both integrators and IT staff.

Streamlining Versus Bandwidth

AV over IP simplifies integrators’ work in several ways, notes IVCi. In the past, integrating audiovisual equipment into a single system demanded that integrators install proprietary switches, cables and other items for each piece of equipment. At times, it even demanded that AV integrators do their own soldering to ensure that equipment could connect.

AV over IP, however, eliminates the need to make each discrete component of the system talk to one another through a series of proprietary connections. Instead, audio and video signals can pass through the same Ethernet, as Liberty Cable describes in an excellent white paper. Specialized switches for each piece of equipment have largely been replaced by HDBaseT switches, lowering costs.

But the words “video over IP” instantly make many IT specialists wary. In the past, both audio and video have placed significant demands on bandwidth. IT specialists are aware of these demands, but not always up to speed on the ways in which compression technology has advanced, as Patrick McLaughlin notes in Cabling Installation and Maintenance.

Here are a couple of examples of how tools available today can open up network bandwidth:

  • Options like the SMPTE 2022-6 standard have expanded capabilities for sending high-quality video over Ethernet without causing unacceptable latency, notes Peter Suclu.
  • An Audinate white paper provides real-world examples of how some facilities are using VLANs to segregate signals so that AV and data can freely flow.

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Security

AV over IP represents a small part of the recent explosion in the Internet of Things (IoT), as video and audio equipment becomes a “thing” on the network. As an AMX industry brief notes, this explosion raises concerns for IT specialists, who recognize that every network node poses a potential security risk.

Compounding the problem is the fact that a great many IoT objects either have no security features or have security features that don’t interact efficiently with standard network security protocols, Wendy Zamora writes at Malwarebytes. While these problems can be addressed, both AV integrators and IT staff must first be aware that they exist.

As the professionals introducing audio and visual equipment to the network, integrators need to understand potential security risks and be able to recommend tools to address them. As the guardians of the network, IT staff likewise need to know how the AV equipment introduced will interact with existing security systems.

When both integrators and IT specialists are familiar with the encryption and digital key options for AV over IP, it’s easier for them to spot potential problems and resolve them in order to prevent security breaches, HB Communications says.

One advantage both AV integrators and IT specialists have is an ever-increasing understanding of network security. Their expertise allows them to think about security as an issue much earlier in the planning process and to improve stakeholders’ understanding of its importance, says Paul Zielie, Harman Professional Solutions’ manager of Enterprise Solutions.

For instance, both AV and IT professionals can drive home the importance of

  • using secure passwords,
  • maintaining separate admin and user accounts,
  • enabling encryption and use logs,
  • and adhering to a strict bring your own device (BYOD) policy.

Integrators and IT Staff as Teammates

As G. Sahagian at Sound & Video Contractor points out, few one-size-fits-all solutions exist in the AV over IP world.

Instead, the best solution for any client will be one that considers the client’s specific needs and challenges. To find this solution, AV and IT professionals increasingly find themselves coordinating their respective areas of expertise.

“AV and IT have historically been bad neighbors that can’t — or won’t — talk to each other,” AMX notes in a white paper on the convergence of the two fields. History, however, is changing. As the company says in an industry brief, IT-friendly AV systems:

  • Integrate seamlessly with IP networks
  • Embrace standards to ensure interoperability
  • Minimize technology obsolescence with standardized equipment
  • Consolidate functions
  • Allow AV equipment to “read” (and be maintained as) just another part of the network
  • Use IT security protocols

In order to build AV systems that play well with IT, integrators and IT specialists must communicate well, too.

One benefit IT specialists gain from working with integrators is integrators’ ability to “take a whole-room approach,” note Avixa’s Nermina Miller and Brad Grimes. Needs assessments that consider IT’s needs as well as those of end-users are just one tool in the integrators’ collaboration toolkit.

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The Future of AV Over IP: Considerations for Integrators and IT Specialists

As Rob Lang explains in AV Magazine, the transition to AV over IP is already here: The vast majority of AV devices can now be networked should users wish to do so.

The fact that equipment can be networked, however, doesn’t always mean that the process is challenge-free — or that it’s stopped undergoing significant development.

AV over IP is expected to continue changing both the AV and IT realms. Sales of AV over IP-related equipment and builds rose 130 percent in 2017, and similar increases are expected in the coming years, FutureSource Consulting writes.

At Commercial Integrator, Jason Knott outlines one of the biggest competitions in AV over IP: the feud for supremacy between HDBaseT-IP and SDVoE. The former has been used longer, Knott writes, but the latter offers both a recognized brand and the ability to send HD video over CAT-5 — an especially promising option for AV integrators and IT specialists working with older Ethernet installations.

ESCO outlines a few additional challenges currently confronting AV over IP systems:

  • Audio breakout remains challenging or impossible in certain systems.
  • Integration of software control systems can pose difficulties, particularly when the goal is to include an AV over IP build on a network with an already-familiar interface that doesn’t currently support AV.
  • Integrators continue to face challenges in bridging the proprietary gap between encoders and decoders in certain systems, particularly legacy systems.

The good news? “There’s often more than one answer to an audiovisual problem,” CCS Presentation Systems says. In some instances, IT staff can provide perspectives that offer opportunities for solving these problems.

As AV and IT work continues to converge, better communication between integrators and IT specialists will become increasingly important.

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