Audio over IP and the Pandemic Challenge
By Brad Price, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Audinate
The global pandemic of 2020-21 has changed how broadcast works – with talk show hosts and sports commentators working from home – be it kitchen, living room, office, garage, or closet. What was originally intended as a “stop gap” solution has now turned into a new capability, and the events of the past two years have given broadcasters the confidence to use this capability whenever it is suitable. It is now clear that audiences either don’t mind this change.
There have been many articles written on this subject, and most of them focus upon the use of remote video capture for shows forced to work outside of the studio. While true, this often overlooks the very real advances in audio technology that made this all work so well.
Right Tech At The Right Time
Audio over IP (AoIP) has been a rapidly growing part of the AV ecosystem for the past several years, and has now become a standard in many areas of production including live sound, recording, and corporate installations. AoIP has many, many advantages over earlier analog and digital transport solutions, among them the ability to scale up to very large numbers of channels and devices – and to operate over long distances with no degradation of signal.
The maturing of AoIP, like that of easy video conferencing, arrived just in time to be useful during the periods of lockdown. And like video conferencing, AoIP allowed people to discover new, innovative ways to work, remaining creative and productive.
AoIP allows broadcasters to easily use a single Ethernet cable to carry all the audio channels, control data and more that are required for remote capture and broadcast. One cable from an OB truck to the talent – wherever they are – is sufficient for hundreds of channels of completely lossless audio that is tightly synchronized to a network clock, with a negligibly small amount of latency.
This supreme ease of installation results in savings of time, fewer technical issues, and less disruption of the people who may live at the remote site. Without AoIP, the task of capturing and distributing audio would be far more difficult and error-prone.
Case Study: University of Miami Sports Production
Prior to 2020, The University of Miami redesigned its live sports production workflows to ensure all audio feeds were on the network using Audinate’s Dante.
“We don’t have a single XLR patch anywhere in our workflow,” said Anthony Lestochi, Director of Production Services at the university. “It made building out our production really easy and effective. And, when COVID happened, (it) made it easy to quickly adapt.”
“When we looked to bring production back, the first thing we did was knock walls down in our control room,” Lestochi said. “We totally rearranged the space and put up new physical barriers to allow for effective social distancing in the new control room.” Thanks to AoIP, they could run all of the new positions for equipment onto the network and know it would work quickly. It was a very easy change, and one that would have been far more difficult using traditional cabling.
The control room continues to make use of the same broadcast technology in place prior to the change in physical layout. Field and announcer microphones located on site are AoIP native, as is the intercom system. There are approximately 60 AoIP devices in use in the production – and on any given day, multiple productions can take place with around 100 signals running seamlessly across the local network.
Of course, many times announcers couldn’t be in the studio due to safety concerns. Miami’s AoIP solution extended into announcer’s homes, a practice that many viewers likely didn’t even realize was taking place. AoIP native commentator’s boxes are sent to an announcer’s home, where they are connected to computers that send the signals back to the studio over the public internet.
“That setup allows for bidirectional channels and two-way communication,” Lestochi said. “The talent can talk to each other as they watch the game, and the director and producer can also talk with the talent. Without that setup it would be nearly impossible for us to do this. It enables the talent to work the games from their home without much difference in the quality of the broadcast.”
Lestochi considered what it would require to make the same changes had the university stayed with its legacy system.
“It would definitely be a lot more expensive and require a lot more hardware and cabling,” he said. “And the management of the system, and some of the technical aspects to the audio signals, would be very, very tricky if we were doing this with copper. It would likely be far too complex to feasibly do.”
By using AoIP, changes were made rapidly and affordably, and the system allowed for considerations on how to best manage the increasingly remote nature of the work. For example: Lestochi said he can login to a university system remotely from his house to check on system status and can quickly make changes as needed.
Case Study: Remote Live Music from Blue Note Group
Not only has AoIP helped educators, it has enabled something many people yearned for during the pandemic: live collaborative music performances that allow musicians to safely interact in real time at safe distances. In the Blue Note case, that “safe distance” is several hundred miles.
Blue Note Group, which owns Sony Hall in New York City, worked with Peltrix and Audinate (makers of the Dante AV-over-IP protocol) to see how this might work. In late June of 2021, the collaborators held closed-door performances at Sony Hall in New York City, taking their research to the next level.
With vocals and guitars in New York, electric bass at Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theater, and drums and piano at S.I.R. Production Studios in Nashville, the performers were able to connect via Dante solutions over the internet to play together while hundreds of miles apart – all with minimal latency. This was a proof of concept that worked not only technically but artistically as well.
These performances used more than simple audio over IP. Video-over-IP was included – through Dante AV – amply demonstrating the effectiveness and low latency possible today with common 1 gigabit network infrastructure.
Audio Over IP Has Plenty of Reasons to Stay
The pandemic has only made clear what was already obvious to some – that audio over IP solutions are mature, and ready to take on the most demanding requirements of broadcasters and live performance, whether in-studio or remote.
The low cost of deployment, ease of use, management capabilities, performance and sheer scale that is made possible by IP are benefits that apply at all times, and are certain to be a big part of the future of AV.