IT/AV

The What And When Of IP Signal Distribution

For years, we have been hearing about the coming together of the AV industry and IT (Information Technology). Initially, IT provided for remote monitoring and control of devices, such as projectors self-reporting on lamp life or monitoring system power usage over the internet. As network speeds and bandwidth increased, demand shifted to include the ability for sending actual audio, video and control signals over a network. This signal transport capability is the general concept of IP signal distribution and where AV merges most significantly with IT.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, the only connector found on some AV equipment may be a network jack. Volumes have been written about AV over IP, and no single article will wrap it up in a pretty little bow. What we can do, however, is give you an overview of some key options and where they shine. This information can then be used to identify specific areas where you may choose to learn more.

There are many methods for sharing signals across a network. Some adhere to standards that are recognized by a large portion of both the AV and IT industries. Others are protocols specific to individual manufacturers and may not work with equipment from other vendors. Somewhere in between are methods that, although not quite standard, have broad adoption and will work across equipment from multiple companies.

MJPEG, H.264, MPEG4 and H.265 are part of a larger group of recognized standards for distributing audio and video across a network or multiple networks. As we move along a timeline from older formats (e.g., MJPEG) to newer (e.g., H.265), we find that quality goes up while bandwidth and adoption rates go down. They can all function on local area networks and across the internet.

Because these are broadly implemented and recognized standards, a solution based on these methodologies typically does not lock end users into a single manufacturer solution. There are many various methodologies for delivering and managing these streams. This can range from purpose-built hardware-based encoders and decoders with software routing to content-delivery websites (e.g., YouTube) streaming to free software. RS232, HUI (i.e., keyboard and mouse) and other similar control signals are not embedded in these streams, yet can ride along on the same network. If control signals are required in addition to media, then either a separate or a hybrid solution must be provided.

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