Audio, Installations

Industry POV: AV Needs For Single-Use Attractions

Columbus Zoo

Large, expansive installations need not be problematic if networked AV is deployed.

Many significant AV installations are dedicated to a particular location and theme, and they’re optimized for that type of presentation to the public. A good example would be a museum, which presents artwork in a fixed space that accommodates thousands of people each season. Granted, individual exhibits might demand some changes, but the general AV-system framework remains in place.

These settings provide audiences with an intimate AV experience. Often, they take individuals on a journey through an artist’s view, or perhaps they transport people to a distant place and time. High-quality audio and video are critical to bringing the sense of immediacy that captivates a viewer. In short, video must be sharp and clear, whereas audio must be impactful and full even as it retains perfect synchronization with the video at all times. This can only be achieved with a thoughtful, properly connected, well-managed system that combines high-quality monitors with well-placed loudspeakers to deliver multi-channel, spatial audio. Simply to rely upon sound sources at video endpoints will not do.

Breaking Out With IP

To achieve a system like the one described, it’s necessary to break out separate audio and video streams. AV-over-IP quickly becomes a logical choice, in light of its native ability to route audio to any endpoint on the network, instantly, on demand. This allows AV managers and installers to place loudspeakers in as many optimal locations as desired, without changing the system backbone or wiring in any way. Simply add switch ports as required and software handles routing with a mouse click, with no timing or latency concerns.

Video-over-IP is still in its early stages, with many products on the horizon both for this year and for 2021. Video-over-IP eliminates the need for expensive video matrixes, and it removes obstacles to achieving perfect synchronization between all endpoints by imposing a common clock upon all sources or essences. An end-to-end AV-over-IP system is ideal for flexible deployments of immersive AV experiences, with a single lightweight cable type to handle all signals over any useful distance.

The Management Layer

Any networked system requires tools for management, observation and security. An AV domain manager allows system designers and managers to divide a networked AV deployment into functional zones or domains that act independently, thereby ensuring changes made to one area of the system don’t adversely affect others. Domains simplify larger deployments by letting operators see only the devices within a particular physical space or zone, as opposed to giving them an “all-or-nothing” view of the network.

A domain manager provides status-update and diagnostic capabilities, as well, quickly informing managers of any changes or problems on a dashboard. Rogue or missing devices are immediately flagged for attention; clock issues are identified and fixed; and all user interactions are logged for auditing purposes. Alerts can be configured for email and simple network management protocol (SNMP) systems, as well.

Finally, any true management system must know who might use the system, in any fashion, by offering user authentication. A domain manager provides that functionality, thereby ensuring that only authorized people can make changes. Users might be synchronized with existing directory services, such as lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) or Microsoft Active Directory, and assigned to different domains as determined by the AV manager. That ensures unwanted actors who have access to the network will be unable to make any changes to the system, while ensuring trusted staff members are given the permission to do what they are asked to do.

The Needs Of Park-Based Locations

Zoos, amusement parks and other large-scale attractions benefit tremendously from networked AV, especially when this technology is compared to legacy point-to-point analog or digital systems.

The large distances involved at such locations—hundreds of meters, or even kilometers—immediately create problems relative to signal distribution and accessibility. Both analog and time-division multiplexing (TDM) digital connections suffer significant degradation when transmitted over such lengths; issues such as noise, high-frequency loss and clock jitter are among the most common. Routing long-distance specialty cables over landscape features often presents severe challenges for installation and maintenance, which tends to increase deployment costs and decrease return on investment (ROI).

Distance also creates considerable problems for AV staff. If an exhibit requires different program material or signal combinations, people must travel to the various endpoints and implement those changes. The labor-intensiveness of that process rules out any rapid changes or repairs; indeed, changes might take days to accomplish.

A domain-managed AV-over-IP system addresses all those needs. Using slender, lightweight optical fiber, networked AV can reach distances of many kilometers, even while ensuring absolutely no degradation of signal or clocking integrity. By avoiding “daisy chains,” a networked system prevents the failure of one connection from adversely affecting others; this increases system reliability and makes problem diagnosis far easier.

A domain manager allows the AV manager to see the status of all endpoints quickly and at a glance—even ones that are far away from his or her office. Problems might be addressable within minutes, rather than in hours, as a result. Many issues might be addressable simply by changing signal routes in software, greatly reducing the need for staff to travel around the facility, going from endpoint to endpoint.

An Elegant Solution

Domains offer an elegant solution for AV managers who want a clear, coherent view of their vast system. Different places within the attraction are easily assigned their own domain, thereby enabling staff members responsible for each exhibit or event to manage what they have to manage, without having to be granted access to the entire network. This, in turn, brings peace of mind to managers, who know exactly who is allowed to make changes to each area.

The large scale of these types of systems brings up another issue that has held back some AV-over-IP deployments in the past—namely, the inability of some networked media solutions to span network subnets. This constraint arises from the manner in which IP standards are implemented in various solutions, most of which are limited to a single network subnet.

A domain-managed system overcomes that limitation, and it’s able to “see” the entire network over routers and across subnets. The domain manager automatically configures precision time protocol (PTP) clocking to ensure that media signals maintain absolute integrity and clock coherency, regardless of network boundaries. That, in turn, allows AV managers to work with IT departments to ensure that all levels of security and network management work in concert, obviating the need to isolate AV from the rest of the network that IT oversees.

Networked AV is already an obvious choice for many types of installations, and that’s especially so for larger deployments spanning large distances. By ensuring that all areas of a location are blanketed with robust network access, both IT and AV departments gain the flexibility to put AV wherever it’s needed. With proper domain management, even these spread-out installations are easy, safe and cost effective to change, update and maintain, allowing audiences to get the most from the experiences that designers work so hard to deliver.

For more audio-centric articles from Sound & Communications, click here.

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