Are Dedicated AV Networks Going to Disappear?

At the turn of the millennium, there were two companies that dominated their industries, Nokia ruled the mobile handset market, and Nortel powered most of the PBX phone systems in the Fortune 1000 companies. Today neither company has any significant presence in those markets

Insight Media’s recent white paper on the “Death of Dedicated AV Networks” highlights the risk to the current vendors and integrators of dedicated AV networks. While the demand for video distribution will continue to grow, especially as new business paradigms emerge such as Topgolf that use video to transform end user experiences, the traditional approach of a dedicated AV network that requires single vendor solutions, multiple connections, and custom programming could go the same way as the Nokia handset and Meridian phone system.

Why? Simple. Once IP technology is capable of duplicating the functionality of a dedicated network – any network – that network nearly always gets absorbed. We saw this first with the VoIP phones that leveraged the 1Gb network switch and Quality of Service (QOS) software to enable seamless phone calls anywhere in the world at a fraction of the cost of traditional PBX. Essentially – the internet protocol (IP) is the technology equivalent of an amoeba- absorbing ever competing network as soon as it getsclose.  Think about the school PA systems, business phone systems, security systems, and countless other product categories that once operated independently – but are now all based on IP.

In the AV world, there are two significant technology transitions identified in the Insight Media paper that eliminate the need for a dedicated AV network.

4K Displays and Content- the transition to 4K content and displays is happening faster than everyone expected.   Today, almost 40% of all TV revenue is for 4K displays-  and the majority of displays sold going forward will be 4K.   This transition is happening on the source side as well -Digital Research has a $399 4K signage player, Netflix is broadcasting 4K content, and Blu-Ray will ship 4K discs in Q4 2015.   This is just like the transition to 1080p, but faster.

Companies like ZeeVee have taken an innovative approach to capitalize on these two trends and the ZyPer4K unit is an example of how the new paradigm of 4K over IP video distribution will work.

The unit has a simple design – a simple digital input (in this case HDMI) that receives the source content and encodes the entire stream to an IP packet in the same manner that VoIP does.   Since it is designed for a 10Gb network, the unit can send the entire uncompressed signal stream (including audio and control) to a network switch – which sees it as data (again, just like VoIP).   ZeeVee software is used to assign IP addresses to each source and display, and communicates to the switch which sources are to be used for the display.   Unlike systems today which require custom programming to setup, this is a simple drag and drop graphical user interface.   When the IP packets reach the decoder unit, it converts them back into a video stream which are sent over the HDMI cable.   All this happens in just a few microseconds so there are no frames that are lost when sources are changed.   The unit can also also support up to a 5×5 video wall, eliminating the need for expensive video wall controllers. One added bonus is that there is still a 1Gb network connection at each source and endpoint, enabling other functionality such as HD Video conferencing, VoIP devices or Wi-Fi extenders that are linked to the main network.

What does this mean?   Since the current 10Gb network switches can now execute the same functions as the dedicated AV switchers, the costs will go down dramatically for these solutions, and make it far easier to create and build larger and bigger video distribution networks.  In addition, ultra high bandwidth requirements such as 4.4.4 color, higher bit depth, and faster frame rates can be easily accommodated with visually lossless compression, enabling stunning digital signage and home theaters all over a single data network.  Plus, since the hardware being used is essentially standard networking hardware, the risk of sunk costs is significantly minimized compared to a dedicated AV switcher.

As the white paper points out, historically IP networks dominate over dedicated proprietary networks, and the technology behind the 4K over IP concept looks fundamentally sound. It will be hard to say precisely how fast the transition will happen, but the parallels between the dedicated AV network that requires programming and can only be used for audio/video signals and the Nortel PBX that could only be used for voice data and telephones look very close.

For more information on this, here is a link to the Insight Media report-, as well as how 4K over IP works

ZeeVee was founded in 2007 to simplify the task of distributing HD digital video by harnessing the latest technology in digital signal processing. ZeeVee engineered one of the first popular mass distribution video platforms in 2008 to widespread acclaim. Since then, the company has continued to revolutionize the digital video distribution industry with highly flexible, extremely reliable, and incredibly cost-effective products such as the ZVPro, HDBridge, and ZyPer4K product lines.

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