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Audio over IP is here

Ian Bryant, technical consultant at CEDIA, discusses the rise in audio over IP and its benefits in the connected home.

Video over IP technologies changed the landscape of the residential and commercial integration channel, allowing for nearly endless scalability and limitless options. It’s become the standard for nearly all large distributed systems and eventually we expect it to be the baseline across the board. Long gone are the days of giant matrix chassis, complex switching configurations, and full system rebuilds when new cable formats are released.

So, what’s going on with audio?

AoIP has become the standard in the commercial space over the past five to 10 years. Microphones, audio processors (DSPs), amplifiers, speakers, and more have all gone IP to allow for scalability, quality, performance, and ease of infrastructure build out. The battle for the overall standard is still ongoing, but those at the top have their own pros, cons, and preferred environments.

The contenders for the top spot are AES67, Dante, AVB, and Ravenna. Currently in the residential space AVB (developed by the IEEE standards group in 2009) and Dante (by the Audinate group and launched in 2006) are the most used. Each serves a purpose, and manufacturers choose one based on product needs how it will support the system. Over the past year we’ve started to see the residential integration space slowly implementing AoIP products. It’s come with some reluctance and hesitation but will inevitably be the future.

There are a few major benefits to AoIP in the integrated home:

  • Decentralisation and ability to have a more flexible and configurable system.
  • Nearly infinite scalability of audio sources and destinations in distributed audio systems.
  • Lossless and high bit rate audio between equipment in home cinema and media room applications.
  • Ease and simplicity of infrastructure design and installation. No more balanced, unbalanced, baluns, and patch cables, just ethernet.

The areas we’re currently seeing movement of AoIP are in home theatre processors and amplifiers. A few manufacturers have introduced distributed audio products that have some local analogue inputs but allow for decentralised audio sources to be selected on the network and distributed throughout the home as well as built in streaming options.

Additionally, manufacturers of video over IP distribution products currently have encoding chipsets built into some products to pull the audio from an HDMI signal and encode it into an AoIP feed that can be directed elsewhere on the network. As the larger market starts to implement these protocol standards, we should start to see TVs that allow you to grab the audio return channel (ARC) over the network. Highly efficient distributed audio in-ceiling/wall speakers that can operate with PoE power can utilise the standards to allow for no speaker wire to be pulled in a home.

We’re also starting to see, and should see more in the future, commercial hardware manufacturers with audio over IP products beginning to transition into the residential space, especially as integrators acclimatise and begin to design more AoIP systems.

The residential integration industry has been at the forefront of the ever-growing home network for well over a decade. In fact, it’s becoming more and more common for larger integrated homes to have enterprise grade networks with multiple VLANs, QoS, VPN and many WAPs (all the acronyms). Nearly every device installed in a home these days will be connected to the network.

Audio and video over IP both have recommended and networking processes that should be considered. CEDIA recommends integrators send their staff through our networking programmes and become EST-N certified so they’re building secure, robust, and qualified networks for their clients.

The network is the heart of the connected/integrated home. As it continues to grow, the integrator channel will need to adapt and further strengthen their foundational knowledge and capabilities to support the most integral part of the home.