SVG@NAB Perspectives: Virtualization Loosens Hardware’s Grip on Pro Audio

By Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group

The very nature of the broadcast-audio vendor is changing at a pace that might have seemed barely plausible to a hardware-centric industry even five years ago. That’s the opinion espoused by Katy Templeman-Holmes, director, solutions and marketing, broadcast, Harman Professional Solutions.

She’s elaborating on a comment by Studer Senior Sales Manager Michael Franklin that “I’m not selling consoles anymore; now I’m selling systems.”

“Forget the widget side,” Templeman-Holmes says, referring to the hardware infrastructure for the vast majority of contemporary broadcast workflow. “What we’re really addressing is the transition that the broadcast industry is undergoing, from one of banging out boxes to one of collaboration and partnering, with media companies and even other vendors.” At the show, those include Avid, Snell Advanced Media, Next VR, and ENCO Systems.

Her words come in the context of an NAB Show that is seeing a palpable shift from the industrially tangible to the efficiently virtual. There are several indications on the exhibit floor: Lawo’s V__matrix, a software-defined IP core routing and processing platform in which functions once reserved for hardware take the form of apps; Linear Acoustic’s audio-over-IP workflow solution comprising a suite of AoIP products from throughout the Telos Alliance; TSL Products’ MPA product range with support for Dante and Ravenna; Wheatstone’s additional IP console options for its WheatNet-IP audio network, with the Gibraltar IP Mix Engine IP audio interface now available for its Dimension Three, Series Four, Series Two, D-8EX, and IP-64 digital mixing consoles. The list is lengthy and suggests a sustained trend toward software-based networked signal transport for all media, audio included.

What differentiates this transition from past tectonic shifts in broadcast technology, Templeman-Holmes says, is that it won’t have a recognizable inflection point: “There’s no switch that gets flipped here; it’s not going to be a switchover from one format to another, the way SD to HD was. So we have to make sure we’re driving it, because it’s going to take time. But no one’s going to lead this by themselves. It’s going to have to be done working together.”

Dee McVicker, spokesperson for Wheatstone, notes that the imminence of AES70, which brings a control layer for audio on the network, will add synergy to AES567’s interoperability and firm up the virtual highway that broadcast audio will ride into the future.

“With control and discovery added to interoperation, audio-over-IP is going to really expand capabilities,” she says.

Templeman-Holmes adds that this is not the last we’ll see of hardware: there is plenty of new heavy metal at the show, such as SSL’s first fully IP networked TV-audio-production console, the System T. In a more nuanced development, Yamaha is now selling its own enterprise-level Dante-enabled SWP1 Series L2 network switches, reversing pro audio’s reliance on IT vendors for Cisco switches. But, she believes, these are the last days of hardware as an end in and of itself.

“It’s no longer about what the big new console is going to do,” she says. “It’s what we’ll do with the console as part of a larger network solution. That’s the future.”