Traditional AV Designs and Networked AV Designs

”AV/IT Convergence” is a popular phrase right now. There is no question that it’s happening, but it’s important to know where we are in the process. Sometimes it feels as though IT folks view those of us in the AV industry as the newly born, already annoying baby brother. We were excited to be born into the IT world, but we are still struggling to learn how to speak, get around, communicate, and play in this space. Here’s how you, together with QSC, can adapt and grow…

There are two schools of thought in the AV world right now: traditional and network-based AV systems. There is a time and a place for each type of system…for now. We must accept that a network-based AV system is more representative of the future than that of a traditional system—especially if our industry wants to grow into a mature member of the IT family. Here are the differences between the two traditional and network-based AV systems, along with their pros and cons.

Traditional AV systems

Traditional AV systems employ card-based proprietary video switchers, proprietary custom control software and interfaces, proprietary or costly licensed audio networking platforms, plenty of locally installed hardware, and a single connection to the LAN.

  • Pros:
    • Scalable, robust, and reliable if installed correctly
    • Integration companies comfortable with installing traditional AV systems
    • Familiar, as they are currently installed in 90% of projects completed by the AV industry
  • Cons:
    • High up-front cost
    • Proprietary video signals
    • Costly licensing fees for audio transport formats on devices that use them
    • Older format control signals
    • Electrical and conduit infrastructure requirements are heavy
    • Custom programming and software for every system or device
    • Hardware-heavy approach, with racks of gear for every room or system

Network-based AV systems

Network-based AV systems convert all audio, video, and control signals to standard IP-based network traffic in order to switch, route, process, and control. Furthermore, the network-centric paradigm uses standard IP-based network protocols to directly monitor and control every device. Finally, there is no custom software required. This relatively new approach was first introduced on a large scale in 2011 and has slowly gained acceptance.

  • Pros:
    • Lower cost
    • Everything is standards-based, and available for free
    • Fewer required hardware pieces that can be located anywhere
    • Networked AV designs work natively on standard telecommunications infrastructure
    • Signals travel 100M by default with copper, and with fiber, signals travel even longer
    • Every signal has a “heartbeat” and can be monitored, reset, or power cycled remotely
    • Conduit and electrical infrastructure requirements are minimal
  • Cons:
    • When redundancy is required, it can cost more up front, but is easily justified if there is a failure
    • All devices must be proven to work together before trusting them on a common network
    • All devices must not compromise the security integrity of the network

How can QSC help the AV industry grow into the IT industry?

QSC has designed products to be fully networked and work with an open system architecture. These products can also operate in the traditional genre of AV design because they possess analog audio I/O, serial communication, and general purpose input/output ports (GPIO). To grow, the AV industry needs a robust, expandable, and universally usable networked media format.

QSC has offered a robust media format for the IT world since June of 2009 with the development of Q-LAN. Q-LAN is a networked media distribution technology that can be used for standards-based audio transport, control, monitoring, and then some. It offers low-latency transport, ability to scale to above 512 x 512 audio channels with switching technology advancements, third-party control and remote monitoring. Q-LAN will always be able to run on cost-effective commodity network switches, and best of all, Q-LAN has room to grow, which is good for the AV industry as it tries to mature in an IT world.  

What products does QSC offer that are central to the networked AV design scheme?

The Q-SYS Platform operates on the Q-LAN network and is comprised of a host of processors and peripherals. There are three series of the CORE processors, all powered by Intel chipsets on a custom Linux operating system. The platform offers software-based features like Acoustic Echo Cancellation, Audio Players, and Page Routing, while competitive platforms require additional hardware. It allows for future software-based feature expansion at no additional charge to the customer.

The Q-SYS Enterprise Cores (3100 and 1100) are designed for large systems with high channel counts and possess the most power. Q-SYS Integrated Core (500i & 250i) are ideal for systems with medium channel counts and requirements. Lastly, the new Q-SYS Unified Cores (110f series) are best suited to single-room systems and feature a robust USB audio-based set of features.

To complement the core series processors, QSC offers a series of POE-based touchpanels that are built to reside on the network via Q-LAN, including the new TSC-7t, a 7” Touchscreen controller. The QSC TSC-7t allows for easy integration of BYOD peripherals to the Q-SYS system via USB and Bluetooth connectivity. This new and unique capability can be used in a networked AV system architecture.

Lastly, all QSC Core products use the same design software platform, called Q-SYS Designer Software (QSD). Using QSD, you can design custom user interfaces on par with traditional options. You can also design audio processing schemes, manage stored audio files for playback, trigger third-party devices using standard control protocols, and develop system monitoring schemes. Best of all, Q-SYS Designer will continue to grow alongside the Q-SYS platform. 

What happens next with this new suite of backwards-compatible, yet fully networked AV tools?

With the Q-SYS platform, AV designers, integrators, and end users now have best-of-breed audio capabilities, fully-networked control options, and fully-networked processing devices with plenty of room to grow. Expect the platform to continue to expand rapidly as needs, capabilities, and media formats are added to the platform. Ultimately, the AV industry will also mature, grow out of its “annoying little brother status” and become a full-fledged member of the IT world!