Setting The Agenda: The SDVoE Alliance

A newly formed group is looking to accelerate the move away from proprietary point-to-point matrixes to transport AV signals using AV over IP instead. Paul Milligan finds out what the group’s aims are.

By the time this magazine is printed the SDVoE Alliance will be up and running.  Initially consisting of some 25 members, the Software Defined Video over Ethernet Alliance hopes to become the most widely adopted networked AV standard. 

While details on its exact remit, and the make-up of its members, are limited until its formal launch at ISE 2017, we know it’s been created to promote products using AV-over-IP as the sole form of AV signal distribution.  

By doing this the SDVoE Alliances says integrators and OEMs can replace proprietary AV matrix switches with off-the-shelf Ethernet networks that deliver better price, performance, flexibility and scalability.  The point it puts forward is why should you spend money on black boxes when you can use Ethernet networks, which are already in place?  The move is part of the growing shift from hardware to software in the AV industry, and part of the wider AV/IT convergence so prevalent in the last decade.   

Justin Kennington, director of strategic and technical marketing from AptoVision, a company whose BlueRiver NT+ chipset is one product that enables the extension and switching of AV signals over off-the-shelf IP switches, takes up the story behind the Alliance.  “There is a sense in the industry, which was borne out at InfoComm 2016, that we are moving AV distribution away from proprietary point-to-point matrixes towards an AV over IP approach. The problem though is that we are very much in the infancy of this transition, and everyone wants to play some role in that transition.  So currently what we is a lot of manufacturers running off in their own directions.  So you see a lot of proprietary approaches, that don’t interoperate, they don’t play together, and stay focused on the transport – the how’s and why’s of moving a signal form one place to another.”

This is why the Alliance was formed he says, with the express aims of addressing both issues; “We want to create a standard technology umbrella that allows a common approach to how we will move AV over IP.  We want to offer to the industry a common approach with interoperability, delivering zero latency and zero compression.  The second problem is that manufacturers who are getting into the AV over IP space are still focused on the transport itself, on how you move bits from one point to another. 

"The connectivity itself isn’t really the interesting part, and what the SDVoE Alliance will focus on is the applications that can be created once you have moved to an IP-style transport.  This means the logical architecture of the network, the user-facing architecture is no longer strictly tied, as it was in the matrix world, to the physical architecture of the network.  The purpose of the SDVoE Alliance is to standardise our approach for video over IP, but then also to create a hardware and software platform that enables developers, manufacturers and system integrators to worry less and less about the hardware underneath, and how that works and what makes it special, and to be allowed to focus more of their resources on the software side of things, where they can be create new applications, that frankly we can’t even foresee today.”

Kennington is keen that the Alliance talks and consults with the entire pro AV industry, and promotes interoperability as a central tenet, something he feels other standards haven’t been great at.  “Interoperability is fundamental to the platform concept in general, if we want SDVoE to be a platform then it needs to be interoperable.  AVB is a great way to make sure your bits arrive at some place on time, but meanwhile what language are those bits in? I don’t know, AVB says that isn’t their problem.   There is SMPT 2020, its great for ensuring your bits arrive over a messy long haul Ethernet link, but is not really appropriate for matrix switching in a corporate environment.”

Rather than announce the Alliance and then wait for members to sign up, SDVoE is keen for the technology to get out in the market, adopted and in use quickly.  It already has 25 manufacturers signed up, with 35 products with SDVoE technology already available to buy.

HDBaseT technology laid the ground work for SDVoE to exist, but that is where the similarity ends says Kennington, ‘What HDBaseT did for our industry, which was very valuable, was to enable the transition from analog-based distribution and switching to digital-based distribution and switching.  We needed it.  We were never going to get to Ethernet and IP without digitising.  In every other way it was not really a change.  It was actually a way to ensure everything stayed the same.  The architecture was the same, bits went down a point to point wire instead of analogue waves but the architecture was the same.”  SDVoE differs because it relies on AV over IP allows us to use infrastructure that exists in corporate environments already, and ‘really allows us to finally approach the problem of AV/IT convergence’ says Kennington. 

“In an HDBaseT world I have a data network, looked after by the IT team, and an AV switching system, totally decoupled, run by the AV department.  With SDVoE we can allow data and video to share one physical infrastructure.  The key of SDVoE is that we are not just a transport.  It goes well beyond HDBaseT, which was just a transport system, SDVoE is also a development platform, SDVoE technology includes processing engines, video scalers, videowall processors, multiviewers, audio down mixers. Then it has the software platform, which is a standardised, simplified interface, controlling not only routing and distribution but all those processing engines. 

"So a software developer can come in and not have to worry about developing these complex pieces of hardware themselves, so they can be able to write applications for their space or even for new application spaces, niche applications which aren’t big enough to justify big hardware expenditure, but suddenly could be approached by an AV systems integrator who has SDVoE technology to help them reach that.”

Without divulging names, Kennington did admit the Alliance consists of a range of companies, with members including IT companies, chip manufacturers, and software developers.  “What we are trying to do is create a platform which really changes the way people approach system design, and approach the user experience.  So for that reason we wanted to have the contribution of people outside of the AV manufacturing community.  To have their perspective, so the Alliance can look through the lens of IT, the lens of AV, the lens of chip manufacturing and software development, so that when we bring the experience of all those fields to the table we can really begin to solve a lot of problems for the industry in new ways.”

A move to software from ‘black boxes’ is inevitable in the AV world says Kennington, and is something integrators and consultants he has spoken with over the last couple of years are all too aware of. “What we are talking about in a software-defined world is technology better suited to users needs for less money. There is no way that in the long run we will tolerate lower capabilities for more money, so people can continue to sell black boxes.  It will cause a lot of consternation, and a lot of disruption.  Everyone in this industry has a choice of adapt or die.  I want everyone to adapt, I want everyone to get on board and continue to enjoy their livelihoods, because there are so many opportunities to enjoy in this new world.”