ZeeVee offers insight into the impact of new connectivity standards on product development

In a series of interviews exploring new and forthcoming connectivity standards, Tim Kridel investigates the topic with Steve Metzger, CTO of ZeeVee.

TK: Which new and forthcoming connectivity standards are you keeping an eye on? For example, USB4 Version 2, HDMI 2.1a, Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 seem like ones that belong on the radars of pro AV vendors, consultants and integrators. 

SM: As an AVoIP vendor we are looking at all of these new connectivity standards. However, from a practical point of view HDMI 2.1a is in our immediate focus since it is starting to show up in the wild.As stated, we have to keep out eye on ALL of these sorts of connectivity standards. The standards listed primarily are encountered at the periphery of the AVoIP distribution system and define how media content may get in to, or out of, the distribution system. USB and HDMI standards and their evolution are very important to us.   

WiFi is interesting, but less so. While WiFi may be a good way to connect to the distribution system, it generally is not appropriate as an overall AV distribution method because it does not provide a good means of handling multicast traffic, something AVoIP makes extensive use of in order to keep bandwidth needs under control. No matter how much capacity is built into WiFi it is almost a guarantee that Video data needs can swamp it - at least when deployed on a large scale.

TK: Regarding your answer to question one, why those? For example, what types of use cases, advantages, etc. do they provide over legacy standards, such as increased bandwidth? Maybe another is that bring your own device or media (BYOD/BYOM) has been a major trend in verticals such as higher ed for years, and tablet, streaming player and laptop vendors are adding support for those standards.

SM: HDMI 2.1 and 2.1a are interesting because it adds support for 8K and new HDR. The challenge here when putting over an IP network is bandwidth, with 8K requiring over 40Gb at 50Hz. Realistically, this requires too much compression to go on a 1Gb solution, but with limited compression it would be possible on a 10Gb network.  ZeeVee and SDVoE (Semtech) are currently exploring this option. That said the majority of AV projects still use 1080 x 1920, with basic 4K take up being slow and as a vendor we have to make roadmap decisions based on meeting the wider demand, not niche applications.

USB4 is interesting in that is provides a better and more standard method for defining video and power over the USB interface. There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about USB3.0, USB-C, and Thunderbolt, power-distribution, etc... USB4 is a good step to being this all back under the standard of "USB" instead of implementors having a hodgepodge of things to implement and be aware of separately. When it does start showing up in the wild (likely first on laptops), ZeeVee will have solutions to exploit it.

 We are not looking at WiFi 6E and 7. Wifi6 and 7 are great because the bandwidths are very high. They may provide a means to get AV information IN to the overall AV distribution system, but it is unlikely anyone would craft a distribution system around those technologies due to the aforementioned inherent bandwidth and multicast limitations, which will always exist.

TK: Before the interview, you mentioned that “it’s not always a straightforward exercise and we often uncover and have to solve issues with third party product that does not 100% comply with a ‘Standard’ when connecting into the AV distribution system.” That’s a classic problem with any standard: If vendors built only to a standard, then they would have to rely on price as their main differentiator. But if they layer value-added features onto the standard, then it causes interoperability problems in a multi-vendor environment.

SM: As an AVoIP solution provider, we provide the heart of an AV solution connecting up devices from multiple vendors over a network. If something isn’t working 100%, then of course the first questions get addressed to us. The vast majority of times it will be network set up or EDID management, however we have seen issues with USB, HDMI and DisplayPort interfaces not working correctly on devices. New standards and new methods always present challenges because, no matter how well intentioned the implementor, there are always slight variations. Since we end up interfacing to many of these new and different methods, we end up being a "concentration point" for incompatibilities and problems. It kind-of comes with the business.

TK: In your experience, do the needs and wants of pro AV tend to take a back seat to those of IT, broadcast and mobile when it comes to determining what goes into each new standard? For example, HDMI’s lack of a locking connector has been a headache for pro AV. 

SM: This is a most interesting question because it gets to the heart of our business. "Taking a back seat" is a mischaracterisation. The primary driver of our business tends to be displays, interfaces, and networks. Whatever the state of the art in terms of visual presentation is, will get implemented in a display. Then data will need to get into that display, so there will be a communication standard and interface that evolves to handle it. We then, as AV distribution technology company, will have to respond to that standard and build a distribution scheme or network around it using the best available means that is cost-effective and capable.   

That's not really "taking a back seat" since we are serving to enhance the overall AV presentation by providing utility in terms of wide dissemination and enhanced capability in how information is presented to users.

The media to be distributed is not usually defined by the distribution system. The distribution system is crafted to handle the current state of the art in media in whatever form it exists - thus there are things like the referenced "locking HDMI" connector annoyance. The AV distribution industry has proven to be very adaptable in accepting whatever standards and methods are in use, exploiting, and extending them where needed.

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