ProAV Network Switches: A Harmonious Blend of Technology and Performance

The World of ProAV Network Switches

In the realm of professional audio-visual (Pro AV) technology, where every decibel matters and every pixel counts, the unseen heroes orchestrating seamless operations are network switches. Often overlooked but absolutely crucial, these silent conductors form the backbone of modern AV systems, ensuring that audio and video signals flow flawlessly, without hiccups or delays. Let’s dive into the world of network switches in professional AV and uncover the magic they bring to the stage.

AV in ConcertsImagine a large-scale conference, a live concert, or a corporate presentation. Behind the scenes, there’s a complex network of AV equipment working tirelessly to deliver an immersive experience to the audience. At the heart of this network lies the network switch, serving as a central hub that connects various AV devices such as cameras, microphones, speakers, displays, and media servers.

Performance and Reliability

In Pro AV environments, reliability is non-negotiable. Network switches designed for this industry prioritize uptime and stability, utilizing advanced features like Quality of Service (QoS), redundancy protocols, and multicast support to ensure that audio and video streams are transmitted without interruption. Whether it’s a high-definition video feed or multi-channel audio, these switches deliver uncompromising performance, allowing professionals to focus on their craft without worrying about technical glitches.

Bandwidth and Throughput

One of the key challenges in AV networking is managing bandwidth and throughput effectively. With the rise of ultra-high-definition (UHD) content and immersive audio formats, the demand for data-intensive applications has surged. Network switches tailored for professional AV environments are equipped with high-speed ports, advanced traffic management capabilities, and ample throughput to handle the demands of modern multimedia.

Many AV installations require real-time streaming and low-latency communication, making ultra-fast switching crucial. With features like low latency forwarding and buffering, specialized network switches minimize delay and jitter, ensuring that audio and video signals reach their destination with minimal latency, preserving synchronization and enhancing the overall user experience.

Management and Control

In the world of professional AV, flexibility and control are paramount. Network switches offer sophisticated management options, allowing administrators to configure, monitor, and troubleshoot the network with ease. From intuitive web-based interfaces to powerful command-line tools, these switches provide a range of management capabilities tailored to the needs of AV professionals.
Netgear M4250 AV Switches
Furthermore, network switches play a crucial role in network security, safeguarding sensitive audiovisual content from unauthorized access or tampering. With support for advanced security features such as Access Control Lists (ACLs), port security, and encryption, these switches ensure that data remains confidential, and integrity is maintained throughout the AV ecosystem.

Scalability and Adaptability

As AV installations grow in complexity and scale, network infrastructure must evolve to accommodate changing requirements. Network switches offer scalability and adaptability, allowing organizations to expand their AV systems seamlessly without sacrificing performance or reliability. Whether it’s adding new endpoints, integrating emerging technologies, or supporting larger audiences, these switches provide the flexibility to scale up or down as needed.

Moreover, network switches in professional AV are designed to integrate with other components of the ecosystem, such as audio processors, video matrix switchers, and control systems. Through standards-based protocols like Dante, AVB, and AES67, these switches enable interoperability and seamless communication between different devices, creating a unified and cohesive AV environment.

Power over Ethernet and Future Innovations

Let’s also not forget about Power over Ethernet (PoE) for supplying power to the devices in our AV system.  Many AV devices, such as IP cameras, wireless access points, and digital signage displays, rely on Power over Ethernet (PoE) from switches for power and data transmission. Ensure that the network switch provides adequate PoE support, including the required power budget and compatibility with PoE standards such as IEEE 802.3af, IEEE 802.3at (PoE+), or IEEE 802.3bt (PoE++), depending on the power needs of the connected devices. (See PoE reference guide below)

Switcher PanelAs technology continues to evolve, network switches will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of professional AV, enabling new possibilities and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of performance, reliability, and scalability. One network switch manufacturer leading the charge in the Pro AV industry is Netgear. They provide purpose-built layer 3 switches with preconfigured network protocols like IGMP snooping, multicast routing, and fast leave mechanisms, to optimize multicast traffic delivery and conserve network bandwidth. Netgear also continues to develop switches that include certified profile setup configurations including NDI, SRT, Dante, AES, AVB and many others for audio/video/lighting/control. Adding a simplified custom AV user interface that doesn’t require an IT administrator to configure, and generous PoE power for all AV components in the system is a grand slam for Pro AV integrators.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) is categorized into different classes based on the power levels they can deliver. These classes are defined by the IEEE 802.3 standard. Here’s a breakdown of the main PoE classes and their differences:

1. IEEE 802.3af (PoE, Class 1-3):

    • Power Output: Provides up to 15.4 watts of DC power per port.
    • Application: Suitable for low-power devices such as IP phones, wireless access points, many encoders and decoders, and IP cameras.
    • Classification: Devices are classified into three power classes (Class 1-3) based on their power requirements. Class 1 devices require the least power, while Class 3 devices can consume up to 15.4 watts.

2. IEEE 802.3at (PoE+):

    • Power Output: Provides up to 30 watts of DC power per port.
    • Application: Designed for higher-power devices such as PTZ cameras, video conferencing systems, and access control systems.
    • Classification: PoE+ introduces a higher power class (Class 4) to support devices with greater power demands. Class 4 devices can consume up to 30 watts.

3. IEEE 802.3bt (PoE++):

    • Power Output: Provides up to 90 watts of DC power per port.
    • Application: Intended for high-power devices such as pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras, high-performance wireless access points, and IoT devices with integrated sensors and actuators.
    • Classification: PoE++ introduces four power classes (Class 5-8) to support a wide range of devices with varying power requirements. Class 5 devices can consume up to 45 watts, Class 6 up to 60 watts, Class 7 up to 75 watts, and Class 8 up to 90 watts.

*The primary difference between these PoE classes lies in the amount of power they can deliver to connected devices. As the class number increases, so does the maximum power output per port.

**It’s essential for users to choose the appropriate PoE class based on the power requirements of their devices to ensure optimal performance and compatibility.

***Don’t forget to calculate the system’s Total Power Budget when factoring in PoE requirements.

Curious about Programming Services? Check out this conversation between Tom Kehr and Drew Metherall.
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About the Author

Eric Olson​​ | CTS, DSCE

Senior BDM – Technical Lead

Supported Manufacturers: Netgear, LG, Lumens and Atlona

Choosing the Right Network Switch for AV Projects

So, you’re putting together your next AV project and the need for a network switch comes up. This could be due to many factors, most commonly for Audio-Visual over Internet Protocol (AVoIP) applications, control, monitoring, or Internet connectivity.  But if you’re not an experienced IT person, or you’re not very knowledgeable about this, what’s the best way to choose the right switch for your project?

Many current and future AV systems will involve some aspect of networking; this is the future of our industry. The main component within these systems is the network switch (or Ethernet switch), which connects devices to a Local Area Network (LAN) and allows the devices to communicate with each other.  All of those audio-visual packets of information traverse the network and go to their destinations through the switch.

network switches for AV projects

The difficulty arises when we realize that switches come in many different flavors for many different applications. Managed, or unmanaged? PoE (Power over Ethernet), or PoE+, or PoE++? How many ports, and what speeds per port (1 Gbps, 2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps, etc.)?  Will the switch be front or rear-facing in the rack? This can get very confusing, especially if you don’t do it every day.

Let’s break it down so that it is more digestible in a series of questions that I use to help specify the correct network switch. Take a look below:

Does the information being sent across this network require a managed, or unmanaged switch? Layer 2 (MAC addresses), or 3 (IP addresses)? If your application involves controlling network traffic, you will need the features of a layer 3 managed switch. The following examples require a managed switch, like having concurrent bandwidth-intensive applications running, prioritizing important data in your LAN, improving the performance of a network, and implementing other advanced services.

What type of AV equipment will be connected to the network? Audio (i.e., Dante, AVB, AES67)? Video (i.e., H.264, JPEG2000, IPMX, NDI, SDVoE)? Control? Or all of them? If you’re multicasting audio & video, you will need a managed layer 3 switch – there’s no way around it. If you are implementing IP-based control in a system, you can use an unmanaged Gigabit switch, as there are few network protocols required to allow control commands to work, unless you need Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN). Then, you will have to dive right back into the managed switch realm.

But which network protocols does the managed switch have to be capable of? Multicast? Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP)? VLANs? Multicasting, IGMP, and VLANs are all necessary features that are only available on managed switches. If these terms are not familiar and you plan on putting an AV over IP (AVoIP) system together, you should consider purpose-built gear. Some manufacturers are even offering preconfigured switches that have all of these network protocols enabled by default to work right away…without having to be an IT professional and spending tons of time programming and testing.

How many ports are needed? Count the total number of devices that require a LAN connection…and then add a few more. Leave room for expansion and for devices that are often forgotten. If you think you’ll add more devices in the future, choose a switch that will give your network room to grow. Will this AV system have any future add-ons or requirements to consider? If so, we should be thinking about a switch that is stackable, or has the ability to trunk ports and seamlessly add more switches through uplinks.

What speed per port is needed (Gigabit, 2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps, etc.)? Every network device will have its LAN port speed listed. These speeds will typically range from 100 Mbps, Gigabit (1,000 Mbps) and 10 Gigabit (10 Gbps). Equipment that has gigabit specifications definitely necessitates the use of a gigabit switch. Remember that devices with lower port speeds (ex. Gigabit = 1,000 Mbps) will always be able to utilize switch ports with higher ports speeds (ex. 10 Gbps). Most compressed video codecs (i.e. H.264, H.265, JPEG2000, VC2) will work just fine on a managed 1 Gbps network switch. But be aware that any SDVoE (Software Defined Video over Ethernet) gear will require 10 Gbps on every port, usually accompanied by 40 Gbps or 100 Gbps uplinks to support the total bandwidth of utilized ports.

What type of PoE switch is needed? Determine which devices can be powered or require PoE (Power over Ethernet). There are different standards of PoE, so they are not all the same, and making sure that enough power is delivered to the enabled device is important. Does the PoE switch apply power on all ports, or just select ports? Always check the receiving device’s PoE class/requirement (PoE = 15.4 Watts, PoE+ = 30 Watts, PoE++ = 60 or 90 Watts depending on Type 3 or 4, respectively), and plan for a cumulative total power budget that will support all devices. When you see a switch that is rated for 300 Watts, you can connect up to ~20 PoE devices, or 10 PoE+ devices, or 3 PoE++ devices. Dividing the switch’s total power budget by the cumulative device power consumption will help figure out what you need – and always remember to leave a little room for overhead.

Last but not least, let’s not forget about the aesthetics of the amazing audio-visual system that was just built. Within the equipment rack, tidy cabling and carefully stacked black boxes of hardware are neatly aligned for a clean and organized look. Having the ports on the front side or rear-facing side of the switch is a big deal, and your cabling and rack fabrication technicians will thank you for selecting those AV switches with customizable port locations.

There are many things to consider when deciding on a specific switch from a manufacturer. It’s not just about the features, it’s about support with dedicated resources. So, don’t overlook one of the most important components of a networked AV system, because it could be the difference between a successful deployment and a problem-ridden project.

**For ALMO add-on for Manufacturer/Product specific**

NETGEAR has also taken out much of the complexity with setting up an Ethernet switch with the various protocols required for video and audio to ride over the network. Preconfiguring protocols like IGMP, Multicast and VLANs make the network switch a plug-n-play device right out of the box, saving time, money, and resources usually dedicated to this task. NETGEAR’s IGMP Plus™ is a fantastic and unique feature simplifying the deployment of multicast solutions, which especially helps people who are uncomfortable with some of the more complicated IT configurations such as Layer 3 Protocol Independent Multicast or PIM routing.

If you are still unsure of what to do or how to specify a network switch for your project, you’ll be happy to know there are resources out there to assist. In fact, NETGEAR has a dedicated ProAV design and engineering team specifically for our industry, with purpose-built products that are engineered for any AV over IP project. Give them a shout when you need some engineering assistance at [email protected]. This is a fantastic resource available to all integrators for free.

Now Is the Right Time for AV-over-IP

AV-over-IP continues to pick up traction among integrators in the ProAV industry, but there are still quite a few that find themselves questioning if they should start implementing this technology.  In fact, 45% of respondents in a 2019 industry survey revealed that they either do not embrace, or are on the fence with adopting AV-over-IP as a viable AV distribution solution – nearly half.  So why all the hesitation, and furthermore, why is now the right time for using AV-over-IP?

Let’s start with asking what is AV-over-IP?  It stands for Audio-Visual over Internet Protocol, which might sound a little challenging to some AV integrators who don’t know anything about networking. 

AV-over-IP (also known as AVoIP) refers to the use of standard network equipment to transmit and switch video and audio.  At its foundation the basic AV-over-IP system is quite simple.  Sources are being encoded, connecting through a network switch to decoders that are then connected to displays (see image below).

Image courtesy of Atlona

What about more complex AV-over-IP applications in ProAV?  Just take a look at the sample below where you see converged usage of Digital Signage, IP Surveillance, Content Servers, Blu-Ray players, Set Top Boxes, and Personal Computers…. all on the same network.

When looking at these examples it may cause some AV dealers to avoid taking on AVoIP due to apprehensions about the technology, networking skills, cost, interoperability, flexibility and scalability.  Let’s address some of these concerns head on.

There are numerous products available for AVoIP, which can cause difficulty deciding which technology, networking hardware or brands to use.  In contrast with past attempts at accelerating AV over IP, it’s not just one or two obscure vendors that are stepping into this change.  The largest and most influential AV vendors in the industry are leading the change.  For example, the Software Defined Video over Ethernet (SDVoE) Alliance is an eco-system of companies in and around the AV-over-IP space, working together to create a fantastic platform for the next generation of audiovisual applications.  Not only do all SDVoE products and solutions work together, network hardware manufacturers, like NETGEAR, are making it easier than ever to deploy them.  SDVoE partners provide the audio-video products while NETGEAR, one of the founding members, provides the backbone network products that make it all possible, with interoperability being key.

What about the networking skill sets and support required for these systems?  NETGEAR, for example, not only will provide design engineers (with ProAV experience) to help specify products, but will actually provide an optimal network topology design for you.  Their Pro AV Engineering Services team are trained AV and IT professionals to help you both before and after the sale as well as during installation, all for free.  This takes a huge load off of the AV system designer and often leads to the best outcome for the project. 

NETGEAR has also taken out much of the complexity with setting up an Ethernet switch with the various protocols required for video and audio to ride over the network.  Preconfiguring protocols like IGMP, Multicast and VLANs make the network switch a plug-n-play device right out of the box, saving time, money and resources usually dedicated to this task.  NETGEAR’s IGMP Plus™ is a fantastic and unique feature simplifying the deployment of multicast solutions, which especially helps people who are uncomfortable with some of the more complicated IT configurations such as Layer 3 Protocol Independent Multicast or PIM routing.

AVoIP also solves the distance limitations with traditional AV cables (by utilizing copper Ethernet & fiber cables instead), is more scalable and flexible than traditional circuit-based AV products (by adding more ports & stacking the switches), and equipment costs are decreasing.  All of these factors will contribute to more adoption and it will only get better as time goes on.  IP convergence has already happened with telephony (POTS vs. VoIP), surveillance (analog vs. IP cameras), audio (ex. Dante, AVB) and other industries, and at some point, everything else will move to the network.  AV-over-IP is happening right now and the ProAV industry will continue its way down this inevitable path, so don’t get left behind.

Don’t you think it’s time to invest in AV-over-IP to advance the future of your business?  Please drop me a line and share your experience, or let me know if you would like some help getting started.

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