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AV over IP Ushers in a New Age of Solutions in Hospitality Environments

Technology in the hospitality environment has long been centered around the computer network. In fact, So much of what happens in hotels and other hospitality settings is IP-based and connects to, or through, the network: VOIP/telephony, WiFi, cell phones, conferencing, control signals, access control, CCTV, etc. And that’s not to mention the impact of cloud computing on our daily routines. Everything lives through “the network.”
Well…everything except for one thing.
The sole holdout to the IP conversion has been audio/video—or, more precisely, video. The reason is relatively obvious, of course: Video requires more bandwidth than standard networks can handle smoothly. And the higher the video resolution, the more it can hamstring most corporate networks.
So in settings where video is extensively used, IT professionals have been happy to dismiss the idea of taxing their systems with bandwidth-sucking video that could impact all operations.
And given that every trend study reports that demand for more, and higher resolution, video is increasing, it only reaffirms their decision to relegate AV to its own dedicated infrastructure of specialized cables and hardware.
However, the times they are a-changin’, and those changes portray a far friendlier landscape.
This article from ClearOne discusses the case for using IP networks to distribute AV signals. It has long been compelling, especially in terms of both cost and convenience:
  • One cable to run:  Because the AV signals travel over the same Cat5/Cat6 cable as other network traffic does, there is no need to run additional cables.
  • Scalability:  IP networks allow for an almost limitless number of sources and destinations (displays) on the system, eliminating the need for upgrading to new matrix switchers when source or destination capacity exceeds system limits. This represents a significant advantage both in convenience and in cost.
  • There is also a significant savings to be found by eliminating the need for separate, dedicated video-processing hardware. The processing function is increasingly software driven, and is included in the encoders and decoders used within the IP network infrastructure.
  • Flexibility:  The new network user interfaces are making system configuration easier and faster.  But even more important is the ease with which one can control content across the network, including adding overlays and windowed digital signage to standard video feeds.  This opens up a number of revenue generating scenarios.
  • Migrating to a time-tested, industry-standard platform that supports interoperability between manufacturers is the best way to future-proof your AV distribution network.
However, although these advantages have, in theory, existed for some time, the significant challenges that have prevented the adoption of AV over IP must still be addressed:
  • Bandwidth and image quality
  • Latency
  • Signal synchronization
  • HDCP (copy protection) compliance
Because so much of our lives depend on being connected, companies have become far more receptive to network-centric approaches. To meet the demand, networks have been improved, and they’re now faster and far more robust than they used to be.
But although network bandwidth isn’t the concern it used to be for most of our network traffic, when we’re distributing dozens—maybe even hundreds—of streams of audio, video and control, it all adds up quickly and can overwhelm the network.
To alleviate this network congestion, the industry has developed visually lossless compression standards—namely, H.264 and H.265—that are being employed by network operators and incorporated by component manufacturers to ensure the integrity and sustainability of the infrastructure, as well as the interoperability of any components added to the system.
For example, H.264 streams 2K video files at approximately 8MB and 4K at 16MB, with a latency as low as 58 milliseconds; meanwhile, H.265 goes even further, cutting those bandwidth numbers by half with latency measured as low as 100 milliseconds. And most major manufacturers now offer protocols to ensure signal synchronization.
In most environments the ability to pass protected content from PC/Mac/Blu-ray or broadcast TV can be critical. HDCP support on an IP distribution system is not yet universally, but devices that will pass protected content to an unlimited number of end points are available from leading manufacturers in this segment. 
The shift to IP-based distribution has been a long time coming, and resistance has been natural. After all, this is an infrastructure issue with potentially significant ramifications should someone make the wrong choice. However, the wrong choice now would be not to embrace this change.  The right move is to invest in an infrastructure that will not only live up to future demands, but create new and better user experiences, as well.
The technology is here. Major commercial AV manufacturers with a history of stability and a reputation for quality products have committed to this future and to improving the technology further.  There is no longer a reason to give pause. AV over IP is a technology whose time has come.
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