Why AVB and TSN are VIP (Very Important Protocols)

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There’s a new standard in the professional AV space – one that may finally eliminate the need to list protocols as a factor for determining the equipment to use in an AV system. At its annual meeting in 2004, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) launched an Ethernet study group for AV streaming, which became the Audio Video Bridging (AVB) Task Group. The AVB Task Group now serves four industries – consumer electronics, automotive, industrial control, and professional AV. In 2012, this group was renamed the Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) Task Force to reflect a more accurate and inclusive focus for the expanded scope of work.

TSN is becoming an important fixture of the pro AV industry, with key companies like Intel, Cisco, General Electric, and National Instruments turning to TSN to enable the emerging technology that will be part of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is projected to be the “next big thing” because, like the internet, it crosses nearly every industry. As evidence of the growing recognition of TSN among major industry players, Kevin Stanton of Intel and Gary Stuebing of Cisco now serve on the board of the directors for the AVnu Alliance.

In an article on AVB’s coming of age, written while attending the TSNA Conference, Lindsey Adler of AV Network states, “For the past few years, my head has spun with a consistent battling chorus of ‘AVB is dead!’ and ‘Long live AVB,’ or ‘This is the year for AVB to prove its worth! Or else it’s dead!’ I’m pleased to report that the next generation of AV networking standards are alive and well, and very much here to stay. Sure, plenty of you naysayers still exist out there, but fresh off the AVnu Alliance’s debut conference on Time Sensitive Networks and Applications (TSNA), I can attest to the sold out, standing room only attendance of bright eyed and engaged participants eager to learn the technical nuances, applications, and deployment tricks of time sensitive networks.”

The Case for TSN
Technology-based marketplaces tend to evolve via different sets of standards. Remember the VHS vs. Betamax format war? Did you experience déjà vu with the debate over Blu-ray and HD DVD? The AV industry stands at a similar crossroads. Like these formats, Ethernet (as opposed to token ring) emerged as a standard and is widely accepted as the means for connecting digital devices. However, AV systems no longer automatically reside on separate networks, but are increasingly incorporated into comprehensive digital media systems. This integration of digital systems calls for the industry to move beyond trying to integrate multiple protocols; we need a set of standards that fit digital devices together naturally, regardless of the data packets they stream.

The ability to ensure time-arrival in current Ethernet technology is hampered by two issues: speed and the order in which data packets are received. TSN addresses technology’s emerging data requirements by providing synchronized, deterministic delivery of data packets in a time sensitive (or low latency) manner. These characteristics are viewed as key to the imminent IoT revolution and meeting the transmission needs of multiple industries. As an open standard, TSN also removes commercial ownership from the development process, leveling the playing field and allowing anyone access to the standards and the opportunity to develop new products that follow those standards. Open standards often drive the development and adoption of open standards-based products.

Market Impact
By increasing interdependence between system solutions, IoT will transcend how technology interacts, by reshaping markets and creating new products while redefining the processes that power today’s systems and products. According to Rick Merritt of EE Times, “A new generation of chips and software in the works promises to slash Ethernet latencies down to single-digit microseconds, opening up a wide range of uses in cars, factory-floor robots, power plants and even in the home.”

TSN will expand what is possible within AV, enabling the precise management, control, and delivery of media across an integrated network. Through the adoption of the TSN protocols, system designers and engineers will be able to provide time-critical (deterministic) and guaranteed-time-arrival (synchronized) for data transmissions – an essential requirement for AV systems that stream different content to various locations at both ad hoc and predetermined times.

The most immediate impact, and one the AV industry references regularly, will be the need for TSN switches. Companies like Cisco have already expressed their interest in this new hardware – a promising indicator that additional switches may become available in the near future. The next impact is that TSN adopters will require smaller endpoints, which will bring lower-cost endpoints to the AV industry at a faster pace than traditionally seen. As TSN evolves, the AV marketplace can look forward to the possibility of completely new protocol-based technologies that leverage benefits such as expanded channel count or the continued reduction of latency.

The Future
As TSN develops, the protocol will likely undergo several revisions before it becomes the de facto standard. During this time, the AV industry can anticipate an increase in the acceptance of networked media systems within IT departments, leading to greater collaboration between the two disciplines. To prepare for this, AV integrators should adopt a change-based approach to their workflows since industry transformations will continue to occur rapidly as IoT developments advance. AV specialists – whether integrators or consultants – need to think outside the traditional AV universe, learn about what’s happening in other technology-based industries, and be open to an innovation-first philosophy that could streamline and unify the AV industry and the IT sector.

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