10G AVoIP – as disruptive as it promised?
As video technology advances, so do systems for them to run on. But have these new options ousted the tried and trusted of the past? Matt Murray checks out the technology.
When Software Defined Video over Ethernet (SDVoE) was announced in 2017, what was touted loudest as it’s raison d’être was replacement of the ubiquitous matrix switcher, be it HDBaseT or HDMI-based.
True, the matrix switcher is indeed displaced from the architecture of a traditional distributed AV system by SDVoE, however, matrix switching functionality is retained, on top of an additional host of unique, sought-after features made available from devices comprising an SDVoE 10Gbps Audio Visual-over-Internet Protocol (AVoIP) system.
AVoIP codec choices
AVoIP first debuted in 1Gbps Ethernet guise, in part, initially conceived as an innovative, efficient refresh to digital signage signal distribution, and adapted for general video at up to HD resolutions for commercial AV purposes. When early 4K signals (4K/25fps) became commonplace, existing video compression codec mechanisms made 1Gbps transport possible.
AVoIP 1G manufacturers employ similar encoding / decoding algorithms, based upon original product concept dates. While there are abundant choices, such as AVC/H.264, HEVC/H.265, TicoXS (JPEG XS), or BBC’s VC-2, all have characteristic performance trade-offs impacting image fidelity in one manner or another. Many companies choose a variant of the JPEG2000 codec as backbone for their AVoIP 1G system architecture, due to inherent low switching latency, a characteristic favoured by end-users.
While adaptable to 4K signal input, when pushed to the threshold for installations where image fidelity is the primary objective, (for instance, a residence with a knowledgeable or hobbyist viewer), integrators find that in attempting to push 4K/50fps 4:4:4 10- to 12-bits, down the 1Gbps freeway, less than desired results are revealed despite algorithm type.
With JPEG 2000, anomalies occur from requisite conversion into RGB 8-bit colour processing, as transporting greater amounts of data across a 1G network forces a higher degree of compensatory compression, and subsequently, collateral damage in the form of detectable artifacts. SDVoE avoids these issues.
Data restraint with video signals
Source signals in bandwidth-challenged systems should be as low in data transmission capacity as possible (for example, 4K/25fps 4:2:0) so the display, which in nearly all circumstances has better signal processing than a source, may perform conversion back into RGB, constructing an image with better fidelity.
Consider a $219 AUD Apple TV performing signal processing and colour up-conversion, compared to a $4,999 AUD display or projector. Details regarding the machinations for this are best left to another time, however, the takeaway is, systems deployed in the early days of AVoIP, which were taxed beyond their capabilities yet touted as the new state-of-the-art, may have dealt an unjustified blow in first impressions to the concept of packetized, multicast video streaming.
Direct-connect is not dead yet
Well-designed matrices, whether HDBaseT or HDMI-based, deliver premium, compression-free video performance with dynamic metadata and accompanying high-bitrate audio codecs, when deployed using appropriate system design protocols for cable length and cable integrity.
In the near term, matrices may yet retain this superiority, as 8K-related signals become more prominent. AVoIP via SDVoE has demonstrated a means to distribute 8K, though it was fashioned in a discrete “bread board” design and not as a chip-based offering that is market-ready. Undoubtedly, a silicon solution is in the works.
8k content exists! well, sort of…
Currently, full 8K distributable content is not readily available, and the choruses of integrators, as they did at the cusp of 4K, bellow the same anthem in unison: “There’s nothing to watch so I’m not going to sell it”.
But let ye not be fooled… theatrical content acquisition in Hollywood has largely been in 8K, and occasionally with special projects, 10K, for at least the past 4-5 years. An observation of the music industry reveals a segment that is enjoying revitalisation, taking time honoured albums and subjecting them to meticulous remastering at high bitrates, including coincidental releases on vinyl with improved compounds. This has fuelled a frenzy from the public, savouring the ability to re-experience treasured artists and their music, not in new performances, but rather, familiar beloved content with a dramatically greater degree of inner detail, nuance, dynamics and audible superiority, emerging from a purely silent background, devoid of half-century old compression and master tape hiss.
Do not for one second, believe a similar reboot with favoured films, at higher resolution and in a wider colour volume gamut, will not be undertaken by the movie industry. With no factual information and merely a whiff of feigned prescience, Kaleidescape comes to mind as possibly being a catalyst. The company has a closely held warm relationship with Hollywood studios. Content in their online store starts from a mezzanine-level video file from a studio library vault (an uncompressed storage level many tiers up from broadcast or streaming in quality) then undergoes a proprietary process using minimal compression to preserve detail and colour fidelity.
It isn’t unthinkable a bit of dial-twisting with DaVinci Resolve on a console and delivery to a K-Scape 8K hardware server may be a mere heartbeat away.
Prepare for theatrical 8k
In December of 2022, Amazon Studios opened a remodelled Pacific Theatres location as The Culver Theatre, a public commercial cinema in Culver City, California, with the centrepiece a theatrical-sized 8K micro-LED screen. Certainly, this wasn’t installed with the intention of long-term 4K up-conversion, it is there as a specific means of preparation. Of the theatre’s eight auditoriums, only one is outfitted with a conventional vinyl screen.
Consideration must be given for residential or industrial infrastructure, likely with optical fibre, to accommodate requirements for 8K, as it will also provide adequate headroom for 4K High Frame Rate (HFR) or Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) material, which exists now and will continue to gain traction.
Matrix death rumors a bit premature
Some 10G AVoIP camps have proclaimed the fixed chassis matrix switch deceased (or soon to be) pitting SDVoE and fixed-chassis matrix switchers in a technology cage death match. AVPro Edge manufacturers AVoIP 1G, 10G, and matrix switcher products. Our belief is with technology looming over the near horizon, suitable applications requiring the attributes for each type will assure their coexistence through this decade.
Going the distance with AVoIP
Traditional drawbacks with fixed-chassis matrix switchers remain for many applications in comparison to offerings from new tech such as AVoIP’s latest generation and new codec type, 10Gbps SDVoE. With direct-connect switching, sources tether to the matrix at a single location, with finite input and output totals, typically a maximum of 16.
In nearly any practical circumstance, endpoints are limited to 100m. Fibre extension kits are available to extend 4K signals to distances as great as 2000m, but as will be seen, AVoIP provides a remedy for the 4K distance handicap.
A majority of 10G AVoIP products available are based upon SDVoE, enlisting technologies from founding member and semiconductor giant, Semtech, with its BlueRiver chipset platform. All necessary capabilities required for a feature-rich AV distribution system are combined onto a single programmable system on chip (SoC), stitched together with control by a software defined Application Programming Interface (API).
In current form, SDVoE makes for a powerful, alternative concept to traditional 4K high-performance matrix switchers, accented with advanced system functionality.
Deployment occurs as a multi-chassis configuration yet functions with holistic system synergy. Multi-box architecture governs location freedom, enabling source-connected encoder placement wherever desired, requiring only network switch connection via Category 6A (minimum recommendation) or higher cabling. As a contrast to most 1G AVoIP separate encode and decode devices, SDVoE manufacturers utilise a single SKU Transceiver, switch-selectable to either encoder or decoder mode. With regard to overall system distance capabilities, when connected by single-mode optical fibre using industry standard SFP+ modules, SDVoE can transport signals up to 20km.
Source and destination endpoints are limited only by available network switch ports with scalability virtually unrestrained.
The SoC design provides broadcast-equivalent image quality, with the capability for image scaling by TCVRs functioning in decoder mode. During transport, 4K/25fps 4:4:4, and 4K/50fps 4:2:0 signals remain uncompressed. 4K/50fps 4:4:4 content is compressed with an imperceptibly light, 1.3:1, artifact-free, ratio. As a virtual matrix switcher, performance rivals that of HDBaseT and HDMI matrix devices.
Transceivers transform system design
Some SDVoE TCVRs include selectivity for copper or fibre infrastructure, with hybrid systems of the two easily possible, using a 9Gbps path for data transport, and a 1Gbps lane reserved for a separate Ethernet network.
Included on the SDVoE SoC which manufacturers may chose are built-in features, that in the recent past, would have required multiple additional devices for equivalent functionality, eclipsing the capabilities of any matrix switcher.
Designed-in Multiview enables any television or projector to display a composite of up images, in a variety of grid and tiling customised configurations, while video walls up are possible when TCVRs are paired to associated displays.
To matrix or not to matrix, is that the question?
SDVoE 10G provides a series of performance options products designed to mesh seamlessly in operation as a unified cohesive system, featuring matrix switching without the matrix switch. SDVoE delivers compression free 4K signals (artifact-free imperceptible compression for 4K/50fps) with virtually unlimited scalability for applications in medicine, surveillance, entertainment, education, governmental agencies or worship.
Many commercial and a growing number of residential integrators consider 10G AVoIP a market disruptive technology, similar to email disrupting postal dispatch in a major way. It may one day cross lines on a graph, marking a point where it has displaced the matrix switcher permanently. At AVPro, we are not anticipating an imminent reckoning or total demise for the original form factor matrix switcher, sensing instead there will still be prevalent applications for direct-connect devices, particularly for 8K, and especially with industrial applications or surveillance where higher resolution provides the next level in visual monitoring.
An 8K crossroad
We do enthusiastically encourage for applications where traditional 4K matrix switchers are normally specified, a closer look at AVoIP 10G is deserved. Disruptive technologies fail to gain traction when unwarranted, and 10Gbps AVoIP has already made substantial inroads into the commercial, Pro AV and upper echelon residential markets. It may be a perfect time to discover first-hand if SDVoE AVoIP 10G addresses your system design requirements, while providing outside-the-box solutions and flexibility in a network-based platform. Continue to monitor advancements in 8K, especially in regard to fibre-based infrastructure.
8K pricing will continue to decline as yields rise. As the number of displays in service increases, the release of matching content will begin. Products for 8K infrastructure and signal distribution are in the marketplace today, and it is not premature to propose, sell and install systems with an 8K backbone. While a hedge against the future, 8K devices are also uniquely positioned for High Frame Rate 4K gaming consoles, or in preparation for 4K HFR sports broadcasting.
Consumers are ready to embrace video’s next generation; position yourselves to respond.