Budgeting for the Good Stuff

WheatBudgetImageIt's that time of year again when broadcasters everywhere are working the budgets and trying to explain the finer details of audio networking to the Scrooge in charge of the numbers. (Their words. Not ours.)

We have a few suggestions.

Go with the big gig. When raising a modern audio network, our systems engineer Paul Picard says it makes both financial and technical sense to install a Gigabit Cat6 based system that is compatible with current hardware and leaves you bandwidth headroom to grow. Our WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network is a Gigabit Ethernet system for this reason. As a full, end-to-end Gigabit Ethernet system, it virtually eliminates traffic priority and audio latency issues, plus gives you more at the end of the cable for consolidating gear – which should make even Scrooge happy. "If you put a codec or a hybrid unit in the studio, it's a source. But, if you put it in a rack room at the end of a router, now it's a resource," explained our Director of Sales Jay Tyler. To realize these benefits, you'll need uninterrupted throughput, and that's where full, end-to-end Gigabit Ethernet comes in.

Get stuff that does more stuff. Management is likely to spring for new gear if they can check off two boxes at once, so get the stuff that can serve more than one function. For example, our network BLADEs can route audio plus do a little mixing on the side. So guess what that means? No more spendy distribution amps. Likewise, a single Aura8-IP audio processing BLADE hanging off the network gives you eight separate processors for stuff like remote feed conditioning, satellite uplink peak control, web streams, you name it. Multi-function gear like this also makes more sense space-wise, which to management translates into real dollars saved.

Let's not use the office LAN, though. In a conventional office LAN, file transfers get disrupted, printing can be poky at times, and broken Internet connections happen. Productivity suffers, but life goes on.

You won't be enjoying life very much if you add audio to the fickle office LAN, though. In a broadcast plant, the first priority is to deliver audio in a non-interrupted, deterministic stream. Moving audio over a network is a real-time operation, and it's bandwidth intensive and does not tolerate disruption very well. That's why we not only build separate networks for audio, we build them with lots of throughput to spare and build them to run reliably. It's far more cost-effective in the long run. Really.

And, never, ever trust a PC. Yes, PCs are cheap, but they break down. Often. This is why our engineers have become very good at FPGA (field programmable gate array) technology. And it's why WheatNet-IP systems are able to distribute computing across the network, at different nodes or what we call smart BLADEs rather than having a PC handle the communication between the console and the network, for example.

Install it right. In our experience, the single greatest source of network problems is directly related to the installation. Problems arise from poorly crimped connectors, wrong cable type, inferior components, mixed wire maps, split pairs, broken conductors, exceeding distance limits, and stretched, bent, or crushed cables – you get the picture.

The low-voltage/high-frequency nature of the electrical signals that traverse the AoIP network requires a faultless signal path if these signals are to be transmitted and received reliably. None of this is rocket science, but there are best practices that one should follow – and a book. The TIA-568-C.0 standards book documents cabling and component requirements, structure, topologies, distances, installation, performance and testing. (See Paul Picard's related article, AoIP Testing & Troubleshooting.)

All networking guidance by our field engineers stems from these tried and true practices. Just as important, every broadcast plant is assessed and every WheatNet-IP network that leaves our factory is configured and tested prior to installation. Bottom line: place as much value in the people that stand behind the network as the components that make up the system. No engineer should have to tell the GM the station is off the air because of a bargain-bin patch cable or because of a botched install.

Document it. Don't underestimate the power of documentation. This is a good bargaining chip when sitting down and talking budgets because management knows that a poorly documented network is a poorly functioning one. You'll quickly discover this in the event of a catastrophe. At Wheatstone, we document every cable, audio route, Ethernet switch port and IP address. This is as much a part of the WheatNet-IP system as the consoles we offer, and just as tangible.


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