The migration of AV equipment onto IT networks isn’t a new mandate. Several years ago, AV manufacturers sought to move their wares onto computer networks – a process that began first with control, and then with audio, and finally with video. Today, as AV increasingly becomes ingrained within the IT world, a debate is now emerging. When it comes to networks for AV, what’s the best way to go – 1Gig or 10Gig?
A 1 Gig Network or 10 Gig Network?
It turns out that there is no definitive answer. At its most basic, “the AV network is responsible for transmitting video and audio signals between different locations,” says Dave Hatz, director of development at AVI Systems, an AV integrator based in Eden Prairie, Minn. “That transmission could be from my table at a conference room where I’m connected to the display and speakers in that room, or it could be between different rooms in a facility or between different facilities.”
Using commoditized IT infrastructure is a way to distribute AV that is both more cost effective and scalable than traditional, dedicated AV systems – hence the inexorable trend of running AV over the IT network.
“AV can co-exist on an IT network that is already installed and already managed in a facility,” says Hatz. Yet that co-existence means that IT now must be aware of AV components and how those components can affect the network.
“We need to properly manage bandwidth, and other resources, but if we can use that infrastructure, it makes it much more scalable to deploy AV technology where it needs to be, and makes it much more cost-effective to install and support it,” Hatz says.
Whether AV needs a 1Gig network or a 10Gig network depends on a number of variables – cost and existing infrastructure among them – but essentially the decision should come down to the specific needs of specific applications.
“Both technologies have a valid place, but you have to consider the scope and application,” says Paul Zielie, manager of enterprise solutions at Harman International, a provider of AV products. With more than 30 years’ experience in both AV and IT, Zielie also teaches the AV/IT curriculum at AVIXA, an AV trade group.
When it comes to 1Gig or 10Gig, “the interesting part is that it’s a venn diagram, with most of the applications in the middle where it really doesn’t matter one way or the other,” Zielie says. “If I took a standard grab bag of 250 standard AV projects, probably in 225 of them there would be no appreciable difference in the technology because the network is not stressing the application in one direction or the other. ”
Making a Decision
So how best to decide between 1Gig and 10Gig? Price points are a logical place to start, especially for small to mid-size installations that may not have the benefit of an internal datacenter running 10Gig.
As of now, 1Gig is considerably less expensive when all components are included. According to Matt King, director of integration services at Mission Electronics, an AV integrator and designer in Lenexa, Kansas, a Cisco switch with 48 1Gig ports goes for $169/port; while a Cisco 48 10Gig switch is $425/port. And that’s just for starters, as “the cost of the infrastructure can be an even larger entity,” he says.
Consider the cabling. Unshielded CAT5e has the capacity for gigabit Ethernet while shielded CAT6 is the minimum requirement for 10Gig. Yet CAT6 has a distance limitation of 180 feet, whereas CAT5e can expand that to 330 feet.
“The cable isn’t even all of the infrastructure,” King adds. “You have to have certified CAT6 shielded connectors and CAT6 shielded patch panels – retrofitting an entire network ecosystem to support 10G everywhere is a significant cost.”
What that additional cost delivers essentially is speed. With higher bandwidth, a 10Gig network is capable of sending AV signals from source to destination faster, and with less if any compression.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to the quality of a video image,” says Hatz. “The speed at which the picture gets from the original source to its destination is important, and if there’s too much latency that is noticeable, it makes it really difficult to use the system.” Latency is an especially vexing issue for those applications that require machine interaction – if the movement of a mouse lags on screen during a presentation for more than 45 milliseconds, “that drives people crazy,” says Zielie.
Yet latency issues may not always take center stage for a given AV implementation. “The current 10Gig technologies have a lower latency end-to-end than 1Gig technologies,” Zielie says, “but depending on your application, latency may not be the most important thing. This is when you talk about tradeoffs with scalability.”
The kinds of use cases that are well suited for a 10Gig network are applications that require extremely high resolution – medical imaging, geographic mapping and graphic design media distribution. For these applications, any amount of compression may be too much if the original quality of the image is degraded. In addition, 10Gig works well over shorter distances given the limitation of the cabling required. An AV installation in one room that utilizes a single 10 G switch can be an ideal setup.
“On the other hand, if I have a 24-port switch – 20 inputs and 4 outputs – and an uplink and another room I want to connect to with 20 inputs and 4 outputs, that’s where 10Gig starts to become an issue because of the way networks work,” Zielie says.
As Steve Metzger, co-founder and vice president of hardware and operations at ZeeVee Inc., a Littleton, Mass., provider of AV systems explains it, “running AV systems in the IT world is not just a capacity thing – IT in the past has been delivering traffic that is short, bursty transactions.” With AV, the nature of the traffic is different – it is a constant, fixed load which “is incredibly dependent on being in order and guaranteed delivery, so provisioning of capacity in the network is really important.” For IT, knowing all the devices in the network becomes incredibly important.
“If you have a very well-crafted 1Gig network, you can distribute a decent number of compressed programs over it,” Metzger says. “If you have bottlenecks, or there’s a switch at the core of your network that doesn’t have capacity, then you ruin your ability to do anything.” It is this shortcoming that can derail a 10 Gig AV network project, particularly if capacity isn’t provisioned or core switches in the network. As Metzger sees it, “the topology of the IT network is very important for distributing AV content because it’s different than the traffic.”
Offering affordable system flexibility, Alex Peras, product manager of DigitalMedia, Crestron, pointed out to sister site Commercial Integrator, that 1G technologies provide a balance of efficiency and cost effectiveness without compromising performance.
“Utilizing 1G allows you to reuse your existing cabling, use the readily available standard gigabit Ethernet infrastructure, and ensures you can get all the video you need between switches over standard uplink bandwidth,” he says.
“We examined 10G. In fact, when we first started designing the DM NVX Series, we were more comfortable with 10G because effectively, when you look at HDBaseT, it is essentially a 10G link. However, we quickly realized you cannot take full advantage of the network if you stick with 10G —you might as well use HDBaseT.
“In order to get stable video on 10G, you need Cat6A shielded cabling along with more expensive switching infrastructure. Also, when moving 10G video out of a switch you immediately run into bandwidth issues. The 1G network is really what IT is most comfortable with and it is the only way to truly take advantage of moving video over the network,” says Carter.
What About Both 1 Gig and 10 Gig?
It’s entirely possible to have an AV deployment that includes both 1Gig and 10Gig networks.
“We have products that deliver 4k uncompressed video for demanding applications such as in a surgical operating theater where color fidelity and reliability are needed,” says Metzger, “In these applications where you can’t compress you can have purpose-built 10Gig networks and the only things on that is the 10Gig content.”
That content can then be distributed to other places around a campus which would then require a move to a 1Gig network and then need to compress the video. “Bandwidth goes down and you will experience latency due to the time to decode and encode,” Metzger says. “It’s a tradeoff between video quality and performance for ease of distribution.”
It’s that performance and ease of distribution debate that’s at the center of the difference between the two technologies. “The 10Gig products have the ability to transmit a lot more data and a lot more signal,” says Hatz. Yet many IT organizations don’t have 10Gig networks to every node – which presents scalability challenges. “Organizations have 10Gig backbones, or even 40Gig backbones, but there’s still, not 10Gig to every endpoint,” he adds.
An organization that wants to put in video endpoints throughout a facility could therefore be looking at the need to upgrade infrastructure – and at significant cost. For the inexperienced, the cabling requirements of 10Gig can be quite onerous, says Zielie. “10Gig is pushing the limits of physics on copper wire, so you end up having to use an individually shielded twisted pair with everything going through, limiting your points and it’s very difficult to do it.”
Fiber can be an alternative given the challenges around properly terminating 10Gig copper, but either way there are issues. “You need a lot of expertise and it’s very expensive,” says Zielie. “There are potential infrastructure costs and hassles to 10Gig especially when you are going to be in the copper world.”
Carter suggests using Crestron’s NVX series of products, which are specifically designed to work on a 1G network infrastructure. “With NVX, there are a significant amount of advantages for using a 1G network, but, if you already have a 10G Ethernet switch, then that is also an option,” notes Carter.
What you don’t typically need is additional space in a server room or network closet to house the additional equipment required by 10Gig networks.
“10Gig network switches do have slightly higher power consumption, but it is very negligible,” says King, and “they typically take up the same amount of space in a rack. The number of needed ports/switches with regards to uplink speeds would be the only factor for an increase in rack space.”
With 1Gig, infrastructure hassles are more typically minimized. When it comes to AV, the 1Gig network becomes a much easier adoptable platform for the average business and IT department,” Zielie says. “Everyone has network infrastructure in place that can handle 1Gig signal transmit.”
The ubiquitous nature of 1Gig makes the technology much more scalable than 10Gig – particularly as more network functionality becomes software-defined. By configuring software, an AV installation can be added quickly to an existing network without the need to change wiring or cabling. Conference rooms and huddle spaces both within a building and between buildings are typical use cases for 1Gig AV.
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As for the IT side of the house, 1Gig AV networks are easier to manage – at the moment. “You can share 10Gig infrastructure with data feeds, but then have to look at trunking capacity between the switches,” says Metzger.
Doing so may require IT to define QoS policies and standards and implement them for the entire infrastructure “because now you have to be very careful about segmenting the bandwidth you’re going to make available for the AV versus everything else.” One thing IT wants to avoid – having peak file downloads corrupt video that is flowing throughout the corporate network. “So you need to start enforcing QoS standards across all the switches and even tagging content,” Hatz explains.
That can get complicated pretty fast, but 10Gig is here, and its prevalence will only increase.
Is all of this still confusing? Crestron offers a training class that teaches attendees about NVX and the networking knowledge this need to successfully deploy it. It includes content that focuses on where a 1G solution makes
sense at the actual endpoint and where 10G factors in on inter-switch uplinks, says Carter.
“It’s always a good thing to learn more,” he says. “The NVX training offered here at Crestron covers all of the basics needed to successfully deploy an NVX system. Once you start mixing in NVX on other networks, having a broader
networking knowledge can certainly lead to more success.”
“Both 1Gig and 10Gig have a very relevant position at this point in time and we’re only going to see the need for bandwidth increase,” Hatz says. More important perhaps than focusing on 1Gig versus 10Gig, is the need to choose hardware that’s up to whatever tasks an organization has for AV.
“The average client I work with,” says Hatz “isn’t going to perceive the difference as long as we are using hardware and equipment from reputable manufacturers.”
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