Is the Dedicated AV Matrix Switcher Dead?

Is packet-switched 4K multimedia-over-IP solutions the answer?
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Most of us can remember a time when we carried a Nokia phone in our pocket and when Nortel ruled the business phone market with a market cap in the billions. Today, Nortel is bankrupt and Nokia recently sold off their money-losing phone division to Microsoft.

While the dedicated AV switcher market generates more than $2 billion in revenue today, the latest generation of IP technology can distribute video, audio and control signals over long distances at much lower costs, signaling a clear threat to dedicated AV switcher solutions. This potential paradigm shift is based around two key technology transitions in both display technology and data infrastructure technology.

Trend #1 – Rise of 4K displays

The cost of a 4K display has dropped rapidly, and this summer 4K televisions generated nearly 40 percent of all television revenue. With 50-inch models selling for around $500, the impact of these high-resolution screens in signage, entertainment and other commercial applications will be dramatic.

Trend #2 – Low cost 10Gb network switches

With the ever-increasing demand for bandwidth used in video, photos and other media requirements in the data center, the 10 Gb switch is the fastest growing segment of the network market. Like most things in IT, once the volume grows to a certain point, prices plummet. The cost of these switches has declined as much as 40 percent over the last two years, and now can be purchased for as little as $1,500 directly from major brands such as Cisco, Netgear and Dell.

Packet-switched 4K multimedia-over-IP solutions will be potentially disruptive to some AV technologies, but their ease of deployment will expand the market.

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Until recently, HDBaseT was the only technology capable of distributing 4K video over long distances. However, the recent launch of new packet-switched 4K multimedia-over-IP solutions warrants that we explore the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. New packet-switched 4K multimedia-over-IP solutions enable uncompressed 4K video, 8-channel digital audio, RS-232 and IR control, as well as a full 1 Gb network port at each encoder and decoder.

Since the device converts all the content to standard IP packets, nearly any mainstream 10 Gb network switch can replace the traditional AV matrix switcher, reducing both the purchase cost as well as the risk of sunk cost if the switch has to be repurposed. Additionally, integrators don’t have to purchase special cables to ensure that the project is warrantied by the manufacturer.

KEY BENEFITS

Lower costs: By using off-the-shelf IP switches and cables, the cost per port is driven by the entire networking market, not just the AV market. If 10 Gb network switches follow a similar price reduction trend as the 1 Gb network switches, the initial costs should be much lower than custom high-end AV matrix switchers.

No programming costs: With many larger AV matrix switchers, programming each port to the proper device is a key component of the overall system. By contrast, with 4K multimedia over IP, the devices are assigned an IP address automatically, enabling the entire system to be set up and running in minutes.

Resolution and color bit flexibility: The systems’ ability to utilize light compression techniques enables the user to change the color depth, frame rate and resolution as needed without having to worry that he will exceed the bandwidth of the switch. This enables such techniques as 4:4:4 color spaces, higher frame rates and other bandwidth demands to be accommodated.

Video wall support: The system will automatically scale and support video walls up to 25 screens without an extra co-processor or other hardware. The ability to generate multiple sources on a single monitor is also possible, enabling large displays to have multiview capabilities.

Long distance cable: With the new fiber transmitters and receivers, the system can support cable lengths up to 40 kilometers.

Packet-switched 4K multimedia-over-IP solutions will be potentially disruptive to some AV technologies, but their ease of deployment will expand the market for these types of systems to distribute video, audio and control signals over long distances at significantly lower costs.

Bob Michaels is the CEO ZeeVee, a manufacturer of digital encoder/modulators for commercial video distribution applications with offices in the United States and Europe.

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