NSCA: Sounds Like Streaming

Networked products in the professional audio space aren't what we typically think of as traditional streaming tools, but the products use the same technologies in innovative ways that may yield long-term benefits to the entire streaming industry. Two products from last week’s National Systems Contractor Association (NSCA) show in Orlando, both using uncompressed audio streamed across a local Ethernet network, demonstrate that streaming continues to make inroads into the professional audio integration industry.

Digital Snakes.
No, they’re not part of an action movie, but from a cursory glance at Roland's new digital snake, you'd wonder what the fuss is all about. Like the three big technology players in the uncompressed IP audio space--CobraNet, Ethersound, and NetworkSound--Roland's homegrown digital snake technology is more about the absence of wires than the visual appeal of the box.

Designed to link a band's microphones, instruments, and on-stage monitors to the front of house (FOH) mixing console, the digital snake consists of a transmission box with up to 40 inputs and a receiver box with up to 40 outputs, linked together by two Cat5 cables. In comparison, a traditional audio snake consists of several large boxes on stage, each typically holding 16-24 input connectors, with the FOH end of the snake consisting of a bundle of connectors for the FOH console.

The biggest benefit to the digital snakes lies in the ability to rapidly set up a mobile transmission system that feeds redundant signals across separate paths. Once the audio is packetized into the digital snake, it is sent simultaneously across both Cat5 cables, so that the risk of having someone step on or cut one cable leads to a single point of failure.

"I like the idea of having two redundant paths from the stage to the FOH booth," said one audiovisual consultant on the show floor. "Both cables can come off the stage and travel separate paths to the FOH booth. And, since each is a single 4-pair Cat5 cable, it's alot easier to find an alternate run than it was with a big bundle of cables in a traditional snake."

While the new uncompressed IP audio streams from these digital snakes provide a benefit for portable or mobile systems, it's less likely that a packetized digital snake will be used in traditional integration systems such as houses of worship or permanent music venues. The reason, according to some pro audio integrators, is simple stasis: with the pro AV market accustomed to true plug-and-play, the analog approach has been used for years and works just as well as the new technologies in permanent facilities but costs on average less than half what the new technology costs.

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