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Networked A/V - Where's the ROI?

As entertaining as it is for those of us in the pro AV space to debate the merits of the many approaches and protocols for implementing networked AV, at the end of the day the real competition is analog wiring.  Long before the question of “which network protocol to use” is even asked, the decision has to be made to go with a networked system – and by implication not with an analog system.  So what are the key differentiators between an analog and a networked design that contribute to project ROI?

Analog is point-to-point

The essential truth about analog wiring is that one output only goes to one input.  If an analog output has to go to more than one place, there’s either ugly wiring to be done, or splitters/distribution amps to be purchased.  Networked systems are inherently “many-to-many”.  Once an audio signal is on the network, it can drive an unlimited number of outputs – all at no extra cost.

Analog wiring infrastructure is fixed

Once analog wiring is installed, it’s often difficult to expand the infrastructure to add audio channels, or get a new audio drop in a different position.  Analog wiring is typically run through purpose installed conduit, or in the walls away from power and other wiring.  And once the conduit is filled up – no more audio channels.  Expanding an analog wiring infrastructure is almost always expensive and disruptive to the normal use of the audio system.  By contrast, CAT-5e/6 drops can be put in not only where they are needed in the initial installation, but inexpensively added in areas where future expansion might happen.  With a capacity of up to 512 audio channels over any CAT5e/6 connection on a Gig network, adding additional audio channels to the system is virtually free, and doesn’t interrupt the normal operation of the system.

Analog wiring is interference prone

One of the most frustrating experiences for sound system users is when uninvited AM, FM, or other radio frequency interference is reproduced over the system.  Long runs of analog mic wiring are good antennas, and even speaker wiring can be an on-ramp for RF interference.  Also, since the signal levels directly from a microphone are so small, it doesn’t take much noise induced by proximity to AC power wiring to cause all manner of hum and buzz in the sound system.  Networked audio connectivity gear, and particularly Attero Tech products, are aimed at minimizing analog wiring.  The goal is to get the audio onto the network as close to the source as possible.  Given the vast array of network-enabled devices available on the market today, audio signals can be delivered from networked wall plates to network-enabled powered speakers – digital from end-to-end, and completely immune to assaults from outside RF and AC interference.

The bottom line…

System audio routing flexibility, installation cost and robustness of wiring, and resistance to interference are just three key aspects of a networked audio system that increase client satisfaction, reduce total cost of ownership, and future-proof a client’s investment.  What’s not to like?