Making multicast AV plug and play

Making multicast AV plug and play

Setting up an IP network to deliver good, consistent performance for multicast video applications can be complicated – it’s a task that’s made much easier with the new Networked AV Mode on the Zyxel GS2220 and the XGS2210 switches, as Luke Harley, Market Development Manager EMEA for Switching at Zyxel explains.

Technology is integral to almost everyone’s lives today. As laptop, tablets, smartphones, and other devices have become more familiar, we have all become quite adept at setting them up. Most of us have also learned how to connect them to network equipment, like WiFi routers and access points.

But while all these technologies seem to be almost ‘plug and play’ now, beneath their apparent simplicity is a wealth of complexity. If you need to deploy networking technology to meet a specific requirement, you need to have more technical knowledge. Unless, that is, the equipment comes pre-configured or with software that makes configuration for that defined purpose much easier.

Always listening

Zyxel, as you’d expect, is always listening to customer and partner feedback. This is what shapes the direction of our product development. One trend in recent months has been an increase in the number of customers asking how they can configure switches to deliver the best performance in multicast environments, where multiple video streams are being transmitted across the network at the same time.

There are several drivers behind this trend, but the fundamental one is the increasing use of digital high-definition video streaming across IP networks. This is happening in all sectors but it most prevalent in the leisure industry, where sports bars, hotels, and leisure centres want to cast several HD signals to multiple screens around a complex. There is also a growing need for this technology in public spaces – railway stations, airports, shopping malls, petrol stations, and even public parks and urban zones.

In these sectors and others, organisations are moving away from the old analogue video technologies to IP-based digital technologies. They are doing this because the feeds they now receive are all digital and arrive through their external network connection. Rather than trying to convert those signals to analogue and distribute them over a different network, it makes sense to just sent them on as digital traffic to wherever they are needed across the existing IP network, which is also carrying data and, almost certainly, voice services as well.

Perfect sense

That all makes perfect sense, but it’s at this point that customers tend to encounter problems. Principally, network switches are designed to carry digital data and from one point to another on a network. They can do that with video traffic of course, which is just another IP packet in the end, and they can distribute it to multiple points on the network. But video – and HD video in particular – requires a lot of bandwidth and the switch needs to be configured differently to transmit it really efficiently to several points on the network. Doing that takes a bit of technical acumen and know-how. If you don’t have those skills, it will take time to acquire them.

As I said earlier, we’ve seen quite a few requests coming in for assistance with this kind of set-up. We have even started working with some specialist audiovisual solutions suppliers to provide versions of Zyxel switches that have been pre-configured for multicast IP video applications. We also developed a simple dashboard that allows administrators to monitor traffic moving across the switch and adjust settings as required.

Having developed and refined this capability we now made it available as a definitive mode setting on two of our most powerful switches, the GS2220 and the XGS2210. The Networked AV Mode enables you to turn on an appropriate set-up for multicast environments and subsequently use the dashboard to keep an eye on performance.

Consistent performance

What we’ve done here, effectively, is made setting up our switches for multicast AV deployments, ‘plug and play’ – or very nearly. You will still need to know what you are doing, but as the GS2220 and the XGS2210 have already been optimised to carry multicast traffic, it’s your knowledge of how video and audio work across an IP network that’s really important, rather than your technical competency in setting-up network switches.

Being able to simply turn on the Networked AV Mode and adjust settings from there will save our customers a lot of time and make it much easier for them to deliver good, consistent video performance to everyone on the network. It’s a great example of how valuable that process of listening to our customers and acting on their feedback is, both to Zyxel and its customers. If you’d like to find out more about the Networked AV Mode on the Zyxel GS2220 and the XGS2210 switches, get in touch with your local Zyxel office or partner.

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