in Collaboration, Comment August 10, 2021 0
Teams certification for a Shure software DSP on a Crestron Flex integrator kit has implications that go far beyond those announced by the companies themselves, writes consultant Harald Steindl.
The news is spreading quickly through the AV/UC industry. Two industry heavyweights, Shure and Crestron, have achieved something that many supposed industry insiders recently thought was very unlikely. So what has happened and is it really a revolution in AV systems integration?
Microsoft has certified the first MS Teams Room System in which the audio DSP is not connected to the soft codec as external hardware via USB, but instead runs directly on the UC PC as software.
This innovation is rightly celebrated extensively by both partners. See here and here. The combination is indeed special, as it is the first AV system from two independent manufacturers without any internal cabling.
Tom’s Blog, which I value, provides the most important information in a blog post, without going into the background. A joint video from Shure and Crestron also provides marketing information but doesn’t quite capture the full impact for the industry as a whole.
Is there really much more to it?
Why am I talking about a revolution for AV systems integration? In my opinion, what impact can, and in fact, will this announcement have on meeting room AV technology? In the following article, I would like to give you an overview of the reasons why this single solution from two important companies has what it takes to fundamentally change our business.
AV installations are a PC-free zone
While practically all other areas of the professional audio/video industry have long relied on PC technology instead of proprietary hardware, AV installation was and is apparently a Gallic village. This is strange insofar as the requirements in the vast majority of audio installations have long been met by “normal” PC technology.
In the recording studio , it’s been almost 10 years since Avid Pro Tools & Co almost invariably runs natively on PC and Mac. This means no special hardware in the form of DSP farms is required – the CPUs from Intel and AMD carry out all the calculations themselves. Ideally, a GPU also helps as a powerful arithmetic servant. The providers can see how the PC world offers more powerful hardware from year to year.
Even in live operations, the days of heavy side racks with countless effects devices are long gone. Either the effects are built into the mixer (see for example Allen & Heath) or a small notebook with suitable Waves software delivers every imaginable audio effect.
The same trend can be seen in video editing and post-processing thanks to solutions such as Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve.
Even live productions are increasingly being realised with native PC software solutions such as VMIX.
And in the meeting room? There has been a strict separation to this day. On the one side proprietary audio DSPs and on the other the UC engines, i.e. PCs or Macs that run a soft codec for conferencing. The connection in between is a USB cable, which despite being chosen is an interface that isn’t really popular on one side or the other.
PCs are well hidden in a 19″ rack
But are there really no PCs in fixed audio installations? Of course there are; but they are very well hidden! Of course, AV manufacturers cannot ignore the economic viability of PC technology but you could almost believe that they want to keep it a secret. Instead of proclaiming a revolution for AV system integration with the new possibilities, innovations only trickle into products gradually.
One of the most successful suppliers of audio DSPs is undoubtedly QSC. Its Q-SYS products are flawless mini-PCs with Linux and node.js as central software components. In the case of the large Q-SYS 5200 Core, it is even publicly made clear that it is a completely normal DELL R740 server.
An essential point, however, is that the customer cannot install the respective DSP software on his own server. This is exactly what QSC had already taken to market in 2017 (see here https://www.qsc.com/news/news/detail/qsc-provides-glimpse-into-the-future-of-audio-video-and-control-processing -at-ise-amsterdam) and unfortunately did not quite succeed with. Opinions differ as to why this was but it may be that the time wasn’t right then.
With the IntelliMix P300 Audio Conferencing Processor, Shure offers a small but powerful audio DSP. This is particularly popular in the UC environment: docked to UC engines with Zoom or MS Teams via USB interface, with smart table and ceiling microphones integrated via Dante on the audio side and all operated via PoE+.
However, the P300 is basically a mini PC. It was in 2020 that Shure took the decisive step and separated the software from the hardware.
Voilà, welcome to Shure IntelliMix Room for Windows.
Intellimix Room runs on any 64-bit Windows system with very modest minimum requirements:
As you can hear from the industry, the success of this software product to date is still manageable. AV integrators are still too caught up in a “box shifting” mentality but Shure didn’t give in that easily and has now found a real killer application.
The revolution for AV system integration: the audio DSP migrates to the UC engine
As is well known, room clients from Zoom and MS Teams run on conventional PC technology. The term soft codec makes it clear that it is a software solution compared to video conference devices with proprietary hardware and software combinations.
And this is exactly where the circle closes. If both software packages are already running on a single PC, why not run both on the same PC together? Of course, it has to be powerful enough, but that is really no longer a problem these days.
You really have to congratulate the partners, Shure and Crestron, for convincing Microsoft of the good sense of such a solution. It was certainly not that easy, as there are still no (public) test criteria for such a combination. Logically, all interfacing problems in terms of AEC are off the table in one fell swoop. Bravo!
What’s next? The outlook for really deeply integrated systems
Is that enough to start a revolution in AV systems integration? Will other providers follow suit and also offer soft DSPs? Quite possibly and it is certainly desirable in terms of a wider range. But I would go one step further (or are there several steps?). Imagine the following scenarios:
1. UC clients on their own audio hardware
Why not turn the tables and use the Teams/Zoom/etc install client on an audio product? Why not run Zoom Rooms natively on a QSC Q-SYS Core? The blinkers of the platform providers probably do not yet allow such a way of thinking, but it would certainly be an absolutely sensible solution. Instead of converting a mini PC to an “audio installation”, current AV devices already meet all requirements in terms of design, sales channel, support structures and the like.
2. Massive expansion of the functionality of audio DSPs
This has already been mentioned several times on my own blog. The gap between the performance of traditional audio DSPs in our industry and the cloud-driven algorithms of software providers (see here) is constantly widening. When the two worlds meet on the same hardware, there are suddenly enormous synergies and an unprecedented price/performance ratio for the customer.
3. The same applies to video
If, thanks to the DANTE Virtual Sound Card, audio suddenly goes in and out of a UC engine via the LAN, the same is possible for video. NDI is a perfect solution for this. And such networking is a condition for the following point.
4. Conference hosting
Instead of having your own small PC with the appropriate software in each meeting room, this will be centralised in the future. What Crestron does in the world of media control with Crestron Virtual Control VC-4, for example, can also work in conferencing. Microphones, cameras and even loudspeakers that are remote but on the network allow conferencing hardware to be moved to a (local) datacentre. Just think of the effects this has on customer groups such as universities when the rollout of collaboration technology in every lecture hall suddenly becomes very easy!
What Crestron and Shure have just announced in terms of MS Teams Rooms is definitely a milestone in the AV world:
But instead because it opens up the hitherto rather isolated market of AV installation for new providers:
All of these developments require a solid foundation of advice and planning and I am available for inquiries and comments.
Harald Steindl is a consultant based in Austria. This article first appeared on the HST Raising the Bar blog as “A revolution in AV systems integration” here.
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