Public address: Shifting sands

pa va article

Hurrairah bin Sohail speaks with PA/VA manufacturers about the changing landscape of paging and voice alarm as IP based solutions become increasingly necessary.

Every AV system seems to be migrating to the network and PA/ VA is no different. In Amsterdam at ISE 2018, Bosch announced Praesensa which is the latest entrant in the IP based paging system product category. Daniel Quek, senior manager, regional marketing for installed audio at Bosch, says: “The Praesensa has been years in the making. I don’t think it is a surprise to the industry that Bosch has released an IP based paging system seeing that this is where AV as a whole is headed.”

IP based paging has been available for a while. Matthew Packer, sales development director for Asia Pacific at Biamp Systems, says: “The idea of PA/VA being end-points rather than rack linked products is nothing new. Networked paging was patented quite a while back. In today’s world, networked paging is a no brainer and is becoming ubiquitous. Every device is a networked audio device.

“Biamp released the Vocia in 2010 and it was fully based on the network. Everything was accomplished over Ethernet.”

The spotlight on IP based paging systems could not have come at a better time. Manufacturers across the board report steady growth in demand for PA/VA systems driven primarily by the expansion of the transport sector.

Yoshio Furuse, product director of APAC region at TOA, says: “In APAC, the transport sector has been the reason for the increasing demand for PA/ VA systems. Metro systems, high speed railways and airports are being built in countries like Malaysia and Vietnam and the region and demand for PA/VA is increasing.”

Demand from the retail sector for PA/VA systems is more variable. Yoshio from TOA comments: “The demand for PA/VA in the retail sector depends on the country. In Singapore, new shopping malls are being developed. But in other countries the rate of development might be different. Renovation projects are not a big contributing factor.”

Why choose IP?

The question now is what benefits, if any, do IP based paging systems confer. Yoshio from TOA comments: “IP based paging systems are more flexible. If the customer needs additional speakers or zones it is quite easy to change and install a new system. Analogue PA systems are harder to change requiring wiring and cabling. To be honest, for system integrators and dealers, IP based paging systems offer a lot of benefits with ease of installation being the foremost.”

The main benefit of IP based paging system lies in distributed architecture. Quek from Bosch adds: “The important aspect of IP based paging systems is total cost of ownership. This is brought down by the distributed architecture made possible by IP based paging. Devices can be connected over the network and your amplifiers and DSPs can be much closer to the speakers. We no longer have to be restricted by the traditional design philosophy of placing everything in the equipment room. This reduces cabling length and actually drives the total cost down.”

Packer from Biamp explains distributed architecture and its advantages: “We have taken the central DSP and cut it up into pieces and moved it throughout the network. Redundancy in this case means just having a copy of the box you would like replicated. On an old analogue PA/VA system redundancy would mean having an extra DSP which would be a significant monetary outlay.”

Quek from Bosch also explains how distributed architecture can help the overall system function better: “The Praesensa is designed with load sharing in mind. We have a 600W amplifier and all the power can be fully used. In traditional design you might have four 125W amplifiers. So if you have a zone that needs 125W then that is good. But if some space needs just 15W you are wasting a channel of the amplifier. The clever way we designed the Praesensa is that the full load and power can be shared across all channels.”

Distributed architecture also allows for an easy upgrade path. Packer from Biamp elaborates: “Facilities that value their systems need to leverage scalability. The beauty of networks is that they are inherently scalable, they don’t have fixed capacity. This gives clients the option of extending the PA/VA system as the building grows which can sometimes be as simple as getting new hardware off the shelf.”

But even with these benefits, there is debate whether IP based systems will wholly replace traditional analogue solutions. Yoshio from TOA says: “There are many IP based paging systems in the market and TOA has such solutions. We believe that an IP based approach from PA is good but analogue is more trustworthy when it comes to VA. We will expand our IP product line for general PA applications. For VA, we feel that analogue will persist in this space and we will continue to deliver more products and functions.”

Others believe that IP based paging systems are more robust and more secure. Packer from Biamp says: “Distributed architecture provides no single point of system failure. If a device falls off the network—say someone mistakenly cuts a cable— only its function is lost. The whole system will continue to function as intended without that point; this is exactly how we designed the Vocia.”

Regarding network concerns Packer from Biamp adds: “Anyone who is knowledgeable about networks understands that it isn’t as easy to take a network down as it seems. No one would move to Ethernet if it wasn’t better than the technology predating it. Hardware can fail and the network needs to be able to route around it.”

Merging function

Quek from Bosch says: “Developers in APAC are starting to focus on mixed building developments. These are meant to be integrated communities where the spaces are occupied by retail, residential and corporate. So in this sense, there has been an increase in demand. Clients today need systems that don’t only serve purposes for evacuation but also combine that with background music, announcements and retail promotion messages.”

The idea of having one system to handle both background music and paging duties is something that is technically possible. Quek says: “Effective voice speakers focus on the 1KHz to 4KHz range. If you want a speaker for music you need to focus on the whole 50Hz to 20KHz range. Modern speakers have the capabilities to do both. Integrating the BGM and PA/VA system can offer great cost savings. You don’t just save money on product but also on the back end and the cabling.”

The hurdles to surmount lie in the build process. Packer from Biamp says: “Combining BGM and PA/VA has been technically feasible for more than ten years. There is higher technology deployed on the audio BGM side and it moved to the network ages ago. We’re seeing a similar shift in PA/VA. However, the main obstacle to this convergence is not technical but more a function of the build process and the different regulations. For this convergence to happen, we need clients to have a desire to deploy a single system for BGM and PA/VA. This effort must be driven by the client.”

Quek from Bosch echoes similar sentiments: “Integration between BGM systems and PA/VA systems depends on how early you are in the build process. If we, as manufacturers, do a better job in pre-sales and talk to the developers and owners we can try and influence the design of the system from the ground up. But if you come in and the project has already been awarded to a main contractor then we are already too late in the process.”

Yoshio from TOA however believes that it might be prudent to keep BGM systems and PA/VA systems separate: “In my opinion, it is better to keep background music and PA/VA systems separate. This separation allows for easier maintenance of both systems. PA/VA is a critical system and if there is a fault in the system, it would be easier to pinpoint and troubleshoot the problem if both systems are kept separate.”

But Packer believes that the move to IP based paging should help allay such concerns: “Having failure on a network is better than having failure on traditional or analogue AV systems. You can actually receive feedback about a failure and correct the issue rather than having someone walk around trying to identify what the specific failure is.”

One thing all parties can agree on is that paging and the AV industry need to prepare for a future where their systems reside on the network. Yoshio from TOA says: “I see the demand for PA/ VA growing in the coming five years. I also think the sales channels will be different. Perhaps in the future, network and IT companies will look towards installing PA systems if the migration to IP based paging systems continues. This might not be ideal as IT companies may not care about sound quality and might not have the specialised knowledge required to design and deploy PA/VA systems.”