Extron enters the AV over IP fray with NAV
Extron has released its pro AV over IP range of products. We bring you an exclusive, in depth look at what sets the Extron NAV apart from other competitors on the market.
There is no denying the fact that AV over IP is an extremely congested product vertical. All the major AV players, and many more to boot, have gone to market with their solutions. One name has been conspicuous for its absence - Extron. Now, it too has joined the fray with the announcement of its NAV pro AV over IP streaming solution.
The NAV will be available in 1Gb and 10Gb versions and will support transmission of up to 4K60 4:4:4 video signals. What is of interest is how Extron aims to differentiate NAV from its competition.
Joe da Silva, director of product marketing at Extron, said: “We knew we needed to be different from the chipsets that you can buy off the shelf in the market and our engineering team spent time developing our codec and our product. This is the reason we are a little late coming to market. But we feel we have something very different and something very special for the pro AV streaming market.”
Can you have it all?
After ISE 2018, InAVate APAC took a long, hard look at the world of video streaming. The consensus from the industry was that there were three metrics for performance - namely bandwidth consumption, image quality and latency. The prevailing belief is that you can pick two metrics of performance while sacrificing the third. For example, you can have high image quality and low latency at the cost of high bandwidth consumption.
However, Extron with its NAV solution is aiming to provide it all and da Silva detailed: “Competing products on the market are using codecs from other industries, such as JPEG2000 for example,and these have some limitations when it comes to pro AV. Extron took a ground up approach and we wanted to develop a codec (PURE3) that was designed for the pro AV industry. The competing solutions typically make you pick between one or two performance criteria for a codec from image quality, latency and bandwidth. Nobody is able to deliver all three and we saw that as a really great opportunity for us. Instead of having to pick one or two of those we can deliver all three of those criteria with our codec. What that means is that we can do visually lossless image quality, with ultra low latency at very efficient bit rates so you are no longer forced into one versus the other.”
Extron is aiming to fulfil its pro AV over IP ambitions with its patented Pure3 codec which is at the heart of the NAV’s performance with regard to bandwidth consumption, image quality and latency.
“Where we are special and unique is that we a technology encoded into our codec called ‘Intelligent Selective Streaming’ and what this allows us to do is get the bitrates down to below what you would typically see on a JPEG2000 codec. Even if you don’t adjust your bitrate down to a 1Gb threshold our 10Gb product is very rarely, if ever, using the full 10Gb of bandwidth.” - Joe da Silva, Extron
PURE3 is unique in how it approaches compression and transmission of video signals with a view to optimising bandwidth consumption.
Da Silva offered further details: “Using the ‘Intelligent Selective Streaming’ feature of the PURE3 codec we can evaluate the video signal and we are actually only sending the changes that have occurred. The process is similar to what you might come across in a H.264 video streaming solution where you have an I-frame, B-frame and P-frame to keep the bandwidth down. But the downside with these when it comes to H.264 is that you have to operate with a group of pictures, a scenario which adds to your latency in the order of frames.
“With PURE3 we have avoided that because we don’t work on a frame basis, we are actually looking at very small granular portions of the video as it is coming in, so we actually start processing and evaluating the video before we even receive the entire frame of video. If there was no change between the footage frame and the subsequent frame then we don’t need to send that data. This means we can significantly reduce our bandwidth consumption.”
At Integrate 2018, Extron showcased the bandwidth consumption of NAV against its competitors in action. Da Silva summarises and presents a real world example of the NAV’s performance: “Take the Google homepage as an example which is for all effects and purposes a static image. Competing products are still going to use the full 1Gb pipe to transmit this data but with NAV, on the 1Gb products, this bandwidth consumption will drop down to maybe 10Mb out of the available 1Gb. Very little information needs to travel for a static image.”
Extron is not shying away from competing with respect to image quality and this is one of the reasons it is using the term ‘pro AV over IP’.
Da Silva said: “Because of how we are doing the compression with our codec the image quality that we can deliver at 1Gb is really remarkable. When we start looking at business class content, things like Excel and PowerPoint, things that have relatively low motion, even video playback in some cases, NAV can transmit that at bitrates of anywhere between half to one tenth of what our competitors are doing."
"Comparing this side by side with uncompressed video we can deliver anywhere from visually lossless to pixel perfect video with our codec which is pretty remarkable considering the performance levels other codecs available in the market.” - Joe da Silva, Extron
With regards to latency, da Silva said: “The bandwidth efficiency comes from how we are handling the video frames and what data we are transferring across the network.The other side of this is that we don’t have to worry about the reordering of frames that means we can keep our latency down to the sub-frame domain. Sub-frame latency is pretty remarkable considering the bandwidth we are consuming and the image quality we are delivering.”
1Gb and 10Gb interoperability
The debate regarding 1Gb and 10Gb AV over IP solutions rages on. Extron is trying to circumvent this and da Silva said: “With NAV, you no longer have to choose between 1Gb or 10Gb. There is interoperability and compatibility on both sides with our solution. We are making it easier for integrators and end users to come up with workable AV over IP solutions that do not force them into a particular IT infrastructure.”
This means that an NAV 1Gb encoder and an NAV 10Gb decoder, or vice versa, are fully compatible. This is made possible due to the fact that the bitrate of the devices can be adjusted.
Da Silva said: “There are real world advantages to this approach. Say you have a customer that wants to do enterprise wide distribution of AV over IP. Perhaps they want deploy a 10Gb solution for a single room to have the highest image quality possible if they have high entropy content that they want to view. The advantage with NAV is that the same products can be adjusted for an overflow situation so that the auditorium space can maybe overflow to breakout rooms.
“The other advantage is that when you start doing AV installations at a large scale across IT infrastructure you have to look at the uplink bandwidth available or the stacking bandwidth between your network switches. By integrating the ‘Intelligent Selective Streaming’ technology into our codec we can get more streaming channels per uplink across the network. This means that our scalability is much better than any other product out there. Instead of maybe having a 100Gb uplink between core switches you could get by with a 40Gb uplink. You save expenses on your IT infrastructure.”
“The palatability of 10Gb at the edge is not very high right now. Most people that are deploying 10Gb right now are treating it as isolated infrastructure and not everyone wants to do that. That is where the 10Gb and 1Gb interoperability is very important.” - Joe da Silva, Extron
Both the NAV 1Gb and 10Gb products will come equipped with USB-C.
Da Silva detailed: “We wanted to do USB a bit differently than just having hosts or peripherals. One of the exciting things about USB-C as a connector type and as a standard is that you can dynamically define whether it is a host or peripheral connection. So you are not forced into an encoder being a host or a decoder being a peripheral. You can have two different encoders and one encoder can be a host while the other can be a peripheral and you can route that USB traffic completely independently of the audio and video traffic.
“For us this allows for an additional level of functionality and flexibility that our competitors in this space don’t offer. We wanted to be able to place the power of USB in the hands of the integrator and they can extend that however they want.”
Speaking IT’s language
Seeing that AV over IP resides on the network, Extron has taken steps to ensure that the NAV will appeal to IT managers.
Da Silva said: “It is very easy for people to look at the AV side. But we have to sit down in front of a CIO and tell them you want to put these devices on their network and this raises a completely different set of questions. We did a lot of research into that topic and reached out to IT executives to understand what their needs in the space are and through that landed on some key points from an IT perspective that we have included in the product.
“One is the way the audio, video and USB signals are being transported. We are doing it in a fashion that makes sense to IT, doing a secure, encrypted delivery of the audio and video payload. We’ve included active directory integration for user management. We also have 802.1X authentication that gives us the port based network access for the product. These endpoints have to coexist on the corporate or enterprise infrastructure. These are the types of functions that CIOs and IT managers are looking for. We did not just focus on addressing the needs of AV managers but also IT’s needs.”
The Extron NAV solutions features two methods for routing audio and Da Silva detailed: “The reason we have two forms of audio on the product, we have our NAV audio but we also have AES67 audio, is because of the challenge of routing Dante or AES67 multicast audio across subnets. We actually planned ahead in that case and are actually able to route across subnets and manage that. This is done through NAVigator. NAVigator is what does the management for our endpoints from a single point of control. It requires proper setup and knowledge of the IT network.
An availability date for the NAV product range has not yet been announced. However, Extron has announced the Extron Network AV Specialist - NAVS certification program which aims to prepare individuals to successfully deploy and troubleshoot networked AV systems using Extron NAV encoders, decoders,and software.
Da Silva detailed: “We’ve identified a group of resellers that is already network savvy and already deploying products in the AV over IP space. There are prerequisites that they must meet and once these have been cleared they will be invited for a two day certification course. They must understand the tech and have a full knowledge of core AV skills like signal processing and scaling and go through the two day course on NAV product and at the conclusion of the course they become certified individuals and the company that will have access to the NAV line.”