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The Quest For Software Dominance Through Alliances Published:2017-10-18

It’s a crowded market for the software that drives AV installations these days— and surprise—that spells good and bad news for integrators.

Many manufacturers have developed software platforms that support native, and in some cases, third-party hardware for audio, video, or automation. Some hardware components themselves, such as networked DSP and loudspeakers, have their own dedicated software and processing. And that’s not even getting into distribution protocols.

“The line between hardware and software has blurred and almost vanished in recent years,” said Rik Kirby, VP of sales and marketing at Renkus-Heinz. “Almost all powered loudspeakers now incorporate some form of software or firmware, and many offer software control via a computer or other external device.”

Kirby points to the Renkus-Heinz ICONYX loudspeakers, which pair with RHAON software to allow system designers to map and steer sound beams in a virtual room. The company also supports integrations with companies like Crestron, IED, and Peavey MediaMatrix, while some third-party manufacturers have developed libraries to control Renkus-Heinz products.

Integrators get both sides of the proverbial coin. On one hand, the proliferation of hardware and software packages and compatibilities give them the ability to choose the best integrations for their clients. But that same freedom and flexibility can also lead to folly.

“In troubleshooting many of these systems,” Kirby said, “it’s not uncommon to find that EQ, loudspeaker correction, or other processing has been applied at multiple stages, creating all sorts of issues.”

Transparency among systems is vital to the success of integration, noted Benson Chan, senior director of product marketing at Pakedge, which creates active integrations using artificial-intelligence algorithms that scan the LAN and develop processes to manage devices.

“Multiple pieces of proprietary software affect performance in that each piece tries to optimize for its own gain,” said Chan. “In doing so, they are causing the system, as a whole, to be sub-optimized. This is where partnerships and integration with each other come in play. Partnerships and diligence are the real key to stable integration across systems.”

Pakedge works with third-party companies to smooth the integration process and ensure their products will work with a variety of systems. The company takes the concept a step further by consulting with an advisory board comprised of integrators who beta-test the products and advise the developers on their findings.

“It’s definitely not magic,” Chan said. “It takes a commitment to open integration to make it all work.”

Assistive listening device maker Williams Sound allows integration with network protocols such as those from Crestron and Audinate, while its PPA T45NET transmitter can be controlled via iOS or Android app, or through a web browser on a PC. Users can also control its Digi-Loop DL210NET amplifier from PC and iOS apps.

Gregg Abram, the company’s vice president of engineering and chief technical officer, said Williams Sound provides online and onsite training sessions designed to educate integrators on its AV and control solutions.

“From our perspective, integrators must be properly trained with each specific manufacturer’s product setup and control to ease system conflict,” said Abram.

As more products are released with proprietary software, the more complex the job becomes for integrators to manage, said Williams Sound CEO Paul Ingebrigtsen. There’s still work to be done before the industry achieves truly seamless integrations among third-party devices and software.

“Standardized networks like Dante and AVB can simplify wiring and signal paths, but don’t address individual equipment operation,” said Ingebrigtsen. “Emerging standards like AES 67 have the potential to unify some things, but any common GUI or operating software cannot encompass the sheer variety of devices on the market or unique features and operating characteristics.”

As a result, he said, some integrators may decide to limit the number of third-party products in a system design in hopes of simplifying the project, or use a certain brand whose system they already understand.

According to Chan, another piece of the puzzle for successful installations is for integrators to not only understand the various product platforms and their ecosystems, but also the ways in which they integrate—what information is passed from one platform to another, and the synchronization needed to accomplish those data transfers successfully.

Understanding the user requirements, he noted, should come before an integrator chooses a platform.

“In order to be successful, an integrator must first understand how the user requirements translate into system requirements. That defines how the system is supposed to work from a top-down perspective, and then take that understanding and configure the subsystem components or underlying individual platforms, so that when they come together, they work as one,” said Chan.

“The integrator’s job is sometimes one of coordination between the vendors, defining the interface and the types of interactions allowed between the two platforms and then enforcing it, change management and the potential impacts, and of course, detailed documentation and record keeping of all the changes.”

Looking ahead, Kirby said that system security is likely to be at the forefront of concern in AV software.

“Ten years ago, you had to access the equipment room to maliciously interfere with an AV system,” he said. “Now, if you have the right software you can just plug in or connect to the Wi-Fi network and take control.”

Despite the proliferation of software on the market today, Kirby anticipates more movement toward direct or indirect collaboration among manufacturers in the future.

“It seems there are many good solutions available that offer control across multiple devices and vendors, and I think that will always be the case,” Kirby said. “There does, however, seem to be broad agreement that we need to get away from proprietary control protocols and more toward open standards. As this develops, it will allow more equipment providers to offer compatibility and interoperability with the myriad of control system solutions out there.”

Jim Beaugez, APR, is a freelance writer and accredited communications professional with a decade of experience in the MI and pro audio industries. You can reach him at jimbeaugez@gmail.com and on Twitter @JimBeaugez.

Software Behind the Scenes

With the help of Renkus-Heinz’s RHAON 2 system management software, New Haven-based PASCOM Sound was able to maximize the performance of the Iconyx Gen5 system at the church.
When it comes to installing a new sound system, the loudspeakers always hog the attention. But when it comes to complicated acoustical spaces, integrators have become more and more dependent on the software behind these speaker systems to maximize use and placement in a space.

Such was the case with the European-style cathedral, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, CT, which was outfitted with a Renkus-Heinz Iconyx Gen5 IC32-RN system with the help of Renkus-Heinz’s RHAON2 system management software.

The demanding aesthetic and acoustical requirements were key reasons Peter Scandone, Jr., president of New Haven systems integrator PASCOM Sound, chose a Renkus-Heinz Iconyx Gen5 IC32-RN digitally steered line array as the heart of the new system. “I’ve been working in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for more than 25 years,” Scandone said, “and when we finally got a chance to put our own system in place, a Renkus-Heinz steerable array was clearly the best choice. I’ve used Iconyx in the past, and the Iconyx Generation 5 speakers are a great product. There’s no other loudspeaker I would have chosen for the basilica.” Scandone sourced the system from Cardone Solomon & Associates of Northport, NY.

A single IC32-RN array, placed stage left and mounted to a large column 30 inches in diameter, covers most of the seating in the main nave. “We normally would prefer to use two IC32-RNs,” he noted, “But the space around the altar is not symmetrical, and we didn’t have the right situation for a left-right pair. As it turns out, we didn’t need a second array. One Gen5 IC32-RN was fully up to the challenge. And it was simpler because we didn’t have to account for arrival times from two arrays.”

The job was made easier by Renkus-Heinz’ new RHAON 2 system management software. “RHAON 2 is a dream,” Scandone enthused. “It’s very user friendly when you’re setting beam directivity, and it renders much faster than the first-generation RHAON. The software allows us to squeeze every bit out of the system, maximizing performance.”

While the basilica’s new IC32-RN is visible, its custom beige color and slim, low-profile form enable it to blend with its surroundings. “We not only needed a system that looks and sounds good,” Scandone recalled, “we had to work with layers of marble and decorative columns while being as minimally invasive as possible. Just surface-mounting one IC32-RN array to a column required extreme care. But we accomplished our goals.”

Although the IC32-RN provides excellent coverage for the main nave, the basilica’s new system also had to cover the transept and fill a few angles that even a digitally steered array can’t reach. “For those areas, we chose a series of passive Renkus-Heinz ICX7-II mechanically steered column arrays to serve as fills, so we could have a good match with the sound quality of the IC32-RN,” noted Scandone. “With an all-Renkus-Heinz system, we could easily bring the voicings into alignment.”