Providing a standards-based approach to audio-over-IP interoperability, AES67 has
had a significant impact on the networking world since it was published in
September 2013. Now the organisation is poised to provide the next piece of the
puzzle with the control-oriented AES-X210, writes David Davies.

In June this year, Pro-Systems News reported on the remarkable impact that AES67
has had on the disparate audio networking landscape since its publication last
autumn. Designed to allow interoperability between various IP-based audio
networking systems, AES67’s early adoption by established networking solutions
such as Audinate’s Dante and ALC NetworX’s Ravenna has surely contributed to its
present momentum.

In that same feature, Bosch Communications Systems senior scientist Jeff
Berryman alluded to the next focus of AES’ networking activity in the form of
development project AES-X210. “AES67 answers the question, “How can I get audio
from device A to device B?’. X210’s standard will answer the question: “How can I
tell devices what to do with the audio once they have it?’’

So what are the origins of AES-X210? The name itself might be fairly new, but the
technological principles behind it are not. At its core is a media networking system
protocol, OCA (Open Control Architecture), developed by the OCA Alliance, whose
membership includes Audinate, Bosch, Harman Professional, TC Group and Yamaha
Commercial Audio. Bosch’s involvement should be highlighted in particular as its
own, earlier protocol, OCP, fed into the creation of OCA.

Work began on converting OCA into a formal standard in late 2012 and AES
standards manager Mark Yonge confirms that the drafts of the three-document
standard are now approaching completion. “Public drafts will be made available at
the beginning of 2015, after which there will be a six-week call for comment,’ he
says. “Assuming all issues can be resolved, we expect to publish (the complete
standard) around Easter time.’

Pragmatic philosophy

Critically, notes Yonge, AES-X210 maintains the ’orthogonal” philosophy of AES67,
allowing both standards to be implemented separately. It will also be possible for
AES-X210 to be deployed with any number of other transport technologies –
including AVB.

Ethan Wetzell – platform strategist at Bosch Security Systems and a prime mover
behind the OCA Alliance – pinpoints the pragmatically modular nature of the AES’
work in this area. “AES-X210 is a natural fit with the AES67 standard as these two
elements work in tandem to address both the transport and control elements of a
complete media networking solution,’ he says. But “while they are directly
complementary, the modular nature of the standards will also work to everybody’s
benefit as they can be implemented independently over time. This means that the
ecosystems for both standards are able to grow and manufacturers will be able to
implement them more easily without taking an “all or nothing’ approach to
implementing both standards simultaneously.’

As with all standards work, final validation of success can only come with the
ensuing level of implementation. Not surprisingly given its own stake in OCP and
subsequently OCA, Bosch has been an eager early adopter, with OCA a core
component of Bosch’s OMNEO media networking architecture.

“All products from the Bosch, Electro-Voice, Dynacord and RTS brands that support
OMNEO have been designed in such a way so as to be able to be upgraded to
comply with the final AES standard if the standard deviates from Bosch’s current
OCA implementation,’ says Wetzell.

d&b audiotechnik released its OCA-enabled D80 amplifier in January, while Wetzell
reveals that other Alliance members are: “working on products that will support
OCA and they will announce those when they are ready to do so publicly.’

Next step: network discovery?

In a highly intricate area of endeavour, it is somehow pleasing that Yonge resorts to
a down-to-earth metaphor to describe the collective role of AES67 and AES-X210,
labelling them as the: “meat and potatoes of handling audio networks.’ If the
passage of time proves that to be accurate, then it’s clear there will be plenty for
dessert; Yonge expects network discovery to be among the future targets of AES
standards work.

“We will definitely not be sitting still,’ confirms Wetzell. “I like to say that the final
release of the standard is just the end of the beginning. On the standards front, we
will be looking at extending the standard to new protocols and new kinds of
products and applications.’

No one can be sure about the long-term contribution of AES-X210 and AES67 to a
networking landscape that was once primed for the dominance of AVB – a
technology that has yet to have the impact that was once routinely predicted for it.
But whatever happens, Wetzell firmly rejects any perception of competition and
implies a belief that there will be room for everyone.

“AVB brings a new view of how networks should operate and behave; AES67 looks
to interoperability, harmonising and extending technologies; and AES-X210 is
focused on control rather than transport,’ he says. “There will be times when you
need only one of these technologies, but there will be times when you will need
more as well. The key for us in the industry is to really stay focused on the
problems that we are trying to solve with these technologies and converge where
we can to provide the best solution to users.’