Why is it so hard to let go? There are always those few that are eager to jump to their next relationship, the next fashion, and the newest technology. We might envy them when it works out well, and secretly congratulate ourselves for waiting when it doesn’t. Eventually, though, the good ideas do tend to win out, and almost all of us do finally let go of S-VHS and Windows XP when we are sure that the cost and risk are acceptable, and the benefits will be real. Today, it’s time for broadcast intercom to let go of the matrix.
Broadcast intercom has not benefited from significant advances in technology, efficiency, or total cost of ownership (TCO) in decades. How audio is distributed and some of the edge technologies have evolved, including the evolution to Audio over IP (AoIP), but the basic working model of an intercom has remained the same: all devices must ultimately connect to a TDM-based matrix.
AoIP-based intercom does, of course, offer the native advantages of networked audio and standards-based protocols such as AES67, but the presence of a matrix at the center of the system has, until very recently, ensured that all the limitations inherent in such a design remain in place. Any matrix-based intercom system, regardless of how the audio is distributed, still has a finite amount of I/O and a crosspoint count that cannot be exceeded without incurring costly changes to the core infrastructure, should needs and demands change down the road – as they inevitably do.
Future growth and expansion requires educated estimation – or a crystal ball – forcing system designers to choose between being too conservative and later running out of ports or building a system that is wastefully large and expensive in terms of dollars, space, and under-utilized capacity. Eliminating the matrix allows for a system to match today’s needs and expand gracefully to meet future expansions.
Since the existence of a matrix is the true bottleneck to growth in intercom technology, why haven’t manufacturers moved to a more modern – and completely mature – network-based architecture? The answer, at least in part, is that any such change would threaten the sales of their current product line.
In mid-2017, The Telos Alliance introduced its Infinity IP Intercom, the first broadcast-optimized communication system based on AoIP and a distributed network architecture. Unlike a traditional matrix-based solution, where adding more hardware reduces the number of remaining available ports, Telos Infinity IP Intercom employs a distributed processing architecture so that adding more panels to the system actually adds more resources.
This fundamental difference in approach delivers the dynamic, self-healing properties of a network while also achieving a significant reduction in the necessary cabling and interconnections. Moreover, users gain an advantage in channel density, where a single network can contain an almost infinite number of audio channels, all with minimal latency.
There is little doubt that AoIP is the future of audio in television broadcast facilities – including its application and incorporation into intercom systems – but AoIP alone didn’t advance intercom technology much beyond where it was twenty years ago until the introduction of the matrix-free Telos Infinity IP Intercom. No longer bound by the number of available ports on a matrix, planned or ad-hoc expansion is equally simple and future-proof.
As author Daphne Rose Kingma wrote, “Holding on is believing that there’s only a past; letting go is knowing there’s a future.”