AV over IP differs from traditional AV by evolving the following key aspects: scalable switching (many more ports and easier to add just what you need), breaking the barriers of distance, improved ratio of inputs to outputs, video standards that extend beyond the local facility, convergence with data and communications, and new options in video processing.
Perhaps the cornerstone of why organizations are gradually replacing traditional AV infrastructures with IP-based AV infrastructures has the switch as the focal point.
Hardwired, circuit-based switching is basically a point-to-point technology. Video matrix switchers are a “destination” (relative to an AV transmitter box) and a “source” (relative to an AV receiver box) simultaneously. All the combinations of transmitters to receivers are resolved inside the matrix switch and it is possible to use any source at any destination according to the number of ports available on the video matrix switch. For example, an 8x8 matrix switch allows eight sources to be used at any of eight destinations.
More advanced products can perform processing operations. Instead of just making any input available on any output, for example, it might be possible to show any input on any—as well as many—outputs. Hence, a PowerPoint presentation from a PC can be a source that gets routed from an AV transmitter box to a video matrix switcher and then the switcher can be wired to multiple AV receiver boxes that can simultaneously be showing the PowerPoint presentation in real time.
What’s different about IP (and packet-based switching) is the number of sources attached to the IP switch is no longer as limited. When physical ports run out, multiple IP switches can be connected to expand. What this means is that you can scale the number of ports to your needs much more conveniently. It is possible to keep adding sources and destinations without a substantial overhaul of the video matrix switcher centerpiece being a major limiting factor.
The ratio of inputs to outputs can also be far more tailored in AV over IP compared to the traditional hardwired video matrix switcher. It is possible to have MANY inputs but only a few outputs, or only a few inputs but MANY outputs. Or you can have MANY of both and in widely different quantities.
Another limit of traditional AV is the distance between boxes. All hardwired digital transmissions have a practical limit to distance. Short distances of only a few feet can be wired cheaply. Once you’re at several meters, the cost of extension cables goes up. And when wires are being run throughout facilities over hundreds of meters, the cost of installation and extension becomes higher still.
IP-based AV can be transmitted over copper (Category) cable and over fiber optic quite conveniently. The Category (CAT-5, CAT-6, etc.) cable has a maximum of 100 meters. But it is possible to switch and repeat in series. The video you watch in your home on Netflix or YouTube has travelled quite far using this exact packet-based switching technology.
Thus, AV over IP significantly increases flexibility by overcoming limits to number of sources and destinations as well as by conquering distance limits. There is no penalty to capabilities for migrating from traditional AV to AV over IP as all elements of performance are retained with IP-based solutions.
The illustration below highlights this with the help of three main architectures. The first is based on traditional AV switching followed by the next two on AV over IP.