Network switch

Choosing the Right Network Switch for AV Projects – rAVe [PUBS]

By Eric Olson
Almo Professional AV

So you’re building your next AV project and the need for a network switch arises. This can be due to many factors, most commonly for Audio Visual over Internet Protocol (AV over IP) applications, control, surveillance, or Internet connectivity. But if you’re not an experienced IT guy or don’t know much about it, what’s the best way to choose the right switch for your project?

Many current and future AV systems will involve some aspect of networking; it is the future of our industry. The main component of these systems is the network switch (or Ethernet switch), which connects the devices to a local area network (LAN) and allows the devices to communicate with each other. All of these AV information packets traverse the network and reach their destination via the switch.

The difficulty comes when we realize that switches come in many different flavors for many different applications. Managed or unmanaged? PoE (Power over Ethernet), or PoE+ or PoE++? How many ports and what speeds per port (1 Gbps, 2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps, etc.)? Will the switch face forward or backward in the rack? It can get very confusing, especially if you don’t do it every day.

Let’s break it down so it’s more digestible into a series of questions that I use to help specify the correct network switch. Take a look below.

Does information sent over this network require a managed or unmanaged switch?

Layer 2 (MAC addresses) or 3 (IP addresses)? If your application involves network traffic control, you will need the functionality of a Layer 3 managed switch. The following examples require a managed switch, such as running bandwidth-intensive applications concurrently, prioritizing important data in your local network, improving the performance of a network and implementing other advanced services. The difficulty comes when we realize that switches come in many different flavors for many different applications. Managed or unmanaged? PoE (Power over Ethernet), or PoE+ or PoE++? How many ports and what speeds per port (1 Gbps, 2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps, etc.)? Will the switch face forward or backward in the rack? It can get very confusing, especially if you don’t do it every day.

What type of AV equipment will be connected to the network?

Audio (i.e. Dante, AVB, AES67)? Video (i.e. H.264, JPEG2000, IPMX, NDI, SDVoE)? Control? Or all? If you are multicasting audio and video, you will need a managed Layer 3 switch. There is no way around it. If you are implementing IP-based control in a system, you can use an unmanaged gigabit switch, since few network protocols are needed to allow control commands to work, unless you need a virtual local area network (VLAN ). Next, you’ll need to dive back into the realm of managed switches.

But what network protocols should the managed switch be capable of?

Multicast? Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP)? VLAN? Multicast, IGMP, and VLANs are all necessary features that are only available on managed switches. If these terms are unfamiliar to you and you are considering assembling an AV over IP (AV over IP) system, you should consider equipment specifically designed for this purpose. Some manufacturers even offer pre-configured switches that have all of these network protocols enabled by default to work right away… without having to be an IT pro and spend tons of time programming and testing.

How many ports are needed?

Count the total number of devices that require a LAN connection…then add a few. Leave room for expansion and often forgotten devices. If you plan to add more devices in the future, choose a switch that will allow your network to grow. Will this AV system have any future additions or requirements to consider? If so, we should think about a switch that is stackable or able to bridge ports and seamlessly add other switches via uplinks.

What speed per port is needed (Gigabit, 2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps, etc.)?

Each network device will have its LAN port speed listed. These speeds typically range from 100 Mbps Gigabit (1000 Mbps) to 10 Gigabit (10 Gbps). Equipment that has gigabit specifications definitely requires the use of a gigabit switch. Remember that devices with lower port speeds (eg Gigabit = 1000 Mbps) will still be able to use switch ports with higher port speeds (eg 10 Gbps). Most compressed video codecs (i.e. H.264, H.265, JPEG2000, VC2) will work fine on a managed 1 Gbps network switch. But be aware that any SDVoE (Software Defined Video over Ethernet) equipment will require 10 Gbps on each port, usually accompanied by 40 Gbps or 100 Gbps uplinks to support the full bandwidth of the ports used.

What type of PoE switch is needed?

Determine which devices can be powered or require PoE (Power over Ethernet). There are different standards of PoE, so they are not all the same, and it is important to ensure that sufficient power is supplied to the activated device. Does the PoE switch apply power to all ports or select ports only? Always check the PoE class/requirement of the receiving device (PoE = 15.4 Watts, PoE+ = 30 Watts, PoE++ = 60 or 90 Watts depending on Type 3 or 4, respectively), and plan a cumulative total power budget which will support all devices. When you see a switch rated for 300 watts, you can connect up to about 20 PoE devices, 10 PoE+ devices, or 3 PoE++ devices. Dividing the Switch’s total power budget by the device’s cumulative power consumption will help you determine what you need, and remember to always leave some room for overhead.

Finally, let’s not forget the aesthetics of the incredible audiovisual system that has just been built. In the equipment rack, tidy cabling and neatly stacked hardware black boxes are neatly lined up for a clean, organized look. Having ports on the front or back of the switch is a big deal, and your cabling and rack fabrication techs will thank you for selecting these AV switches with customizable port locations.

There are many things to consider when choosing a specific switch from a manufacturer. It’s not just about the features; it is support with dedicated resources. So don’t overlook one of the most important components of a networked AV system, as it could mean the difference between a successful deployment and a problematic project.


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