Deciding to invest in your stadium comes with inherent risks: some impacting finances and some impacting reputation.
One of the technologies I’ve explored is Dante by Audinate, which is a combination of software, hardware and network protocols designed to support audio transmission over IP. (“Dante” is an acronym for “digital audio network through ethernet.”) I’ve seen Dante listed as an option on more specifications and have noticed an increasing number of integrators choosing it, so I wanted to learn more about it.
Dante is a proprietary solution at the hardware (primarily at the chip level) and software levels. It has made the transmission of audio signals on an IP network pretty easy to do. As a result, Dante is gaining tremendous popularity. (We aren’t focusing on the benefits of Dante in this blog, but start here if you want to learn more.)
What I really wanted to learn more about was the cabling to support this technology. (After all, I’m a cabling guy!) On the surface, if you know anything about Dante, the cabling needed to support it seems simple and straightforward.
For most Dante systems, all you need is a 1G Ethernet network. Per standards – for distances under 330 ft/100 m – this would only require a Category 5e cable (fiber for distances longer than that). While this is true, there are a few factors you may want to consider before going this route.
No. 1: Headroom
Consider upgrading to at least a Category 6 cable – even though, per standards, only a Category 5e solution is needed.
Here’s why: Compared to Category 5e, there is a tremendous amount of headroom in a Category 6 cable. This margin can cover other under-performing systems and help extend the life of the installation. More headroom gives you the ability to transmit data quickly and accurately, along with continued performance when cables encounter environmental issues, crosstalk or noise.
No. 2: Power
Another cable consideration involves power. Several Dante-enabled manufacturers take advantage of Power over Ethernet (PoE), which carries data and electrical power over an Ethernet cable.
For effective PoE performance, a key factor is cable conductor size. The more copper in a cable, the more power it can handle. Most Category 6 cables utilize a 23 AWG conductor; most Category 5e cables are only 24 AWG.
In addition, if you’re considering power, look for a cable that is rated for power. The National Electrical Code (NEC) has new code requirements around bundle sizes for systems requiring more than 60W of power. If a Dante system (or any PoE system) is pushing this power limit, you could be required to follow these bundle sizes or invest in an LP-rated cable.
UL introduced the Limited Power (LP) certification to address concerns about cable temperature rise in PoE applications. Selecting a cable with LP certification ensures safe operation without exceeding jacketing temperature ratings.
No. 3: Futureproofing
Although we’ve covered why Category 6 is a better option than Category 5e in a Dante application, you should also consider the opportunity to upgrade to Category 6A in these situations.
Although cabling is usually one of the least expensive components of an AV installation, it also happens to be one of the most expensive components to upgrade or replace later when you need more bandwidth or headroom for new technology being deployed.
A Category 6A system offers all the benefits listed above – lots of headroom and safe, efficient power transmission – plus the ability to support 10G Ethernet for long-term futureproofing.
No. 4: Cable Robustness
Dante technology is often installed in venues where network cabling isn’t always found, such as touring shows, concerts and large entertainment sites. Network cable is typically designed for permanent installation inside a building, but many of these applications can be temporary or movable. Because of this, the flexibility and robustness of your cable becomes even more important.
For example, Belden manufactures specialty category cables designed to handle repeated pulling, flexing, bending and crushing. Our CatSnake™ Cables are built to lie flat on a stage (some even have matte-finish jackets so they don’t reflect stage lighting). The cables can even be coiled and uncoiled repeatedly without performance issues.
No. 5: Connectivity
As we talk about cable for Dante deployment, it’s important to remember connectivity, too.
RJ45 plugs are notorious for causing AV installation problems. The reason for this? It comes down to cheap tooling and the “ice-cube plug” (proven to be less reliable than field-mount plugs, regardless of the manufacturer, and one of the top causes of device malfunction).
One way around this is to upgrade to a plug that terminates like a jack. Belden’s REVConnect® Connectivity line is a good example of this. These connectivity solutions can literally save AV installers hours of installation and troubleshooting time. Relying on a single termination method, REVConnect uses a universal termination core to simplify the process and reduce rework.
Another factor to keep in mind: Some Dante-enabled manufacturers haven’t left much room for installers to insert an RJ45 plug – whether it’s due to the degree of the angle required to connect the plug, a tight installation space or the type of mounting bracket used.
Our REVConnect FlexPlug was invented to solve this very problem. After hearing from customers about their frustrations with juggling regular and angled plugs – and still not being able to connect devices in some cases – we created one plug to work with any device that connects to the network via an RJ45 plug. The REVConnect FlexPlug can be deployed in applications where the size of a typical field-terminated plug inhibits direct connection to IoT devices due to size and cable routing constraints.
One final thought about jacks and plugs: Lots of Dante-enabled equipment can be installed in the ceiling. These spaces are often considered air plenums, which means they require fire-rated/plenum-rated cables, jacks and plugs that are fire resistant, nontoxic and have smoke and low-flame characteristics.
Your Next Dante Project
On the surface, cabling for a Dante system sounds easy enough. And it is … if you only follow the requirements set forth by the technology and don’t do any investigating on your own.
Belden can help you make the right cable and connectivity choices for your Dante application to avoid potential performance issues and streamline the installation process. If you want to talk about your unique situation, send me a note. I’m happy to help!
Bob has been in the cabling industry since 1994, and has worked for Belden since 2004. Based in Dallas, Bob manages broadcast and AV sales in 13 states while also educating Belden-certified integrators and consultants about audio video and data communications standards and best practices. Bob has his BICSI-RCDD, InfoComm - CTS, Dante Level I and HDBaseT Certified Trainer credentials.