“Device Interoperability and Control Protocols — A Current Perspective” was the fancy name for what has been known as the annual PLASA Control Protocols Breakfast. This PLASA Technical Resources-sponsored workshop was held Tuesday morning, September 14, before the PLASA trade show floor opened and was an opportunity for attendees to hear updates on the E1.11 (DMX512-A), BSR E1.17 (ACN), and BSR E1.20 (RDM) standards projects. It also allowed attendees, who were mostly from the UK and Europe, to meet some of the people from that side of the Atlantic who are involved in these ESTA-sponsored undertakings and to find out how they can become involved themselves. Seventy-two people attended, with the vast majority indicating on the attendance sheet that they would like to attend a similar session sooner than the next PLASA trade show.
The principal presenters were Wayne Howell of Artistic Licence, Richard Lawrence of Strand Lighting, Philip Nye of Engineering Arts, and Peter Willis of Howard Eaton Lighting. ETC's Dan Antonuk and Steve Terry, who are, respectively, the ACN project leader and one of the chairmen for ESTA's Control Protocols Working Group, were present to help answer questions, as was I as ESTA's technical standards manager.
Willis started the session with an update on the E1.11 DMX512-A standard. He outlined the major changes from the original USITT DMX512/1990 and described the current efforts on writing DMX512 cabling standards and the creation of an informational recommended practice document. I gave an update on E1.11's status as an American National Standard, which, as this is being written, is pending. (ANSI approval can take anywhere from two weeks to three months).
Howell gave an update on the BSR E1.20 (RDM) project, describing how it is meant to work on existing DMX512 networks while adding the features of being able to discover what equipment is on a network, to remotely change DMX starting addresses, and to request status reports. He described how the standard has been pared down from its last public review to expedite solidifying the core features.
Lawrence and Nye described the progress with the BSR E1.17 (ACN) project. Although prototype equipment has been shown running draft 1 versions of ACN, it is a largely theoretical construct of a suite of interoperability protocols. The ACN task group is working on refining the protocols in response to the comments from the last public review and is also writing specific advice on how they might be implemented in particular networking environments.
The meeting had an ambitious agenda that included discussions of how to increase European involvement in the standards process and the value of ANSI and IEC designations on standards, but the hour and a half allotted didn't allow time for this as well as the project updates and the inevitable questions about patents. Nevertheless, the session was successful and supported the overall goals outlined in PLASA's May announcement of the reorganization of the PLASA Standards Office into the PLASA Technical Resources Office.
The May 2004 issue of PLASA Standards News announced the reorganization of the office, turning it from a source of information about existing or developing standards to a center helping PLASA's constituents to work together on domestic and international standards issues. The presentations by Howell, Lawrence, Nye, and Willis — all British — made the UK participation in ESTA's Technical Standards Program obvious and encouraged others to join. (Several working group applications were waiting for me when I returned to the ESTA office the following week.) Another meeting in the UK in about six months will help people develop a consensus about what their interests are in standards development. The entertainment technology industry isn't a national industry. It's global, and industry members must reach beyond national borders to develop standards that work for all of us.
Karl G. Ruling is ESTA's technical standards manager.