SVG Sit-Down: Riedel’s Renaud Lavoie on Rise of IP, How Embrionix Tech Factors Into Long-Term Plan
The comms provider’s portfolio gains IP hardware and software video solutions
In January 2020, Riedel Communications acquired Canada-based IP-video–processing provider Embrionix, strengthening its IP-enabled hardware and software solutions for video. With the deal, Riedel added miniaturized, high-density IP gateways, IP signal processors, and converters for broadcast-video applications to its portfolio. Since pioneering the use of small-form-factor pluggable (SFP) modules for signal processing early in its history, Embrionix has been granted more than 20 patents for its technologies.
With the Embrionix slate of products and engineering team now fully integrated into Riedel’s portfolio, SVG sat down with Riedel SVP, Technology, Renaud Lavoie, who was previously president/CEO of Embrionix. In this Q&A, he discusses his extensive experience in the broadcast industry, how Embrionix solutions are being integrated into Riedel’s offering, the transition from HD-SDI to IP, the growing role of the cloud for broadcasters, and developments he sees on the horizon for live sports production.
What is your background in the broadcast/video industry, and how did you get into the business?
I started my career as an electrical engineer in 2000, directly into the 2000 [economic] bubble and crash. I was a specialist in optical transponders. I sent résumés to my friends, and a few of them were at Miranda. Guess what, they were looking for an optical engineer to design an optical board for Densité. It was not the most successful product I did, but it was a start. Then I architected (hardware-wise) a multiviewer that you might remember: the Kaleido-X. It was a great product, and I had a lot of fun working on it. It was at that moment that I missed my startup buzz, so I decided to start my second business in service, and, in 2009, we started Embrionix.
What was the first product you developed?
My first product was very early in my career: I developed a solar car with a real “crazy” team in the university I was attending. It was a student project, but it turned out great. During my four years in university, I built three solar cars!
Tell us about the MuoN product and how it was born?
We started Embrionix with a goal to create pluggables for broadcast. [It was the] same concept as pluggables for IT equipment: every time we had a change in format — HD to 3G, in 2009 to UHD — we needed to redesign entire boards to accomplish this long and cumbersome process. We saw an opportunity to create a pluggable that you swap in depending on your own needs.
With the IP trend, [SMPTE standard] ST 2022-6, and TR03 (before ST 2110), we decided to invest all our resources on the new generation of standards. The bet paid off. We were the fifth member in AMWA. I remember, when we started participating in the interops, we were the David in the Goliaths group. It was fun, and we were really fast compared to them, and, because our products were plugged into the IP switches, we were always the first source and destination available during those events.
How much was your design ideas based on SMPTE-standard development, or was the thought born first and then validated by standards in development?
The extreme miniaturization was the initial uniqueness of our solutions, and our agility made us win good design and installations, such as CBC, NFL, Globosat, etc. We started our development when standards were not in SMPTE, like the VSF TR03; the NMOS was a draft. We were proud to be leading the pack and worked hard to keep our innovation at a high level. To answer your question, the interop between VSF members and NMOS members did validate our solution. After SMPTE was ratified, we made sure we were fully compatible.
How has joining the Riedel family changed or assisted the direction of the MediorNet IP (MN IP) products?
I see the Embrionix SFP as my creation. You want your creation to be visible to as many people as possible, and the acquisition by Riedel made this possible. We were just four salespeople, running all over the world, and we felt that we needed to do something about it.
We were in discussions about acquiring a business, but we had the opportunity to work with a more mature business, so, although the choice was hard, we finally decided that, for the future of our technology, this was the best move. The MN IP products portfolio will be increased and actualized, because, as you know, our technology is very complementary with the Riedel portfolio. This was definitely the decisive argument [for moving] in this business direction.
How has joining Riedel changed your role and freed you to further the evolution of broadcast-video technology?
For the first year after the acquisition, my role was to ensure that Embrionix was integrated into Riedel and that the Montreal team was pursuing the designs we had cooking, such as J2K, JPEG-XS, and a multiviewer inside the MuoN-B (Embrionix emSFP).
My role changed last November, when the R&D team in Montreal started reporting to our new R&D director at Riedel HQ and I started the technology-innovation lab inside Riedel to oversee the next trends in our market. In my new role, I have time to focus all my energy on the next generation of products for Riedel, which is different from my roles at Embrionix.
Like all other manufacturers in the market, we are seeing a move toward software and the cloud; there is no doubt there. But we are at a great place with our wireless beltpacks (Bolero) and with our small converters (Fusion-3 and Fusion-6). These converters will be a great complement to our core processing devices, which will be in software and cloud-ready.
Right now, it’s a “hybrid” SDI/IP world. What are your thoughts on the transition to a full IP workflow?
When I started Embrionix, some gurus from the broadcast world advised me not to do coaxial SFPs, because coax is dying — this was in 2009. Really? Fast forward to now, you still have a majority of SDI. IP doesn’t make SDI a bad standard. Especially if you just invested in SDI equipment, it makes no sense to throw it away. But, if we are starting a completely new building, studio, or remote location, it makes sense to look to IP.
Another reason in the past years was that control systems were not working easily with IP. Of course, we’re not out of the woods yet, but, with AMWA initiatives, the controllability of the devices is becoming more and more mature.
To clearly answer your question, though, I envision new green-field deployment beyond IP-centric, close to 100% IP. For changes in an SDI installation, this can be a great place for a hybrid installation.
As more and more devices (cameras, recorders, switchers, etc.) are put directly onto the network, will the role of gateways become less important? How do you see MN IP adapting to this future world? What processing needs (UDX, multiviewers, color correction, playout, etc.) will still exist?
Our MN IP products are software-defined, and, during the last two years, the team worked on evolving the gateway codes to follow the standards and add features such as NMOS IS-08. At the same time, we are bringing to the market the new full IP-to-IP processing apps. This means that people that bought our UHD-ready gateways are now able to change the software from a standard gateway to JPEG-XS–to–ST 2110, J2K–to–ST 2110, UDX, 16-pips multiviewer, and more to come.
How do you envision the growing role of the cloud in live-broadcast workflows (especially for sports), which is currently an uncompressed/lossless world with minimal delay?
With the recent improvement in the codecs, like JPEG-XS and low-latency ones and use of HPC [high-performance computing] available in the cloud, the cloud is closer to us than before.
The thing is that low latency is a problem not only for broadcast. [Financial technology], with high-frequency trading, needed this HPC [long] before us, and a lot of money is at stake. The HPC market is expected to reach $45 billion by 2022 (per Oracle White Paper “HPC on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure”). By utilizing HPC systems in the cloud, we can have cloud with small delay and high quality and visually lossless with the new codecs. There is also a way to have uncompressed video to the cloud, if someone is [is willing to] pay for it.
What other major technological developments do you see on the horizon for live sports production (and for the broadcast industry as a whole)?
We have been present in various sports and events, and we are seeing more and more IoT and sensors being used to report information, vital signs from the athletes, and equipment. The trend has already started with augmented reality, and, by combining IoT wearables, this could bring a great experience.