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Interview: David Chiappini of Matrox on the transition to AVoIP

We speak to David Chiappini, research and development VP at Matrox Graphics, about the technologies, demand drivers and issues around the transition to AV over IP.

How long have you personally been involved in AV over IP technology?

I’ve been at Matrox since 1994 – I’m pretty much part of the furniture – and I started working on AVoIP in 2008. Matrox has been involved in all forms of uncompressed, lightly compressed and high-efficiency video compression from the very start, but 2008 was really our big launch.

How mature do you feel AVoIP technology is currently?

The technology on which it’s based is probably considered ancient by technology standards. The technologies for streaming, like H.264 for example, have been around for more than 10 years; AEC encoding has been around for many years; streaming protocols, for the most part, have been around for much longer than that. The technology itself is very mature.

It’s not a technology maturity issue: if there’s anything that’s slowing things down, it’s the knowledge gap, and the learning curve for the industry to catch up.

There’s also a substantial technology gap between different products on the market. That’s why it’s really important to pick the right partner who really knows what they’re doing.

How do you see the growth in demand for AV-over-IP solutions? Has it been slow and steady growth, or has it suddenly taken off in recent years/months?

I would say growth has been progressively steady. We haven’t seen it hockey-sticking, but at a good rate year over year. That’s probably the best way to describe it.

What do you see as the main drivers behind that increase in demand?

I think it’s being driven by people wanting to work differently. With compressed video and IP, there’s a lot more flexibility. IP can reach any number of instances, whether they’re mobile, distributed via the cloud, internet, worldwide. Today, with just a few very simple solutions, we’re able to handle a lot of the different things people want to do.

If I want to consume data on a screen, on a tablet, on a phone; if I want to record it for later use, or I want to distribute it to 10,000 people who are in different countries – there’s no limitation to what you can do. All those things are driving the need for AV over IP.

Surprisingly, perhaps, you don’t really need a lot of new technology. H.264 is supported in almost everything. There’s a refrigerator at my local furniture store that supports H.264 streaming. It’s everywhere. In the near future, you’ll have things like HEVC and VP10 and AV1: they offer lower bitrates, so there will be some movement towards those as time passes – but the big installed base, the one that makes it easiest to reach the largest number of people with the smallest equipment footprint, is still H.264-based.

Are you saying that future technology in this area will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary – there’s nothing coming that will suddenly unleash massive demand?

The big, big leap is to move from a hard-wired, fixed, proprietary, analogue solution today to IP – and that can be done with H.264. H.264 has permeated every fabric. The others will get there, but they’re still in the growth stages – and even when they come online, they’re not going to be as revolutionary at enabling new things. They’ll be incremental improvements.

What do you see as the downsides of moving towards a networked AV environment?

First, I should say that it’s important to respect the fact that there’s no one type of solution that fits everyone’s needs.

The old equipment that’s controllable by legacy AV processors will continue to exist. That said, there’s no feature that can be achieved with those legacy approaches that can’t be matched by IP today.

There’s maybe a learning curve as we migrate towards these new solutions. People were very familiar with the old solutions, and that familiarity tends to drive people back to them. The reality is that, until that learning curve has been surmounted and they’ve gained some experience and confidence with AV over IP, there’s going to be a little bit of reluctance to move in that direction.

People need to start those pilot projects and get themselves moving and start upgrading their skillsets. They’re realising that there’s so much to gain by moving to IP that they’re moving over, little by little, and becoming adopters.

I don’t really see the downsides of moving to a networked AV environment. I just see a little bit of reluctance from people to want to take that step, but once they’re in there, they reap the rewards of moving into something that’s much more flexible.

You mentioned earlier about the need to choose partners carefully. Can you expand on that?

In the AV world, there are still plenty of people who maybe still aren’t far up that learning curve and are trying to learn while putting out a product. You’ve got to make sure you’re choosing companies with proven, established product lines that are really solid. Take Matrox, for example. We’ve been around for 40 years.

Building products that are based on open standards and that are interoperable allows the user to protect themselves. For example: if Matrox went out of business, or you didn’t like Matrox products, you already have an installed base – so you can keep it and add on someone else’s products. You wouldn’t need to get rid of all that equipment and install something new.

Our philosophy is to build an interoperable product and base our return on investment on the customer saying they had such a great experience, they’ll come back again. That really should be the way we protect the investment of our customers.

Do you have any specific advice for integrators who are looking to move to AV over IP who maybe haven’t started yet?

Well, if you haven’t started yet, you’re definitely late to the game.

The most important thing is to invest in some formal training to accelerate the learning curve. There’s a ton of resources out there to help you do that. If there’s free training provided by suppliers, take advantage of it. Paid training might also be very valuable to make sure you understand the products.

Then, try and find yourself some smaller projects that you can tackle and cut your teeth on – projects that will drive your company, forcing you to climb that hill. Don’t try and tackle something too big right off the bat; pick smaller programmes for the first few so that you build your confidence.

Tell me about how Matrox fits into the AV-over-IP world.

There are three segments in our product line that are very IP-focused. First, we have the Maevex family of AV over IP encoders and decoders designed for enterprise use. These are appliances or boards that fit into systems that support multi-channel up to 4K/30 and 4K/60. They come with software that allows users to set up, control, manage, switch, tune for bit rates and so on for more advanced users – or the software can just make it simple for people who don’t necessarily need to tweak the detail.

Our encoders/decoders also come with libraries to enable users to build out custom features that weren’t in our mainstream vision, but that individual users might need. We allow a deep level of customisation for those who want to take advantage of the software control mechanisms that we’ve built in.

We also have our Mura videowall line-up that’s also enabled by IP. Mura is not just about stretching a single surface across many screens – it’s a real videowall processor technology that can bring in hundreds of streams for big data visualisation, or smaller systems for multiviewers.

Third, we’ve just announced a KVM over IP based product. Traditionally, KVMs are over a proprietary medium, but our KVM over IP allows multichannel 4K, 4K/60, multichannel HD – all in true, pixel-accurate 4:4:4 quality, and all running on standard IP networks. It really makes it very cost-effective. In terms of quality, it’s based on proprietary Matrox technology, implementing open standards. We’re very excited about the KVM product, which we’re able to demo now. It will ship at the end of the year.

Do you think that networked AV will completely replace point-to-point connections, or do you think there are some sectors and applications that will stick with point-to-point?

Other than absolutely extreme niche applications, I believe everything will be replaced by AV networks. Even point-to-point stuff will end up going over IP for the most part. On IP, you can offer everything from the lowest latency for uncompressed video all the way through to distribution to 10 million people simultaneously.

It’s just a question of how long it will take for people to move their applications over. The reality is, there’s so much to gain by having your application run on IP – which means it absolutely will be the winner, even though it may take a few years. IP is just everywhere at this point for everything – it’s permeated everything we do.

There’s no question about ‘will it?’ or ‘will it not?’ It absolutely will replace traditional point-to-point. It’s only a question of when.