Not too far from the acclaimed Large Hadron Collider, where scientists pursue the sub-atomic mysteries of matter itself, French digital audio pioneer Digigram continues to bring a similarly granular approach to all of its markets. Sound engineers may not need a Higgs boson just yet, but you can be sure that if they ever do Digigram will be on hand to create an application for it.
Digigram spent the '90s helping to convert the radio industry from analogue to digital, and then embarked upon live sound - introducing several software packages and networking solutions to an audience just discovering digital mixing consoles, loudspeaker management systems and DSP. But while expanding into new markets, all of Digigram's core businesses have continued to thrive. Today, MD Philippe Delacroix surveys an increasingly complex order book with customers ranging from broadcasters and studios to PA companies, installers and, above all, the new breed of systems integrators.
Then there is an important new focus on audio distribution over IP, billed by Digigram as "the new backbone of the telecommunications industry". Just as EtherSound became the key to Digigram's success in the live sound industry, offering time-strapped engineers a fast and simple plug-and-play solution, IP could be the means by which the company consolidates its non-OEM portfolio in broadcast.
"The experience of EtherSound has helped us to really understand customer needs," says Delacroix. "It took us to the application level, as a manufacturer, providing both the technology and the interfaces - the finished goods. By doing that we've been more and more exposed to end users and integrators, and we've become much more solutions-orientated."
This has reinvented Digigram's broadcast profile. Firstly, Visiblu is Digigram's network audio operating system, with which broadcasters can use readily available IP to link sound card I/O and IP audio streaming protocols via Windows and Linux. It uses Digigram's own MPEG codecs as well as linear PCM audio to create bespoke, software-based contribution and distribution systems combined with audio mixing and effects processing. Secondly, IQOYA is a series of IP codecs, both hardware and software tools for manipulating IP audio transport in a broadcast production environment while connecting that environment to the worldwide IP infrastructure. They work in conjunction with an ever-increasing range of third party, Visiblu-compatible applications to build features as required.
Finally, the codecs can also be enhanced by third-party technology, such as APT's apt-X audio compression algorithms. As an optional upgrade for the whole IQOYA range, it's a very user-focused strategy that adds to a useful menu of audio formats, ranging from ISO MPEG Layer 2 and Layer 3, PCM linear, G711/722 and an AAC codec pack. All are either optional or standard according to requirements.
"We wanted to be an IP company as well as a networking company," continues Delacroix, "so we have engineered a whole new set of products for the broadcast market. Visiblu is a behind-the-scenes solution, but since then we've moved on to finished goods here as well. From the codecs, which connect remote locations and reporters, we're now looking at the radio production environment itself - including routing, mixing and so on. Step-by-step, we're addressing every aspect of broadcast with end-user products."
Expertise in IP, Delacroix believes, will stand the company in good stead in all future installation markets. PYKO is yet another IP end-point product, packaged for end-user consumption in all kinds of markets. "You can send a stream and decode a stream via the standard IP backbone," Delacroix points out, "so it's ideal for long-distance audio applications. For example, we've been awarded the contract to equip the system integrator IDMS - working on the station announcement systems throughout the entire French railway network - with the key IP elements: the end points and the Visiblu engine to route the streams for sound processing."
The migration from OEM to end-product manufacturing continues: currently the ratio is around 80:20 in favour of OEM. "We'd like that to be around 50:50 over time," reveals Delacroix. "We're growing the end user products on the back of the OEM business - where we have no conflict with the OEM clients, of course. To do this we're becoming more solutions-based, adapting our technology to fit real-world situations. The main markets in this respect will be fixed installation and broadcast, from radio to flight simulators, for example. In fact, aviation instruction is a key new market for us right now. They require a computer that can recreate all of the images and sounds of aeronautics, and we have some specific products for that."
This month Digigram is changing its distribution of end-user products in North and South America, as California-based Point Source Audio (PSA) becomes Digigram's 'master distributor' for all of these territories. That's a big switch, but it seems more than likely to take off.