Diversification can be a tricky move in any business. Companies often want to maximise their potential for making profit by expanding beyond the core that established them and move into other markets. At the same time they don't want to dilute or even jeopardise what it was that made them successful in the first place.
In audio over the years manufacturers have moved on from modules and processors to full consoles or tape recorders, with varying degrees of success. This is partly because in the days of analogue starting a new product line, with all the attendant production processes and building of components, was costly and time-consuming. The digital age has made the transition somewhat easier, first through the implementation of solid state technology and now by using IT techniques.
There's still no guarantee that parallel expansion will work, though. Even for successful and long-established companies, launching a new range of products outside its existing lines can almost be like starting all over again; dealing with the established competition and convincing the market that the new products are as good as those already being made by the company. Or that they're necessary at all.
German manufacturer Lawo is well known for its mixing consoles and has built up strong user bases in both the live TV and radio markets. Recently it surprised the industry by producing an audio editor - again for radio - and, announced at IBC 2013, an IP-based, networked commentary system.
But Lawo took what would be thought to be an even grander change in direction two years ago when it introduced the V__pro8 video processor. This eight-channel digital unit was intended as a "glue" device, connecting different video formats and, according to its promotional material, closing the gap between video and audio. The V_pro8 has now been joined by the V__link4 (pictured), described as an "all-in-one-box solution for video-over-IP contribution".
The growing V__line range is designed by former Grass Valley R&D engineers working with Lawo. "These guys aren't kids," comments Andreas Hilmer, Lawo's director of marketing and communications, adding that "this is serious video", presumably in case anyone does doubt the audio company's commitment to the new venture.
Hilmer acknowledges that Lawo has taken "a huge step" to pursue the further integration of audio and video. "We are more known as an audio company," he says, "but as both audio and video go in an IP direction we are looking at both." Hilmer adds that a key element in the coming together of sound and pictures - at least in terms of carrying it round facilities and between locations - is the now standard use of embedded audio with video.
Where the V__pro8 is an 8 x 8 video matrix and a 384 x 384 audio matrix, the V__link4 takes some of those feature sets and combines them with Video over IP coding, test functions and general processing. On the video side it has four 3G/HD/SD/SD-SDI inputs and outputs, as well as two 10Gbit and four 1Gbit Ethernet ports. All video is encoded using the IP layer 3 standard. For audio the V__link4 has connections for both MADI and Ravenna, the Audio over IP format developed by Lawo's associated company, ALC NetworX. It offers two surround to stereo downmixers for each of its embedders and a Dolby E aligner, together with quadsplit, multiviewer, waveform and vectorscope display.
Lawo sees the V__link4 as particularly suited to remote live TV production, getting low latency, good quality video from locations to studio centres. It is also seen as useful for carrying video from stage boxes in venues to outside broadcast trucks. Hilmer says these need to be carried out over managed networks to ensure reliability and adequate bandwidth but that this is where the broadcast market appears to be heading for both audio and video.
"There is no real cabling any more," he concludes, "so there is a lot of streaming being used so that people can connect from anywhere to a network between various devices. It's very convenient."
Video and audio continue to have very specific requirements in terms of transmission and processing but with IP and IT technologies narrowing the gap between them perhaps more manufacturers will be taking the lead of companies like Lawo and make products for both disciplines.