Frequently Asked Questions about RƎLAY Virtual Radio Mixer Technology
RƎLAY products are shipping now. You can purchase online directly from the RƎLAY Web Shop, or from the Lawo dealer in your country.
Software apps from RƎLAY Partners will be available during the first part of 2017.
It’s possible. But first, the tools we use in the studio – codecs, phone systems, stream encoders and all the rest – need to be moved out of the hardware domain and become pure software. Once all these things have been set free of the box and become applications or services, we can run those apps locally, or from the cloud. This is not really such a hard thing to do — nearly all modern broadcast hardware is software-based already. In fact, many of them have a PC behind their fancy front panels.
We’re not implying it – we’ll state it as fact! Software can actually do <i>more </i>than hardware is capable of.
Consider: hardware devices are only as powerful as the chips they’re built around. Those chips have a set array of functions that can’t be added to or expanded, so implementing new features or capabilities is hard, if not impossible. That’s why there’s a constant upgrade cycle: if you want new features, you have to buy a new box.
PCs, on the other hand, are very powerful, and don’t run hard-coded routines. You can update their software to add new features rather easily. (Just think about how often the apps on your smartphone get updated.) And CPU power keeps doubling about every two years, so once we’ve turned the tools broadcasters use into software running on commodity computers, that software can easily change, evolve and grow along with the needs of your station.
Today’s PCs are fantastic at DSP. In fact, Intel’s Core i7 chips are so powerful that they’ve replaced embedded designs in Military and Aerospace applications.
But radio studios don’t use all that DSP power. We only let our studio PC play audio files! Perhaps this is just inertia — after all, back in 2000 when we replaced our carts, CDs, DAT tapes et cetera with playout automation, that single-core Pentium III was running at top speed just to play 4 WAV files at once.
But today’s off-the-shelf PC is about 350% faster. So your playout computer is loafing – literally wasting clock cycles. We say: let’s use that untapped power! Let’s move everything into the PC. When you think about it, all of the tools we use every day already accomplish their tasks with DSP:
- Remote codecs.
- Multi-caller phone systems.
- Microphone processors.
- Profanity delays.
- Live streaming encoders.
- Audio loggers.
- Final audio processing.
- The mixing console!
RƎLAY enables you to dump all of those heavy, power-sucking, rack-space-eating, budget-busting broadcast tools that used to require dedicated boxes, turn them into software apps, and run them all at once on a standard PC.
Benefit: besides costing less, you’re freed forever from the racks, the miles of discrete copper, the Ethernet cables, the conduit and cable trays, the network switches, the utility bills, and the maintenance headaches that go along with them.
That’s how the RƎLAY approach is different.
Yes! Once a product becomes an app, or a service that runs on your PC in the background, it opens the door to virtualization — software apps running on commodity hardware. This enables you to build studios with far less cost and complexity.
Because radio studios are very similar to recording studios, and virtualization has already revolutionized the way recording studios are built.
In the early ‘80s, recording studios had racks full of hardware to sweeten, process and manipulate audio, all funneled through huge, costly mixing consoles with fader counts that boggled the mind. But when they began migrating to digital, computers emerged to take center stage, and Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) replaced multi-track recording and editing.
DAWs evolved and their computer hosts became more powerful, and DSP effects plugins were introduced to extend and enhance their functionality. DAWs weren’t confined to recording, editing and playback anymore; they could also host software versions of familiar studio tools.
Today, these DAWs are so powerful that they can run hundreds of tracks of digital audio, all being processed, squeezed, synchronized, sweetened, auto-tuned and mixed at the same time — using ordinary computers.
We realized that if recording can do this, radio can too. What makes it possible is software DSP tools, coupled with staggeringly powerful off the shelf computers — like the playout PC that’s already at the core of your studio.
This may come as a shock, but all your eggs are already in that basket. 95% percent of your programming content already comes from your playout system! If your playout PC fails, your content goes with it. And if that happens, you have a contingency, right? You fix the PC, or switch to a backup playout computer. With virtualized RƎLAY studios, you’ll do exactly the same thing if needed. Virtualizing your studio is no riskier than automating your content.
What we’re proposing is using virtualization to take advantage of the unused power of your playout PC by moving more apps into it, in order to save money and reduce system complexity.
Most modern broadcast devices already have software at their core, wrapped in expensive rack-mount boxes with fancy control panels. Moving their functions into the playout PC you already have will save a lot of money compared to the cost of keeping them housed in those expensive, dedicated boxes.
It’s time to upgrade! No one has repealed Moore’s Law — the cost of computing power continues to fall even as available power rises. The following chart shows the dramatic, continuing rise in the number of transistors per CPU chip, courtesy of Karl Rupp, a computational scientist who’s worked at the Argonne National Laboratory and Vienna University of Technology:
Furthermore, the performance/cost ratio has continued to rise, so that the newest CPUs deliver more computing power even when the relatively higher price of new designs is considered, as this chart from computing technology analysis site Anandtech illustrates:
Strictly speaking, dematerialization is the science of using less to produce more. In practical terms, it’s the smartphone in your pocket: a portable computing device that replaces a multitude of other things. The graphic at right, from the Cato Institute, illustrates just a few of the everyday items that have been virtualized by smartphones. We broadcasters have devised even more: audio analyzers, sound pressure meters, engineering calculators, even speaker angle optimizers.
RƎLAY is an excellent example of dematerialization. Using a standard PC, the RƎLAY environment enables you to virtualize activities that used to require hardware: mixing audio, taking phone calls, connecting to on-location remotes, processing audio, encoding webstreams and more. Just as with your smartphone, software apps take the place of separate hardware for a smoother, more seamless experience – and a less costly one as well.
In the analog days, studios used multiple pairs of copper wires to connect broadcast devices. AoIP revolutionized broadcasting by converting audio and control into data packets, transported over Ethernet using the same IP technology that powers the Web. AoIP allowed devices to work better together, with tighter control and easy point-to-multipoint audio sharing, but it still relied on physical cables (albeit fewer of them) to tie everything together.
We call RELAY “AoIP 2.0” because it allows an even more seamless integration of audio tools, moving broadcasting’s toolkit from physical devices to software apps. All the parts of a studio are still connected by IP, but it’s done inside a single PC, in a virtual environment. AoIP 2.0 is a logical evolution: bringing the devices together under one virtual roof, further reducing capital expense and enhancing talent workflow. Eventually, radio studios might become SaaS solutions – Software as a Service – running on server farms and hosted in the cloud.
There are different kinds of clouds – public, shared, and private. You could choose any of them — or stick with a local installation. With RƎLAY you’re free to choose the infrastructure that suits you best.
But a cloud-hosted platform could allow us to do some very cool things. Imagine multiple copies of your studio – with the mixer and all of its audio peripherals running in software on a private cloud server. You could:
- Build your ideal studio and clone it to provide identical radio production environments to multiple studios or stations.
- Enable talent to run shows remotely, with complete control of all audio and devices.
- Load and run multiple concurrent “virtual” studios, managed by a hypervisor watchdog that instantly switches from main to backup in case of a problem.
And there are likely plenty of uses we haven’t even thought of yet.