Vendor Content.

Multiformat I/O: Advantages Of Using SFP Modules In Broadcast Video Equipment

As a video equipment manufacturer, how do you decide which combination of input and output formats to include in your products? As you finalize your design specification, do you have a hard time justifying all the different IO options that broadcasters might want?

It’s a common problem. Some customers are fully IP already, while others require SDI or fiber or … HDMI? How many different input and output flavors are really needed? It’s certainly too expensive to have them all, and you probably can’t fit all the various connectors anyway.

What if you didn’t have to choose – what if someone made interchangeable modules that are cost effective and provide every format your customers desire? Would that free up your engineers to focus on the ‘core functionality’ of the cool new product they are designing, without having to work on several types of I/O or worry about what happens if one of them, such as SDI, becomes obsolete?

So Many I/O Formats…

There are a plethora of input and output formats used in the broadcast equipment marketplace. Existing equipment uses SDI (over Coax or Fiber at various bitrates), HDMI, IP of varying capacity such as 10G and 25G … and the IP can have various transport protocols as well such as ST 2022-6 and ST 2110. And let’s not forget audio formats such as AES67 and MADI. Cameras, video switchers, and routers have historically used SDI, but now many are offering IP interfaces. Servers and storage are using IP, with MADI connections to audio devices. On top of that, there are always updates to current protocols and potentially new I/O formats that will take hold in the industry. With all these potential possibilities it is difficult to know which one(s) to support on your new product.

Can Formats Change Or Go Obsolete?

What happens when those IO formats built into your device are no longer needed? Analog PAL/NTSC was superseded by SD-SDI, and then HD-SDI. A product with analog IO may have still been viable in the marketplace, but suddenly everyone wanted it with SDI. We face a similar challenge as IP bandwidth migrates from 10G to 25G. And what happens when higher bandwidth IP becomes the norm? As technologies evolve, how do you make sure your product has the latest and greatest?

This even happens with brand new technologies. You may have spent a year designing a product with native ST 2022-6 support, but by the time it came to market everyone has realized they really need ST 2110.

How Do You Test For Each I/O Possibility?

And with all these possible I/O variants, it is a burden to test the system with all the different formats. As protocols evolve and updates are made to various API’s, how do you ensure that the protocols are implemented correctly on your device? That not only requires internal testing, but also against external products to validate the system interoperability. It requires substantial resources not only to add an IP interface for product launch, but also to stay current with ever changing API’s, protocols, and revisions to the industry standards docs.

Are There Solutions Available Today?

It is usually not feasible to include every possible I/O in your product, but there are solutions today to work around the various requirements. You may design a chassis with interchangeable IO cards, and this is a popular choice. But it still takes engineering resources for each card, and it can complicate the overall design considerably. These interface cards are usually expensive, bigger than they need to be, and not ‘hot swappable’.

Another option is external conversion devices that can be inserted in the signal chain. This is not an elegant solution as it introduces additional points of failure and powering each converter can be problematic. It also takes up rack space and adds to installation and maintenance costs. Converters may be inexpensive individually, but the cost can add up if a large number of them are required. And these external converters may perform a static conversion, or not support all desired formats, which was the problem in the first place.

The Better Option To Make The I/O Swappable Or Interchangeable

A better option would be interchangeable I/O modules, which allow a manufacturer to provide a wide range of cost effective I/O options that could easily adapt to customer requirements today and as they evolve. As the ports would be swappable, they would not require duplicate space or power as opposed to providing an additional dedicated port. In addition, the I/O would become abstracted from the product, which is fitting as most I/O is not greatly differentiated from vendor to vendor. Then the functionality and the core design could be the focus, knowing that the product could work with SDI over coax or fiber, HDMI or IP, etc. 


Faster Time To Market With Lower R&D Costs

The simplest way of adding swappable interfaces is with an SFP module from Embrionix. Designing SFP cages into a product requires very little engineering resources; a manufacturer can significantly reduce the hardware costs and still provide all the different interfaces requested by customers.

An HDMI input or output built into the product, for example, adds manufacturing costs and may only be used by 10% of the customers. Consequently, since the I/O is built in, it is hard to charge for it as an option, so the base product is more expensive for all customers. As an alternative, the cost to add an SFP cage is very low, and an HDMI module can be sold separately to customers who require it.

With the use of SFPs, the product can easily be tailored to meet each individual customer’s needs.

With IP interfaces, staying up to date with advancements of standards and APIs requires a lot of time and money. Embrionix participates in all ‘compatibility lab’ exercises and implements new standards consistently as they are adopted by the industry. By utilizing the SFP solution from Embrionix, manufacturers significantly reduce their learning curve, development costs, and the time to market. Since our SFP's are SMPTE compliant, they would not require any additional qualification for your I/O.

What Does This Enable Product Wise?

Embrionix offers a wide range of interchangeable SFP modules, with full size BNC, dual HD-BNC or DIN connectors, duplex LC fiber, optical IP, HDMI, composite video (NTSC/PAL), and MADI – with 3G and 12G varieties for video. These can be single or dual channel, transmitters, or receivers – or transceivers. Extra processing functions are available, such as reclockers, relay bypass, internal loopback, or a 3-way distribution amp. The IP processors support encapsulation and de-encapsulation of ST 2022-6 or ST 2110 with an optional frame synchronizer and ‘make before break’ clean switching.

By using an SFP the overall costs are lowered. In turn, the product will be more attractive to customers as it can be configured with their exact I/O requirements and be flexible enough to be easily reconfigured in the field as needed – and will even be “hot swappable” (without turning off the whole system, a disadvantage of most product specific IO cards). One SFP cage can provide the requested I/O, while a group of cages can support multiple configurations … exactly what your customers want. And as a bonus, the product will remain relevant for years longer.

Private Branding

You may want the product to appear to be proprietary or made in-house. All Embrionix SFP’s can be ‘private labelled’ with your company’s logo and part number. This also includes the manufacturer's part ID programmed into the A0H register. This allows you as a manufacturer to (optionally) program your systems to work with your own private labelled parts and reject all others.

David Workman, Global OEM Sales Manager, Embrionix.

David Workman, Global OEM Sales Manager, Embrionix.


As the number of I/O options grow and continue to evolve, the benefits of adding SFPs to your solution grows. The savings in both time and money are hard to ignore and the ability of your teams to focus on their designs as opposed to focusing on tedious standards, APIs and the testing to ensure they work properly, is immeasurable.

With the additional benefit of software defined applications that can be added to the IP SFPs, the design possibilities are endless.

Embrionix products are sold exclusively to equipment manufacturers under OEM sales agreements. Our parts are not available to end users, resellers, rental houses or system integrators – so your margins as a manufacturer are protected. If you or your team are interested in learning more, please reach out to [email protected] or visit us at