How DVOX Founder Sebastien Boulanger Enables Audio For Public Screens, Without Using Speakers

March 6, 2024 by Dave Haynes

There are lots of reasons why digital signage and digital out of home ad networks don’t have audio – the biggest reason being that the majority of people (especially staff who are in that environment all day) don’t want to hear messages over and over.

Many speakers have been stabbed with forks or seen their audio cables snipped by workers who could not take it day after day.

But there also cases in which audio would be welcomed, and very useful.

There are different technologies out there that can enhance and complement the messaging on screens, and headset devices that can be borrowed or rented, so that audio can be added to things like museums and attractions or live sports events. The challenge is that the technology used might be old and limited, or the set-up requires maintaining, cleaning, charging and keeping track of a lot of hardware.

A Montreal company called DVOX is taking a different approach – making audio streams from live events and from screens available over local area networks and WiFi, so that anyone with a smartphone and headphones of some kind can launch a simple web app and start listening.

The primary markets, I think, are with big sporting events and conferences, but it’s also the sort of thing that has applications for digital signage and digital out of home. I spoke with DVOX president Sebastien Boulanger.

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Sebastien, thank you for joining me. I know very little about DVOX. Could you give me a rundown of what the company is? 

Sebastien Boulanger: DVOX is a fast-growing startup at the moment that is offering a new generation technology for live audio streaming purposes in several domains. 

How does it work?

Sebastien Boulanger: Easy enough. DVOX is taking and acquiring any analog audio source, that might be coming from a live microphone, sound desk, broadcasting trailer, audio extractor devices, or whatever you please. We’re acquiring analog audio input and then converting it to digital to stream it directly over the local area network, meaning that guests or visitors have to be connected to the right WiFi to be granted access to the audio stream.

We’re doing so that the stream goes out through a webpage, so the end user doesn’t have to install any mobile apps or whatever. It’s only a web browser page, basically. 

So the idea is you’re seeing stuff on a screen at whatever venue you’re in, whether it’s a sports bar or a sports stadium or some other place, you can basically hear the audio without, the having to crank the speakers to 11 for, that to happen?

Sebastien Boulanger: Yeah, that is correct. Let me give you a couple of examples here that might be helpful here. Let’s say you are in a sports bar, as you were just mentioning, and you have plenty of screens in front of you. So, which of those screens will be on the speaker boxes? So basically you can have ambiance, music, whatever for all the other guests, but if you feel like you want to hear a football match, you simply have to have the audio of that screen. 

So with DVOX what you can do is have all the different audio feeds running inside of the system And then by being connected to the right WiFi, you will be able to choose which audio feed you want to hear, so basically, through a regular webpage,, as simple as browsing, you have access to all of the audio feed that the venue is offering in live, in real-time. You only need a QR code to get onto the event page, and if you’re on the right WiFi, there you go; you have all the feeds. 

You’re using a smartphone and a web app to get this, as opposed to asking people to download our special app and go through a bunch of hoops? 

Sebastien Boulanger: Yeah, that is correct.

And that’s why we’re having a lot of pull these days in the sports industries, in the congress center industries as well, educational because any audio source can be streamed through WiFi. We’re just back from Detroit, where we’re showcasing our technology to a league, which is called the UFL, and in the meantime, we present it to the NFL Lions and the Active Forward Field, and basically, what these guys are offering is having a 60,000 seats venue with powerful WiFi coverage. So now, with DVOX, they can have any exclusive content because it’s not a broadcast. It’s a local stream. It’s a huge difference here. So basically, they can have any audio feed, and give it to all of the attendee’s, ticket owners that are inside of the building to have exclusive content.

So, while your eyes are looking at a football game, you can have an audio description, you can have a quarterback microphone, you can have a bench microphone, you can have anything you please, basically. 

As long as the organizer decides to make that available, you can capture it through your devices and then use it.

Sebastien Boulanger: Yeah, that is correct. Mainly what we’re doing is installing physically the device, the DVOX hardware piece of equipment next to the broadcasting trailer, let’s call it in the loading dock, if you please, because all the audio feeds run through that truck, basically broadcasting trailer. But before getting those streams to the sound desk and on air, we can have those same feeds and put them back in the venue for the guests that are attending. 

If we rollback a little bit of discussion to the digital signage here, just to give you another example, it might be helpful to understand with another example. Let’s say you are in an airport. So you are here two hours, three hours prior to your flight. You already have your headphones. There’s already WiFi in the airport, and there’s, I don’t know, in between 600-2000 screens all over the airport. All of those screens are on mute. But why? Because it would be a mess to try to have sound coming out of those. That’s for sure. 

So now, you have plenty of apps that could be available, and some of them are really neat. I’m not arguing these, but you might be a tourist with a foreign SIM card, not having a data plan or whatever. With DVOX, basically, you log into the WiFi, simply browse to the airport webpage that is offering sound, and if all of those are video feed or backed by an audio feed that the airport wants to give you, then all of a sudden you have access to the audio feed for all the screens without the need to install anything, no latency, and then, basically, you choose whatever you want to hear without reading the subtitles all the time. 

I travel a lot. I go through a lot of airports, and the quality of the WiFi varies pretty widely, from airport to airport, sometimes it’s amazing, and sometimes it’s dreadful. What kind of impact does introducing these audio streams to an airport that maybe already has as much demand as it can handle, what’s that going to do?

Sebastien Boulanger: That’s actually a really good question, and here’s one thing I would like to explain in detail here, if I may. WiFi is one thing, internet access is another one. So, in your example here, when you’re saying the WiFi is weak, is it the WiFi strength, the coverage, or the internet access? Because sometimes, the issue is not necessarily the strongness of the signal, meaning you have good reception over the WiFi antennas that are installed all over the airports. There are so few nets, but yeah, you’re right, sometimes the administrator just locks to a certain speed, the up and down traffic to avoid having a bottleneck to the networks for somebody with, I don’t know, streaming live or whatever. 

The thing is, with DVOX, when you are on to the WiFi, you simply download, if I could say, the visual of the event page. So, simply by browsing, you’re accessing a webpage. Same thing as when you are asking for, and you have the search bar popping in. So basically you only have a visual that’s coming in. But as soon as you click on play, all the audio feeds are kept local. Your cell phone has a direct path to the hardware, which is inside the building. So to answer your question, having slow internet is not even a problem as long as you have WiFi coverage, and even with only one bar of signal, that says we’re enough because we’re only carrying audio around on purpose.

So here, in that scenario, we are using 48 kilobits per second per user per listener. 48 kilobits is nothing. Those antennas are built to manage one gigabyte of data transfer. Everything stays local. So there is no round-time trip latency with the cloud or internet, whatever. So we have less than 0.04 seconds delay. So on the WiFi, it’s really light. 

Unlike if you’re trying to send video around, which should be very heavy on a network if there was a lot of demand, audio is nothing. 

Sebastien Boulanger: Yeah, absolutely. Plus I’d like to add that since we know that we are only audio for obvious reasons, all the web browsers are behaving the same way. And for any network, might it be public or private or whatever WiFi infrastructure, we are considered as voice over IP. So, therefore, there’s already pre-configured, quality of servicing because, of course, people sometimes are having Messenger calls or FaceTime or whatever. So the audio goes smoothly through any network, and all the web browsers, such as Safari, Chrome, Edge, whatever browser you might be using are behaving the same way because they think it’s a web radio. 

So you can kill your screen put your cell phone in your pocket and keep listening for hours without dragging down your battery. If we were to have video content or subtitles or video bumper or whatever, we would be having issues with being polyvalent with all the web browsers they are not behaving the same way. 

So this concept and need has been around for a while now. The idea that I wish I could hear what was on that screen, but they’ve kept the sound down for whatever reason, or I wish I could hear this or that. 

There have been other attempts in the past to do this sort of thing. I remember there was a little company called, Hear My Lips which is a god-awful name, but maybe that was part of the problem. But there’s been a few things out there. Technology advances this stuff, obviously. But I’ve also seen things like golf tournaments or other events where people have this weird little thing clipped onto one of their ears. That’s a remote speaker, it’s a hardware device that you have to have in order for you to hear specialized commentary or something.

You’re saying we can remove that equipment because you have a receiver in your pocket anyway, your smartphone and earbuds, and you’re good to go. 

Sebastien Boulanger: That is correct. And, I would like to compliment or answer that question with a brief history of DVOX. So being myself, a technical director in the show business industry for a while, at first I was asked to have instant translation over a large crowd, let’s say 2000+ guests at a corporate event back in 2015 and back then in 2015, there was still a lot of Blackberry in the market and it was a business conference.

So even the business people attending did not necessarily own their own cell phones. Remember the very beginning of the Apple smartphones, sometimes they were business phones, so they wouldn’t even be allowed to install. Plus the speakers, the keynote speakers, or themselves refracting the fact that their content might be going into the cloud. They didn’t want that because they just created or written a speech for this particular event without allowing us to have any content going to the cloud. 

That said back then, I only had infrared technology, which is great, but it’s an old-generation technology where you need to have dedicated receivers, landing counters, managing IP, installing radiators, and so on. So then what’s left, you have FM technology, which is behaving the same way, basically with a dedicated receiver. And you know as well as I do that all the FM frequencies are saturated, downtown, and it was a mass basically. So now by looking for a solution, I end up with apps that were out of the question.

So back in 2015, they said, okay, there’s nothing that is doing a simple thing, which is acquiring audio streaming live through a webpage. So then I asked around, and I decided to build it. So if I rolled back to your previous question, sorry for the long answer, you’re absolutely right. Any cell phone and/or an MP3 player, which is WiFi capable, iPad or anything that has a web browser that can be on the WiFi is, in fact, an actual receiver with DVOX. 

So that you may use your preferred headphones or your preferred Bluetooth devices that you already have configured with your cell phone and there you go, you have a new receiver. It’s really convenient. You don’t have to bother with having a dedicated piece of equipment. There’s no cumbersome stuff to install either. 

I was in the UK a few months ago on a working holiday and went to a couple of museums or places where you would pay to get in and walk around, and you could give them five pounds, and they would give you a headset device of some kind that streamed, and I thought they were great, but there’s a whole routine to cleaning them, making sure that they get them back. I’m sure there’s maybe not shrinkage because people aren’t really stealing them as much as just forgetting they have them, and they walk out and see them when they’re on the subway, and they decide, you know what, I’m not going all the way back with it, so they toss them. So it’s expensive, and there’s a lot of management involved. 

You’re saying with this, even in a museum setting, you could just use this instead of this hardware suite. 

Sebastien Boulanger: Absolutely, and then you don’t have to manage all the batteries that are going to be dying and people dropping their receivers. All your points were really valid ones. And, yeah, your cell phone is the only thing you need. 

I might add, just to a certain extent, how many cell phones, old cell phones, do you have in your, I don’t know, Gunther tray or how many devices do you still have at home from the past?

Four or five.

Sebastien Boulanger: Yeah, there you go. So even without a SIM card, they’re still accessing the WiFi, right? So even these old cell phone phones are actually working as a receiver for you. So in a museum environment, I know they do have a lot of schools coming in and younger visitors and stuff like that. So they might be willing to use it. In that sense, this is not an issue at all. Anything that is web-capable is an actual receiver. They may provide, or they can provide themselves, any MP3 player that’s WiFi capable, and all of a sudden, you have a visitor that can use their cell phone, and that’s it.

For an airport, for a museum, for a big sports stadium, those kinds of things, they’re going to have IT teams, they’re going to have telecommunications closets, IT closets, they’ve got all the stuff together, and the experience and qualifications to put something like this together. 

If it’s a sports bar or some sort of small to medium business environment like that, is this over their heads? Is this something that would be great, but they won’t even know where to start? 

Sebastien Boulanger: Oh, no, it’s so easy. Even when we went to the Australian Open at the beginning of the year in January to become a medium, it took 20 minutes. The hardest problem was to have the right feed out of the sound desk, basically over 20 minutes, we’re up and running.

Let’s put it that way, whenever you have audio content somewhere, you have the audio side that you can have access to, and you have a WiFi net, DVOX fits right in between. So, on a boot cycle, we’re up in about two minutes, and we’re already in your WiFi because we connected the network and then we plug in the analog audio feed. The only thing left is to match the volume, and that’s it. It’s really easy to understand and integrate. 

These are basically rack-mounted appliances, like 2U appliances, you just slide into a rack, and off you go? 

Sebastien Boulanger: Absolutely. You need a 2U rack space, and it’s super convenient for any rack because they are standard AV kind of dimensions. So this is not a huge rack and this is not a refrigerator that you have to deal with in your AV room. 

Yeah, so it would fit in most businesses, and it’s not a big footprint, too. 

Is it the sort of thing that a business owner could install, or are you doing this through resellers and integrators who would put this in for folks and manage it?

Sebastien Boulanger: That’s a kind of a two-way answer here. If I were to send you a device right now over FedEx or whatever you receive, I’m pretty sure that within, I don’t know, 15 minutes, you’ll be up and running.

As long as I have a hammer.

Sebastien Boulanger: I’m sure you won’t need it. You just need an Ethernet cable, not a hammer, and I’m positioning my company as an AV manufacturer here because we’re aiming for several markets, and several fields of usage, meaning digital signage, sports, hospitality, transportation, whatever, and whatever, plus we’re having several territories.

Now, we are distributed in the Australian market and New Zealand. We are as well in the US and Canada, and soon enough, we’ll be in the UK. We’re just leading the discussion right now. So, I will not personally be able to answer the call for all of these territories, right? So, I’m relying on a seller to help me be the first layer of servicing and/or be the integrator. 

And the complexity is not on the DVOX side. Let me give you an example of the airport once again. Whenever you’re in the airport, you have announcements, a lot of announcements. You sometimes have ambient music, or, in a sports bar, you have a little happy hour music or whatever. But whenever there’s an announcement, it’s just taking over because they want to have everyone hear it per terminals, whatever. So these guys already have audio DSPs, amplifiers, speaker boxes, and stuff like that. So basically, by having all the audio DSPs, those AV integrators would reprogram the DSP just to have an audio mix that goes through DVOX that will still keep the announcement on top whenever there’s an announcement, right? Priority. But in that sentence here, this is a bit more complex, so yes, an integrator would do it, but for any sports bar, you take any audio source out, maybe an HDMI audio extractor, and put them in a DVOX and that’s it, you have nothing else to do, So if you want to have a dedicated mix with priorities over some feeds and blah, blah, blah, that’s a little more complex. I’m relying on resellers and integrators, but if you are going your own way with analog in from an auxiliary one out of your preferred sound desk or HDMI extractor or microphone, you’re good to go.

Does the footprint of a facility, like something like an airport, which is vast, does that present any kind of a problem in terms of latency, on the local area network, or it doesn’t matter whether you’re 10 feet or a thousand feet away?

Sebastien Boulanger: No, absolutely. An airport is a good example here. They can’t generate delay on the IT side meter. All of the terminals are interlinked through fiber optics cable. So there’s no IT delay, if I can put it that way, and, I’m going to use again this Australian Open example here where we’re connected to the Melbourne Olympic Park. These guys had more than 400 antennas, and that was still leaving the site of the Australian Open, and along the bicycle path or whatever, you go out of the site, and you have another section, which has a huge hill, grass slope where people are sitting and looking at an enormous big screen. So, for all of those that are not ticket owners, they could be going there. So the WiFi was offered to that section too, and we were snap-syncing the screen. So the delay of the IT is not an issue. Of course, if you are running with copper wire over 27 switches, you will be infringing on the delay. But, we are not experiencing IT delay, if I can put it that way, on our installation, and we can be as wide as the coverage is. 

It strikes me as there’s always a challenge with, something unfamiliar to get people to, first of all, be aware, and second, do whatever is needed to get it going. Do you face that at all in terms of putting this in place, like at the Australian Open?

How does the Australian Open make their ticket holders and fans aware that this is there and get them to use it?

Sebastien Boulanger: Yeah, totally. First, they must communicate that this is a DVOX device. This means you should bring your own device and headphones. So what they did in this particular event was to have one or two emails sent prior to the event to the ticket owners mentioning, to bring their headphones or their devices, but on-site, there was a lot of advertisement as well. “We’re using DVOX. You can connect to your cell phone!” So that’s for the part about bringing your own device. Now, what we did at several events, actually, not only at the Australian Open, is have a small JPEG, a picture, that is telling people, step one, connect to the WiFi with the name of the wife, connect to whatever WiFi, right? Step two, scan this QR and done. So, any guests in the room simply have to take a cell phone, connect to the WiFi, and scan the QR and that’s loading the page. That’s it. W

e also have prints, large banners, vinyls, and stuff like stickers, posters, whatever that are applied almost everywhere on site. So people can have this QR for them. Web, event, page, anywhere, so that’s pretty easy to communicate with the guests. 

Could you have tiers of service? So let’s say you can get a basic thing of the in-game play-by-play, but if you want to hear the audio from the quarterback’s helmet or whatever it is, you can get that too, but you’re going to pay an extra five bucks or something?

Sebastien Boulanger: Paying a little bit, five bucks more, that’s totally up to the broadcaster itself because with DVOX, you just give me the audio feed you want to stream. So in your example here, okay, we went to the Arena on the Fox sport request to have a showcase or technology for a boxing match, back in September, and you were sitting in the audience; it was a private one, right? It was with the Fox team and ADI and whatever so we were roughly 30 people trying the solution. So, for that test, what they gave us was the blue corner, red corner, the referee mic, and the commentators. So when you are listening to the commentators, these guys who are commenting on the match are next to the ring, so you can look at their lips and you are directly sitting next to them. You can hear it super clearly, and you don’t have any delay. So the lips to your ear are instant, plus whenever these guys were, and that was a heavyweight championship. I’m so happy not to be a boxer or a fighter. These guys are, I’m saying politely, monsters.

They’re big, and they’re anyway. So I was in the audience, and when I grabbed the referee microphone that was falling from the ceiling microphone, you could hear it. The glove hitting the face, the glove smashing the skin of the opponent, and, it, hurts, basically, so you are in the audience, and for the first time, you’re experiencing the hit; you can’t be closer without getting hit, basically. And the red corner and blue corner were really quiet. These guys are fighting, but as soon as you hear the ring, ding, the dong, and then whenever they jump back to their corner, their coaches are giving them strategy, and you can all hear it. That’s really engaging. You can select the red corner, and you can hear, “Okay, just try to block a little more, and he’s punching you all the time in the same place.” And you have all this relevant information that is changing the game completely, so basically, it’s super easy to get any of your feed out from the broadcaster. 

It’s interesting. I keep coming back to airports, and honestly, the TV screens that are on there show news every half an hour or whatever, I’m very happy if I can’t hear that, but what I would love to be able to hear, particularly at many airports that have god awful audio systems is I’d like to hear the gate announcements because it sounds bad. I can’t figure out what they’re saying because they’re using cheap old speakers or God knows what, but if I could just hear that now they’re boarding zone two, I’d be happy as a clam.

Sebastien Boulanger: Of course, and not to forget about all those noise canceling headphones that work really great. So you can be in your small cocoon of yourself, and hear everything in the announcement clearly without bothering about a baby crying or so on. 

In the digital signage world, we’re also leading a discussion with, I’m not going to mention it per se, big players that are offering, exterior places like Square that are surrounded by LED screens. It is not Times Square, but just picture Times Square in your mind so you will see what I’m talking about. So basically, when you are walking in this environment, you have plenty of LED screens, but the only thing you hear is cars passing by, or tires squeaking, or whatever noise might be happening. So all of those. Publicity or visuals are only video for the moment. And, then again, you’re walking by, you might be waiting for a bus or whatever, will you take time to install an app? You already have 80 of those on your cell phone. To have the sound of a billboard could be as easy and it is as easy as getting a QR code and then you have it directed. So that’s really cool. It’s a good way to wait for the bus basically. 

Yeah, although I really can’t see myself walking through a big public plaza and deciding I want to hear these ads as well, but that’s just me. I’m a cranky old fart. 

Sebastien Boulanger: No, but you’re right. This is not necessarily for publicity audio,, but some places like the one we’re talking about right now are also running interviews.

Last question, because this just flew by, what am I, as an end user, buying? Am I buying hardware, or am I buying hardware and then subscribing to a service as well?

Sebastien Boulanger: Basically, what we are selling at the moment is the hardware solution because we need to acquire the audio and stream it to your network. So, the input card which is DVOX hardware, has to stand inside of your building. On the other hand, we have a yearly licensing, which is really good, though super affordable, because we’re not dealing with up and down traffic. So the only reason why we’re having a yearly licensing is for you to be able to customize your visuals. You can totally modify the webpage, the event webpage, as we call it. You can put your logo, your color, your name, your picture face, or whatever you decide. So you can customize the visual.

You can also customize when it’s going to be up and when it’s going to disappear when the event is over or whatever, plus one thing that is really important. You can extract the KPIs. Basically, at the end of a certain period of time, you decide you jump into your event, and you can interrogate this system to have relevant tasks. But they’re all anonymous, not an app. So we don’t know anything about you; we just know about your cell phone. Meaning, how many people were listening to which feed, or how long, and which was the most popular, or what time of the day was the most popular. We can have all these graphs. So, to answer your question, yes, you have a first expense for the hardware. Then, after, there’s a super low price licensing; it’s a yearly base flat fee, and you can customize as you wish for your unit.

And on the back end, you’re getting insights on what actually interests people. So, in a bar where you’re showing premier league games on eight different screens, you can start to understand, okay, this is actually a Liverpool bar. We didn’t know that. But now we do. 

Sebastien Boulanger: Yeah, and these days, we have enormous LED screens, LED walls, whatever, and we have a lot of pictures inside of it, so we can have several feet inside of the same screen. Well, give me one audio feed per picture in picture, and all of a sudden, we’ll be having a totally different experience, and at the end of the day, you can have a look and interrogate the system to see, okay, this one was really popular. So we were paying for the rights to have baseball, but no one listened to it. But there were a lot of people tuned on to the soccer game. So next week, what about taking the PIP out for the baseball game and putting a bigger PIP for the soccer game?

So that’s only an example, but the KPIs are really relevant. You know exactly how your system is behaving with your guests. 

All right. That was terrific and very interesting. Thank you so much for spending a little time with me. 

Sebastien Boulanger: Cool. It was a real pleasure, and if you ever have any more questions or whatever, we have our corporate website,

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