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Tech Focus: Audio Consoles, Part 1 - The Cloud Brings Changes to the Linchpin of Broadcast Sound

05/06/2024

Tech Focus: Audio Consoles, Part 1 - The Cloud Brings Changes to the Linchpin of Broadcast Sound Flexibility. efficiency are key benefits from cloud connectivity and virtualization By Dan Daley, Audio Editor

Wednesday, June 5, 2024 - 7:00 am

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The audio-mix console has long been the heftiest component of sound studios of any sort, from sports to music. However, cloud connectivity is becoming more common among consoles, helped by audio's much lower bandwidth requirements versus video, and that's making that audio anchor a lot lighter and more flexible.

At the 35,000-ft. level, the cloud has the potential to change how and where we produce content, says Dee McVicker, marketing director, Wheatstone. It opens access in similar ways that AoIP did years ago in that we can move content around easier and faster than before, whether a physical mixing desk or a virtual screen interface to that desk. In between are a whole host of possibilities, such as servers located at a home studio that might be useful to spin up [applications] of mixing or streaming or processing by event or show. We think of cloud and server software, like our Layers Software Suite, as another extension of the console and the AoIP network.

Another Way of Doing Things If the transitions to digital and then to AoIP and ST 2110 were the console category's big inflections, its latest is the shift to virtualization and cloud-based operation. For example, introduced at the 2024 NAB Show, the Solid State Logic System T Cloud, a virtualized version of SSL's System T audio-mixing solution for live-to-air broadcast, provides all the functionality of the hardware version - supporting stereo, 5.1, and immersive formats - and it's controllable via either hardware or software interfaces and from any location. With REMI-type production methodologies having taken root since COVID, moving to a cloud-based production model extends those benefits. The trick is not to disrupt the UI workflow.

Solid State Logic Berny Carpenter: Cloud processing allows you to do new things in a different way.

Cloud processing allows you to do new things in a different way, says Berny Carpenter, broadcast product manager, Solid State Logic, but, from an operational point of view, we've tried to keep the same surfaces, the same software, the same interfaces that operators are already used to. We're bringing in the benefits of the technological changes without needing everyone to learn a whole new platform or replace all of their equipment.

Virtualization also means that users need only to access whatever levels of functionality and power are necessary for a particular project, increasing processing capacity as needed. You can spin up or turn off your entire environment as needed, Carpenter says. The amount [of equipment] being sent to site gets less and less and less every day. You will still need something to capture the audio onsite - microphones and so on - but moving the processing to the cloud has economic and operational benefits to broadcasters.

From Broadcast Match to Live Show Besides virtualization, SSL brings another element to the changing broadcast-sports landscape. As sports and entertainment continue to converge, turning events like league drafts into three-day Woodstock-like festivals, SSL's heritage - its music-studio consoles and live-mixing desks have substantial market and mind shares in those categories - can be an advantage.

We have a live range of consoles, and there is obviously a focus on front-of-house and installed-sound applications, says Carpenter. However, with System T's distributed nature, you can have more than one control surface connected together to give you the ability to share the processing and to create two sets of audio, essentially. They can all sit on the same Dante network, with very advanced integration allowing us to do the routing from the consoles and allowing us to share network I/O resources, such as gain-sharing and gain-compensation features, to allow large networks to work together.

Proof Is in the Cloud In July 2022, Audiotonix, parent company of Solid State Logic and Calrec, announced a proof-of-concept project in cloud-based broadcast technology that could be used across the main public-cloud-platform providers, including AWS, to further develop cloud solutions based on their unique production workflows and feature sets. The initiative, platformed on connected Calrec and SSL control surfaces, leveraged Audiotonix's patented CPU core processing technology, its cloud engine that operates within a virtualized Linux environment optimized for low-latency throughput.

Calrec's Dave Letson: I think what will naturally change over time is, things like SDI inputs will become cloud-based I/O [and] broadcasters can be a bit more agile.

Although the shift to the cloud can be complex for some broadcasters, says Calrec VP, Sales, Dave Letson, the benefits more than compensate. They include flexible consumption of processing, using only as much or as little as needed per project, and distributed production, the ability to use hardware - such as consoles - remotely or even virtually as needed. The console itself becomes fungible, able to function as a mixer, I/O matrix, or other application as required and from any location via a cloud connection.

As important, he emphasizes, is that, although the cloud is an advanced work environment for broadcast audio, broadcasters don't necessarily have to jump headlong into a higher-tech future.

If we think about it, he explains, microphones are still analog, speakers are still analog. We just move those technologies around the edge of the [cloud] processing. But, really, that's always what a console has done, with all sorts of interfaces, SDI, and s
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