Virtualised products are helping broadcasters transition to an IP environment, and evolving traditional audio production roles in the process
“JUST AS THE CHANGE FROM ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL TOOK MANY YEARS, THIS WILL TOO. FOR MANY BROADCASTERS, HYBRID SYSTEMS CONSISTING OF AOIP AND PROPRIETARY NETWORKS WILL BECOME A STEPPING STONE BEFORE TOTAL IP WORKFLOWS TAKE OVER.”
Pete Walker, product manager, Calrec
Gone are the days when a console was required to simply mix audio. Consoles are now integral components on wider networks with adaptable workflows and shareable resources, using open standards and established networking technology.
COTS-compatible products designed around an IP backbone and the finalisation of the SMPTE ST 2100 professional media over managed IP networks standards suite, has increased the previously slow pace of adoption.
The AES67 standard has further bolstered device interoperability and the cost of entry to networked audio (aka AoIP) has continued to decline. It’s the combination of ST 2110 with AES67 which is giving broadcasters the confidence to move into AoIP.
“We’ve been seeing a steady migration to AoIP for some time, for all the reasons that IP overall has been fi nding its way into broadcasting,” reports Dee McVicker, marketing director for Wheatstone. “It’s a much more cost-effective, efficient way to manage and move media around and there’s no doubt that IP will be important to broadcasters going forward. Anyone who is planning a new facility, OB truck or studio is considering AoIP.”
She continues, “ST 2110 certainly makes that migration to IP from HD/SDI much, much easier because it provides for
separate audio and video streams. This gives broadcasters far more flexibility in being able to mix and process audio or to add more channels in the case of immersive audio.”
SMPTE 2110/AES67-compatible products are also enabling a much more flexible migration plan in that audio can be migrated over to IP without having to migrate video at the same time. Audio is often the fi rst to make the switch over to IP as a result.
IP STANDARDS ROLL OUT
Interest in AES67 is defi nitely growing with each project,” says David Glaubke, director, global communications, Harman Professional Solutions. “Radio customers have been much more enthusiastic about AoIP, with a wider range of AoIP formats having been used historically. Dante offers a simpler immediate solution with the easy to use discovery and patching system but AES67 feels like it will take over for system wide installations.”
It helps that AES67 is specified as the audio transport standard in SMPTE 2110-30 because it’s a well- established set of protocols that manufacturers have implemented in their AoIP systems, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Most, if not all, major AoIP systems are AES67 compatible.
Calrec has three new virtual products: the RP-1, VP-2, and Type-R. All are IP
based and designed to help the fi rm expand our customer base into new, smaller broadcast markets.
Wheatstone recently debuted its SwitchBlade appliance for the WheatNetIP audio network, which includes AoIP logic control, SIP connectivity and codec bandwidth optimisation for sharing studio operation and programming between facilities, sports venues and other sites in separate locations.
That said, argues Glaubke, “there’s no real necessity to jump into an IP solution. The benefits of doing so need to be weighed against the cost of transition, involving a different mindset and skillset of the broadcast engineering teams. Traditional baseband is still fit for purpose for many installations and customer’s needs so there will be a continued debate in the business and the hybrid approach will continue for some time.”
Calrec’s product manager, Pete Walker agrees that the change to IP isn’t going to happen overnight. “Just as the change from analogue to digital took many years, this will too. For many broadcasters, hybrid systems consisting of AoIP and proprietary networks will become a stepping stone before total IP workflows take over. Calrec has a suite of ‘gateway’ products that interface between Hydra2 and the IP domain and provide a clear upgrade path to the latest native IP products, so broadcasters can choose to make the move when the time is right for them.”
Establishing connections between AES67 devices is still a complicated process requiring engineers to access web applications served by each device to configure audio transmitters and register them to receive streams from other devices.
The solution could be the Networked Open Media Specifications ( NMOS), a set of protocols developed by the Advanced Media Workflow
Association (AMWA) aimed at standardising discovery and connection management and covering video as well as audio in a uniform way.
The fi rst stage of its rollout, IS- 04, is device discovery, along with some basic connection management. NMOS allows IP media connections across a network to be managed from a central server, reducing reliance on individual web applications served from each device. Its successor, IS- 05, will provide an even richer set of features.
While Harman continues to study the protocol without yet adopting it, Wheatstone says it’s done extensive work to allow WheatNet-IP stream management under NMOS.
“By using NMOS, the same control system that manages video stream connections can be used for audio streams, simplifying work flow complexity by treating all streams the same way,” says McVicker.
The introduction of IP also means that the parts of a mixing system do not have to be in the same room - or even the same building. The control surface, the I/O and the mix engine can be thought of as independent. Instead of heavy metal on-premises the trend, as elsewhere in the industry, is toward virtualisation.
“Broadcast consoles are not just audio desks, but routers,” says Walker. “In fact, the ability to route signals from any point to any other point quickly and efficiently is key to the success of a broadcast console.”
This does though have implications for the role of the audio mixer and audio engineering team.
“Most broadcasters tell us they aren’t ready to give up their physical surfaces entirely,” McVicker says. “We’re seeing a
lot of interest in our virtual consoles as adjuncts and extensions to a physical board. A multi-touch virtual mixer can be identical in setup as a physical board, and mirror its operations so that setting the fader on one automatically sets the fader on the other. We’ re finding that virtual workflows essentially mobilise the production process, and in many ways, adds to the usefulness of a physical mixer. There are very real operational benefits of being able to carry a laptop onto a remote location, load up the audio mixer on a multi-touch screen interface, and then start operating it as if you were still in the studio – and, in fact, actually controlling the console in the studio.”
Virtual workflows aren’t limited to just the mixing console. Audio monitoring, processing and routing, as well as control for that audio, whether it’s turning on a mic or setting IFBs, can also be transformed into virtual workflows.
“As we saw in the recording industry where touchscreens were initially embraced as replacements to physical consoles, engineers and producers found they simply couldn’t work as efficiently without knobs and faders,” says McVicker. “The key is how well that virtual interface is wedded to the hardware and the AoIP. All of that is possible because we now have advanced AoIP systems, which give us access to automation systems, hardware inputs, etc. through just about any surface or control interface we want.”
In a virtualised audio networking scenario, the key to the mixer becomes the ease of use of the interface. As Glaubke observes, “The challenge will be using one manufacturer’s interface with another manufacturer’s virtual audio processing and whether this will give as rich an experience as using an interface and audio network from the same manufacturer.”
In order to quench the demand for more content without compromise on quality broadcasters are adopting remote workflows in order to maximise the productivity of their facility, capture more sporting events, and all at a minimal cost. Walker says Calrec’s RP1 is designed just for that reason.
“It eradicates the three major hurdles of latency, transport and control, to allow remote events to be mixed from a centralised broadcast facility,” he says.
The whole trend also enables audio mixing functions to be automated, to combine producing and mixing seamlessly. There are many ways and reasons to automate mixing functions from audio-follows-video GPIO triggers for fast action camera cuts, to headless operations with fully integrated studio automation systems
“The industry has been slowly mov-
ing toward more and more automation in recent years,” McVicker says. “Many advanced audio consoles have automatic mic mixing so that the console will automatically bring up only those mics that are being spoken into, for example. Most can automatically crossfade between inputs, as the video switcher or automation system cuts or dissolves between video sources. Automation is incredibly important for being able to handle both what’s happening in production flows and volume now but also what we might see up ahead in terms of more channels and immersive audio.”
There are many good reasons to use high levels of automation in mixers in the correct implementation. Robotic cameras in news are highly successful and audio automation is a natural accompaniment to this. Harman has sold a number of headless consoles for exactly this type of application.
“A complex production, sport or light entertainment, will always benefit from an experienced operator capable of reacting to and anticipating the unforeseen,” Glaubke adds. “The possibility to augment the operator with automation for structured parts of the show such as a band or group of mics using console features such as VistaMix automatic multi-microphone mixing. Confidence is only going to increase in these automated systems as their complexity and capabilities increase and they prove themselves as good as a human.”
ROUND-UP OF LATEST IP AUDIO PRODUCT
STUDER, a Harman brand, falls into two categories: Vista for TV production and Glacier for radio. “In both product ranges it is the ease of use for the operator that really makes them stand out,” says Glaubke. “We offer many unique operating features, such as Vistonics and Fader Glow, but ultimately the consoles are intuitive, so easy to use, giving a high degree of immediate feedback, so quick to use and navigate in pressure situations.”
WHEATSTONE makes the AES67 compatible AoIP system, WheatNet-IP. One of its better known consoles is the Dimension Three, which is an AoIP console surface. In April it introduced the virtual Dimension Three audio console, a multi-touch mixer UI that interfaces to all the major production automation systems.
“We believe that standalone virtual mixers like this are going to play a bigger role in production automation workflows because they give operators the right amount of control over the automation process without all the inconveniences of a physical board,” says McVicker. Wheatstone also introduced the IP audio networked Strata 32 IP audio console that packs 64 channels into a 40-inch frame. It’s compact enough to fit just about anywhere – news room, sports venue, remote van – but provides access to all resources in the network through a touchscreen interface with menu for adjusting EQ, dynamics, setting talkback, configuring mix-minus feeds and more.
CALREC’S consoles range from 48-channel compact but powerful systems to multiple console networks. It recently launched a native IP range of consoles, Type R for Radio and ImPulse, a scalable, multiconsole DSP core. All its latest native IP products are NMOS compatible. The ability to easily manage discovery and connection in a manner akin to Hydra2’s plug and play nature is imperative when setting up IP workflows. So much so that Calrec has devised ‘Connect’, a browserbased stream-management tool that can manage IP streams from third-party equipment alongside Calrec’s IP products. Whether it’s NMOS, mDNS, AES70, or SAP it displays this information, accessible via a browser, in a way that facilitates interconnectivity and eliminates the need for detailed networking knowledge on the part of audio engineers.
“WE’VE BEEN SEEING A STEADY MIGRATION TO AOIP FOR SOME TIME, FOR ALL THE REASONS THAT IP OVERALL HAS BEEN FINDING ITS WAY INTO BROADCASTING,”
Dee McVicker, marketing director, Wheatstone