On the Floor at NAB: BROADCAST AND BEYOND

Jun 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By Sarah Jones and George Petersen

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From April 6-11, 2002, tens of thousands of broadcasting and production professionals made their annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters convention. The word “broadcaster” has become far-reaching at these conventions, with 950,000 square feet of technologies for traditional radio/television uses, coupled with tools for film and video production/post-production, audio creation, multimedia, the Internet, satellite and telecommunication applications.

After years of upwardly spiraling attendance, NAB 2002 was slightly off — reportedly 15% to 20% down from last year — but exhibitors we spoke with felt the quality of the showgoers was quite high, with fewer “tire-kickers” and more serious buyers looking to upgrade or expand their production capabilities. Certainly, one bright spot was the unveiling of the new South Hall, which nearly doubles NAB's available exhibit space. Populated by key anchor destinations, such as Sony, Apple, Microsoft, Avid, Digidesign and Dolby, the South Hall was NAB's hotbed of activity, just as the Sands Expo Center had been several years ago during the multimedia boom. This year also marked NAB's farewell to the Sands, as all of next year's NAB exhibits will be located in the LVCC, making this large show much easier to digest.

Audio releases at conventions tend to run in cycles, with products such as microphones, tube outboard gear or near-field speakers advancing and receding in the consciousness of the audio public. This time, the focus seemed to be on consoles, software and solutions for multichannel delivery, digital broadcasting and/or networking applications. Here are a few that caught our eye…

BIG BOARDS!

The most talked about console at NAB was Studer's (www.studer.ch) Vista 7 Digital Mixing System, which uses Vistonics technology and incorporates rotary and push-button controls that protrude through a flat-screen display, resulting in a fast, non-fatiguing worksurface. A stunning achievement in ergonomic design, Vista 7 allows multiple channel strips to be almost instantly ganged or shifted for easy access, while the operator has full control — even mid-session — in determining whether switches (such as mutes, solos, talkback, etc.) can act as latching or momentary controls. This 96kHz/40-bit, internal-resolution console is available in configurations from 20- to 70-channel faders, and standard amenities include Autotouch Plus automation (also available for Studer's flagship 950 console), virtual surround 5.1 panning with motorized joysticks, machine control and a simple one-finger I/O routing matrix.

SSL's (www.solid-state-logic.com) XL 9000 K Series made its public debut at NAB. Designed specifically for the needs of DVD-Audio, SACD and surround sound mixing, this high-performance analog console (SuperAnalogue engine) includes discrete, low-noise preamps, ultrawide bandwidth and an advanced approach to surround panning. For more details on the K Series line, see the March 2002 issue of Mix.

Intended for post, film, DVD and music production, the new Logic MMC console from AMS Neve (www.ams-neve.com) is based on the popular Logic 2 digital audio console, but combines features from its legacy of music and DFC film consoles. Designed to provide the familiar work environment and Encore automation used in its VR, Logic and DFC consoles, the board adds a new suite of 96kHz-capable I/Os, DFC-style monitoring, full machine control and up to 500 signal paths available at 48 kHz.

Finally, Fairlight showed its DREAM console for music and post, which was sneak-peeked at AES in December. Other big news at the booth included the announcement that the company had acquired the intellectual property of DSP Media (namely, the A/V Transfer file exchange utility and V-Motion random-access video) and had resuscitated Lightworks, the editing package with more than 2,100 loyal users still out there.

BROADCAST CONSOLES GO AFFORDABLE

With ever-lowering prices and second-generation designs, a number of console manufacturers showed new products targeted toward the growing middle-America station market. The Calrec (www.calrec.com) Sigma 100 offers many of the features of its larger Alpha 100 board, but in a smaller-format package with 5.1 and stereo monitoring, Dolby E integration and mix-minus outputs. Wheatstone (www.wheatstone.com) covered both bases by launching its new high-end D-8000 console, as well as the more affordable D-4000 that is based on Wheatstone's popular D-5000. The 96-channel Max Air from Euphonix (www.euphonix.com) shares the technology of the company's award-winning System 5 flagship, such as an integral MADI router, touchscreen control, onboard diagnostics and a wide range of I/O options — MADI, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, TDIF, ADAT, Pro Digi and Pro Tools digital. Harrison (www.glw.com) unveiled a new version of its top-end TVD digital broadcast console, the TVD-SL, which offers the same power but doubles the number of physical input faders. Harrison also introduced the Pro950-EX, a compact analog board for on-air and post duties. Soundtracs (www.soundtracs.com), distributed in the U.S. by Fairlight, showed the DS-3B, a digital broadcast console based on its successful DS-3, and offered in 24- or 32-fader worksurfaces with touchscreen control. Like its sibling, the DS-3B can mount its DSP sections either in the board's central leg assembly or up to five meters away in a standard 19-inch outboard rack.

SMALL BUT MIGHTY

HHB (www.hhbusa.com) is now distributing the Kamesan (www.kamesan.info) line of audio film/broadcast products. Kamesan has developed quite a following among NHK producers in Japan since its inception 30 years ago, and location audio products now available in the U.S. include the flagship KS-342 (4-channel) and KS-T2000 (3-channel) mixers, as well as the KS-6001 4-channel submixer/expander and KS-6002 4-channel EQ/compressor. Also new from Kamesan are the Moni Cough KS-4320 remote mic pre/monitor, the KS-1017 Lip Sync Checker and its companion piece, the KS-1018 Video Kachinko.

VIDEO POWER!

No getting around it: Audio needs to know video. A big hit at the show was Media 100 (www.Media100.com) and its Genesis-Engine, which provides real-time image and signal processing of concurrent effects on simultaneous video and key streams. On the audio side, Genesis can support four channel pairs of AES/EBU. Media 100's new 844/x system offers real-time image processing with 10-bit internal resolution for creating complex and layer-intensive audio/video content.

The Apple (www.apple.com) booth was jammed with attendees clamoring to check out demos of Cinema Tools for Final Cut Pro, which supports film cut lists and 24-frame EDLs, providing video editors an affordable path to online hi-def finishing. Apple was also showing DVD Studio Pro 1.5, which is now optimized for OS X, with MPEG encoding and the ability to set chapter markers in Final Cut Pro.

Microsoft's Windows Media (www.windowsmedia.com) booth was also buzzing, with the preview of the next version of Windows Media Player, code-named “Corona.” The system promises a home theater-like broadband experience that uses professional audio and video codecs to deliver 24-bit/96kHz audio in 5.1 at data rates of 128 to 768 kbps, with HDTV-like video quality. Corona will also have an instant-on, always-on presence that is said to eliminate buffer delays. Creative Labs, Echo, M-Audio/Midiman, Steinberg and Syntrillium were all in the pavilion previewing systems that support the new Windows Media technology.

WORKSTATION NEWS

Due to growth of its DVD business, Sonic Solutions (www.sonic.com) has spun off a separate company dedicated exclusively to the Sonic Studio line of digital audio workstations. Sonic Studio LLC is headed up by veterans Jeff Wilson and Eric Jorde, along with key Sonic Solutions engineering and marketing personnel. In other Sonic news, Digidesign has licensed the company's NoNoise restoration technology for integration into Pro Tools.

Speaking of Digidesign (www.digidesign.com), Pro Tools 5.3.1 offers interoperability between Avid and Pro Tools|HD workstations. Also, Soft SampleCell (now with 96 voices!) is available in a 192kHz version, with more third-party plug-ins offering HD compatibility.

The hottest plug-in of the show had to be at the SADiE (www.sadie.com) booth: CEDAR's (www.cedaraudio.com) ReTouch audio-restoration/forensics plug-in can identify and eliminate unwanted sounds such as piano pedal creaks, coughs, etc., and it operates on both the temporal and spectral content, replacing mistakes with audio matching the surrounding signal. It operates at up to 96 kHz, has 64-bit internal resolution, and uses an intuitive, visual interface with a Photoshop-style approach.

WaveFrame Inc. has been acquired by Cybermation, dba The WaveFrame Software Group. Merging Technologies (www.merging.com), which designed and licensed the Frameworks and WaveFrame 7 hardware for WaveFrame, will support Frameworks customers by offering the opportunity to upgrade to Merging's Pyramix, the system on which Frameworks is based. The WaveFrame Software Group will support WaveFrame 7 users.

Apogee (www.apogeedigital.com) announced NativeTools, which combines Apogee's 16-channel, 24/96 converters with Steinberg's Nuendo software, plus the Nuendo 96/52 PCI interface. And Sonic Foundry (www.sonicfoundry.com) showed a new version of Sound Forge. The biggest developments in 6.0 are nondestructive editing and multitask background rendering, but interface enhancements and video-rendering features are also significant.

Rocket Network (www.rocketnetwork.com) announced new partners at NAB. SADiE Artemis and RADiA workstations are now RocketPowered, and Tascam has developed a new application that supports both RocketNetwork and Tascam's OpenTL native file format.

HHB (www.hhbusa.com) showed a prototype of Portadrive, its new 8-track, 24-bit/96kHz location sound recorder. Portadrive records onto a 2.5-inch removable hard drive that can store more than two hours of 8-channel 24/96 audio, and it has an onboard 6×2 digital mixer, with six balanced XLR mic/line ins and individual phantom power. AES and S/PDIF digital I/O and SCSI, USB and Ethernet ports are built-in.

MONITORING THE SITUATION

One of the ironies regarding many “surround-capable” mixers is the fact that they can create surround material, yet they offer no means of easily monitoring the results. Fortunately, several new products designed for such situations were unveiled at NAB. Tascam's (www.tascam.com) DS-M7.1 Digital Surround Monitor Controller adds multispeaker monitoring control to consoles with only eight output buses. The DS-M7.1 duplicates the digital console's output buses, then routes the signal to both a stem recorder and multiple amp/speaker combinations. A compact remote controls a rackmount processor, and the DS-M7.1 has eight channels of TDIF, AES/EBU and ADAT I/O for interfacing with a stem recorder, with support for all surround formats from LCRS to 7.1 (including 5.1/6.1); it can also downmix to stereo from any surround format. The DS-M7.1 handles sampling rates up to 96 kHz, and onboard bass management is standard.

Studio Technologies (www.studio-Tech.com) has expanded its line of stereo and 5.1 monitor controllers with the Studio-Comm 78/79, remote/processor rack combo, which also handles 7.1 monitoring. Surround controllers were definitely in bloom, as Martinsound (www.martin sound.com) is now shipping its PanMAX automated surround panner and MultiMAX EX multiformat monitor controller. Martinsound also showed FilterMAX, an outboard surround LFE filter, which was designed in conjunction with Tomlinson Holman and TMH Corp.

Dolby (www.dolby.com) debuted the DP564 Multichannel Audio Decoder, the next generation of its industry-standard DP562 reference for Dolby Digital, Dolby Surround, Dolby Surround Pro Logic II and PCM decoding, as well as an LTC SMPTE output, AES and optical inputs, master volume and an onboard Dolby Headphone processor.

There were plenty of other slick products at NAB and we'll cover these in our regular product columns in the months to come. Meanwhile, NAB returns to Las Vegas next year from April 5-10. See you there!

SIX PICKS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

With six exhibit halls packed with goodies, there's no way anyone could see them all. Here are some cool debuts you may have overlooked…

M&K Professional (www.mkprofessional.com) redefines the meaning of surround sound with the MPS-422 “Wraparound” multichannel monitor, a U-shaped array of speakers designed to fit around a standard 19-inch broadcast monitor. Add in M&K's LFE-5 bass-management controller and a subwoofer, and you have a complete, compact, multichannel listening package.

Dolby's (www.dolby.com) LM100 Loudness Meter is an analysis tool that addresses the ongoing problem of loudness inconsistencies, enabling users at any point in the broadcast chain to subjectively measure (and hopefully eliminate) the loudness differences between various broadcast materials, programs or channels.

Switchcraft's (www.switchcraft.com) Model 555 EZ Norm 96-point TT patchbay has tiny, screwdriver-accessible switches between the upper and lower jacks, enabling the user to easily reconfigure any jack pair for normaled, half-normaled or full-normaled operation. A variety of rear configurations are available, including solder lugs, EDAC multipin, punchblocks or wire-wrap interfacing.

Terrasonde's (www.terrasonde.com) Digital Audio Toolbox combines a digital signal generator, jitter meter, level meter, bitstream analyzer, clock/sample counter, error display, distortion meter, digital cable tester, Sony 9-pin tester and much more, with ADAT, S/PDIF (co-ax and optical), AES/EBU and Word Clock I/Os, along with analog outs and Dolby 5.1 digital and video sync inputs.

Audio Accessories (www.patchbays.com) demoed 48- and 96-point digital audio patchbays with 110-ohm, self-normaling TT cord patching on the front panel and 75-ohm BNCs on the rear. A 75/110-ohm balun built into each jack keeps everything operating at AES-3 standard for longer cable runs, less distortion and a 300MHz bandwidth.

SRS Labs (www.srstechnologies.com) turned heads with its BPP-02 Broadcast Phase Protector, a simple-to-use, 2-in/2-out stereo processor that allows the accurate reproduction of any stereo program material without any loss of center-channel voice information — regardless of any phase reversals in the distribution chain following the BPP-02 — including the listener's home!






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