|Assignable Digital Consoles:|
Go Deep or Go Long?
Las Vegas, Tuesday April 8, 2003: Although the broadcast and post production industries have fully embraced digital mixing technologies, there still remains some crucial operational considerations. With assignability one of the key advantages that digital topologies can offer over analog variants - instead of the signal to be modified having to flow through the physical control element, we can lay out the control surface to suite the operator's requirements - just how the designer decides to map the knobs and buttons becomes critically important.
Setting aside for one moment the logical sequence of controls from the top to the bottom of a channel strip (we normally expect to see controls we adjust infrequency, such as line/mic gain and phantom power, farthest from the operator, and frequently adjusted elements - like the channel fader - to be right in front of us) how much simultaneous control should we be offered?
After all, it would be possible to operate an entire multichannel on-air or production console from just one fully assignable fader or rotary control. But that would be absurd. Instead, we need to consider what might be the lower bound limit of controls to which we might reasonably need to have simultaneous access, and those that can be safely placed on hidden layers and brought to the surface when needed. (Using, of course, an intuitive labeling scheme and one-button layer access, so that nothing is too far away from the operator's direct control.) Place too few controls on the surface and we run the risk of spending too much of our time delving for the right fader, switch or knob; too many controls and we defeat the purpose of assignabliity.
One good example of this "Less is More ... Sometimes" philosophy is evidenced in the new C100 Broadcast Console from SSL that has been designed specifically for use within critical on-air production environments, such as news and sports. Its small footprint and assignable control surface enables fast handling of source and destination routing and mixing to stereo or 5.1-channel DTV surround sound. Operators are presented with immediate access to all channel controls through a Master Channel, with options to define additional "soft" controls according to the input source. (An example: the provision of dedicated access to mic gain for a live source, or stereo balance trim on a VTR return.)
While the C100's compact control surface removes much of the complexity of a large-format mixing console, its designers have not forced an unusable degree of assignabliity. The basic layout can be as small as 24 on-surface faders and associated assignable controls, to as many as 96; 48 faders might represent a "typical" layout. The C100 can be configured for 32, 64, 96 or 128 input channels, routing to dedicated mix-minus, program, group, utility and auxiliary.
An innovative Control Linking feature enables a range of configuration functions to be linked to a specific input or output, such as fader-start GPIs for remote audio and video transports. In addition, channels may be defined as mono, stereo or 5.1, with single fader control, with one-button "unfolding" of an LCRS1S2 component mix for on-the-fly level trim. And an Audio-follow-Video (AFV) function allows the console's audio levels and transitions to be initiated from a vision mixer.
So, those customers that remain unfamiliar with the virtues of assignabliity can select a surface that better reflects their requirements for many on-surface controls. While operators that are comfortable with the dramatic advantages of assignabliity - the ability to remain nailed in the sweet spot and bring controls to the central positions, rather than moving off access to the relevant function being one overwhelming advantage - can opt for a more compact layout.
And it remains a familiar tale from broadcasters. For early purchases, a cautious approach dictates a console surface that offers more rather than less controls; subsequent installations often favor a more radical approach that can take advantage of smaller, more compact topologies. (And which, as a bonus, cause less intrusion with control-room acoustics - an important parameter when mixing in surround sound, where symmetry can raise a number of design compromises.)
>>SSL's new C100 Digital Broadcast Console.