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May 2014 l 35


that it was based on a single ASIO sound card, which Burke says was good because all inputs and outputs used the same clock and ran at the same speed. “We know that to make a product version plausible it would need to work with more than one sound device, and to make it viable for the lower-cost market that might involve multiple low-cost single I/O sound devices,” he says.

Ultimately, the budget end of the market is the target for the VRM, with Burke envisioning a two-mic, four-stereo version running on inexpensive sound cards for £50, with the capacity to add more channels at a few pounds each when necessary. Because of this, and play-out still being P Squared’s core business, he says the company is under no illusions that VRM would be worrying either Lawo or Axia. Wheatstone is another major player in the radio console market and one that could take issue with any claims by Lawo or P Squared to have been the first to demonstrate a working virtual desk. Phil Owens, who oversees eastern US sales for the manufacturer, says Wheatstone has been working in this technological area for seven to eight years, starting with an interface for the E Series console: “We worked with a TDM router as the backend of all our radio boards and then developed a control application using a TCP/IP link as the physical controller, which became a virtual app for a laptop or PC.”

are using virtual control surfaces it is more for supervision of remote unattended studios or occasional actions in network stations.

Wheatstone says presenters are comfortable with the Glass-E virtual mixer and “don’t feel the need to grab a fader as much as they used to”

space at the broadcast centre, so Owens comments that a small, touchscreen device controlling a server, often located elsewhere, was “perfect for that application.” Since then, he adds, Glass-E has been adopted at larger set-ups now that presenters and other operators are “comfortable with it and don’t feel the need to grab a fader as much as they used to.”

OLD HABITS DIE HARD This lack of tactility – knowing that when a fader is opened something will happen – and the reliance on IT infrastructures, rather than more traditional broadcast ones, is a cause for concern among those who prefer the more established form of mixing. “I have serious concerns that virtual consoles do not provide the necessary tactile feedback for live operations,”

Robles continues that AEQ is also working on touchscreens that offer virtual versions of many typical hardware controls found on consoles, such as potentiometers and buttons. “But in this case these touchscreens are integrated in hardware control surfaces that always include faders, because being able to manipulate the device is a vital aspect for many operators and virtual faders so far do not reproduce this sensation.”

AEQ’s CAPITOL digital console and its all-important hardware faders

media – will be “the main driver for the acceptance of more IT-like console user interfaces.” AEQ is currently working on two virtual products, but with conventional hardware still

“Our touchscreens are integrated in surfaces that always include faders, because being able to manipulate the device is a vital aspect and virtual faders so far do not reproduce this sensation”

Gustavo Robles, AEQ

The result was the Glass-E virtual mixer, which Wheatstone describes as the “ultimate remote access tool,” running with an audio codec to get output back to the studio. Owens says the initial demand for Glass-E came from two types of radio station: more traditional ones working with presenters using a console and play-out system for live assist, and those that were automation only and based – as he puts it – “in a closet.” The connecting factor was a lack of physical

observes Studer product director Andrew Hills. “On many occasions the operator must look into the studio or at monitors to see cues whilst controlling the desk. They must have tactile feedback to know the current position of the fader they need to change and that they have control of the right element under their hand.” However, Hills adds that the “increasing use of gesture-based IT products in everyday life,” like smartphones and tablets – particularly by those in the

playing a part. “We created … one virtual console [with a] surface like an exact copy of the traditional control surface of two of our digital audio mixers, the FORUM and CAPITOL,” says international sales director Gustavo Robles. “Initially, these virtual consoles worked only on PC, but are now on tablets as well. Basically, these are applications that offer the same options of control as the hardware surfaces but on a remote IT device. In most cases, where customers

Liam Burke comments that there will always be scepticism about virtual technology until people use and become more confident with it. “The fact is that almost all radio stations run PC-based play-out systems that run 24/7 for weeks and months at a time, and they are doing a lot more than a mixer would do. Most of the digital mixers are also just Linux appliances, anyway, so people are already using virtual mixers. I think there will always be people who prefer a physical fader, but for others, the flexibility and opportunity of touchscreen will overcome initial concerns. But the biggest problem facing PC and digital systems is latency.” Tim Lowther, head of projects and portfolio management at Global Radio, picks up on this last point, saying that bandwidth for carrying audio, whether round

a studio centre or from remote locations, is a major issue. “For getting signals from a presenter’s home studio you rely on good, stable bandwidth,” he says. “The main broadband suppliers are now offering high-speed connections but the internet is a congested place. If a connection is not fast enough a virtual system won’t work, [however] good a product it is. We’ve seen that even when devices are sitting next to each other on a table.”

Lowther observes that while the technology to create a virtual console exists today, the hurdle is getting people to give up the tactile security of the fader: “Presenters know if a channel is open or not just by feeling the fader while they’re speaking. With a touchscreen they wouldn’t know that unless they looked at the screen. There’s also the question of whether it will be possible to touch two different parts of the screen at the same time for crossfades.” Despite these technical queries, Lowther says the technology has moved on considerably in the last 10 years, and British broadcasters such as Global, the BBC and Bauer have been looking into its application. “What we’ve got to do is make these systems as responsive and stable as possible,” he concludes.  ERGONOMICS AND THE RADIO STUDIO

Working comfortably and efficiently in any work environment is the ideal in any office-based company, but the increasing reliance on computers has made it a primary concern after the realisation of how debilitating RSI and similar conditions can be. With IT now a firm part of radio broadcasting – and presenters and engineers sitting for long periods in the same position at mixing desks – ergonomics are playing a major part in studio design.

This was highlighted during the 2013 Radio Academy Festival TechCon, in a session entitled New Adventures in UI (User Interfaces), which asked if studio design was getting the best out of presenters. Lisa Baker of design and development consultancy DCA looked at crucial areas including

A demonstration of P Squared’s VRM at TechCon 2013

posture and repetitive movements, while Ali Shah and Robert Freeman of the BBC Blue Room, which is associated with the broadcaster’s R&D department, looked at possible future UIs. They observed that gesture and voice control were maturing and could have an influence on how broadcast equipment is controlled. All very Minority Report.

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