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First Look – Digidesign ProToolsHD

The big announcement from Digidesign for the first quarter of 2002 was the introduction of Pro Tools|HD, a long awaited upgrade of the popular digital audio workstation system.

The big announcement from Digidesign for the first quarter of 2002 was the introduction of Pro Tools|HD, a long awaited upgrade of the popular digital audio workstation system.
New System Prices:Pro Tools|HD 1 (includes 1 HD Core) – $7,995

Pro Tools|HD 2 (includes 1 HD Core and 1 HD Process) – $9,995

Pro Tools|HD 3 (includes 1 HD Core and 2 HD Process) – $11,995

Additional HD Process Cards – $3,995

I/O Boxes and new peripherals:

192 I/O – $3,995

192 AD expansion card – $1,295

192 DA expansion card – $1,195

192 Digital expansion card – $995

96 I/O – $1,995

SYNC I/O – $2,095

MIDI I/O – $595

PRE – $2,495

Mbox – $495

Contact: Digidesign at 650-731-6300, Web Site
According to David Lebolt, vice president of Product Strategy, “Users of Pro Tools|HD will benefit from pristine high-definition audio, increased track count, support for extremely large mixing configurations via the new TDM II architecture, increased DSP power and support for higher sample rates.”

Like previous Digidesign systems, Pro Tools|HD is modular and upgradeable.

The Old and the New

Users familiar with Pro Tools|24 MIX and MIXplus systems will recognize the similar design configurations. The basic HD system called Pro Tools|HD 1 consist of Pro Tools software and the HD Core card. This is the foundation of Pro Tools|HD. With twice the power of the MIX Core, this PCI card supports up to 32 channels of I/O with Digidesign audio interfaces. As for audio tracks, HD 1 supports 96 simultaneous audio tracks at 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz; 48 tracks at 96 kHz; and 12 tracks at 192 kHz. Included on this card is a serial port for use with Digidesign’s MachineControl and the new SYNC I/O peripheral; an audio interface port and TDM flex-cable connectors.

Pro Tools|HD 2 includes the HD Core card and an HD Process card (in the MIX systems, these were called “Farm” cards). Both cards have nine Motorola 100 MHz DSP chips. Pro Tools|HD 2 more than doubles the mixing and processing power of HD 1 with up to 64 channels of I/O with Digidesign audio interfaces, and up to 128 simultaneous audio tracks (depending upon the sampling rate).

Finally, Pro Tools|HD 3 has an HD Core card and two additional HD Process cards providing up to 96 channels of I/O and 128 simultaneous audio tracks.

While the HD systems are the company’s latest development, Lebolt states, “Digidesign will continue to support Pro Tools|24 MIX and MIXplus owners.” This is good news for legacy users who are not ready to upgrade.

New Interfaces

Digidesign has also introduced two new audio interfaces for Pro Tools|HD. The flagship model is the 192 I/O. This 24-bit rackmountable box handles 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz and 192 kHz sampling rates (yes, that means you will need to buy more hard drives). The 192 I/O has eight channels of analog I/O (selectable as +4 dBu or -10 dBV), eight channels of AES/EBU digital, eight channels of TDIF, 16 channels ADAT and two additional channels of AES/EBU or S/PDIF digital I/O. Digidesign uses DB25 connectors for the eight channels of digital and analog I/O.

The 192 I/O also has an open expansion bay to accommodate an additional expansion card. Options include cards for additional analog and digital I/O. All in all, this interface has close to 70 inputs and outputs when configured when fully expanded.

Next in line is the 24-bit 96 I/O. If you do not need sampling rates of 192 kHz and the other features of the 192 I/O, the 96 I/O will save you $2,000. Its sampling rates are 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz and 96 kHz. With 20 inputs and outputs, this interface handles up to 16 channels simultaneously. Spec-wise, there are eight 1/4-inch balanced TRS analog connectors, eight channels of ADAT I/O and a pair of AES/EBU and S/PDIF connectors. The ADAT optical connections may be used simultaneously with the eight channels of analog I/O, or switched into two-channel S/PDIF optical mode.

Compatibility Issues

One question that confronts existing Digidesign users is hardware compatibility. Lebolt says, “We included a “Legacy Port” as part of the design on the rear of the 192 I/O and 96 I/O interfaces. This allows you to hook up your existing gear, running at the same sample rates you used with MIX [up to 48 kHz – JAV]. However, supporting an all-new card and interconnect standard does not allow us to offer direct connection from the cards via the older Digidesign interconnect standard. This means that you cannot directly connect any of our original peripherals to the new HD Core or Process cards.”

As might be expected, the TDM bus architecture in Pro Tools has been upgraded to TDM II. This was necessary to address higher sampling rates among other things. With Pro Tools|HD, there are twice the number of timeslots as MIX systems providing a more efficient TDM environment. This is important especially in larger mixing configurations.

One concern is TDM plug-in compatibility. Ed Gray, director of Partnering Programs, states, “The new chip on each HD Core card and HD Process card has a completely different architecture, and the plug-ins that were compatible with Pro Tools|24 MIX systems will not work with Pro Tools|HD. We believe that these companies are as motivated as we are, to make their plug-ins available for Pro Tools|HD users as soon as possible.”

While we are talking about TDM, Digidesign has implemented a new host-based standard called HTDM. These plug-ins process audio on the host CPU instead of the DSP chips on the TDM hardware. One advantage is HTDM plug-ins can be used with regular TDM plug-ins. This will allow more DSP power in your system. The disadvantage of HTDM plug-ins is they have slightly greater latency than regular TDM plug-ins.

If that is not enough, Digidesign has also announced several other hardware peripherals. The SYNC I/O is a multipurpose synchronization device supporting all major industry-standard clock sources and time code formats. For MIDI musicians, the MIDI I/O interface will control 10 MIDI inputs and outputs for a total of 160 MIDI channels. PRE is an eight-channel remote-controllable digital microphone preamp that supports mic, line and instrument-level inputs.

Finally, Digidesign has released a new, portable Pro Tools LE system called Mbox. This standalone interface features a powered USB connection and has two analog inputs and outputs with Focusrite mic pre amps, 24-bit stereo S/PDIF digital I/O, two analog TRS inserts and a headphone amp with a volume control. Mbox also ships with Pro Tools 5.2 LE software and is compatible with the DigiStudio online collaboration website.

Pro Tools 5.3 software ships with all HD hardware. As of this writing, however, only the Macintosh version is available. Digidesign estimates a summer shipping date for the PC platform.

For a limited time, Digidesign is offering a hardware exchange program that enables registered users of Pro Tools|24 MIX systems to upgrade to Pro Tools|HD at a discounted price.