The days of new pro audio product releases representing quantum leaps in technology are most likely behind us, the last big sea change—arguably—having been with the transition from analog to largely digital workflows. Yet change is constant, and as post production and broadcast workflows evolve, some manufacturers are building a new foundation for a future that promises increased audio-over-IP connectivity, cloud collaboration, evolving Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) workflows and increased automation.
While the addition of certain features and functionality in Pro Tools, now on version 12.6, has lagged behind other platforms, Avid has largely stayed ahead of the curve with regard to cloud collaboration and workflows for VR/AR. Avid Cloud Collaboration for Pro Tools may appear to have been initially aimed at the record production community, but as Tim Carrol, VP of audio products at Avid, reports, a number of post facilities, large and small, are beginning to use cloud collaboration and are expressing interest in future developments.
“Specifically, many multi-room facilities would like to use the collaboration engine on premises behind their firewall to allow multiple rooms and audio engineers the ability to work on a project at the same time,” he says. “More and more, post projects are at their core collaborative projects, so this is a great fit to augment their workflow and make the facility more productive.”
Avid recently added new facilities to its MediaCentral platform, the technology underlying its entire range of offerings, through its acquisition of the rights to develop and commercialize Nexidia’s Emmy Award-winning dialogue and audio analysis products. Integration—scheduled for 2017—of Nexidia’s unique phonetic indexing technology, Search Grid, and capabilities such as Dialogue Search and Illuminate with Comply, QC and Align into MediaCentral will better enable content creators to manage and monetize their asset libraries, Avid believes, while ensuring optimum quality and lowering production costs through automation of formerly time-intensive functions.
As predicted by industry observers, 2016 proved to be the year that VR/AR went mainstream. Avid is working very closely with many partners to ensure that Pro Tools is a first-class client for VR/AR workflow, according to Carrol.
“We have a partnership with Dolby that will bring a much more integrated experience for mixing in Atmos,” he says. “In addition, we have had ongoing discussions with Facebook and many game developers on ensuring that Pro Tools can provide a very fluid workflow for projects being created for VR/AR. We are ensuring that these workflows and needed features are implemented into our future roadmap.” Facebook’s 360 Spatial Workstation software suite, acquired from developer Two Big Ears in early 2016, was one of the first platforms to offer an end-to-end sound design solution for VR/AR.
Also planning for the future and working to stay ahead of the curve is Wohler. According to Craig Newbury, VP of sales and marketing, the one constant these days is change.
“It’s a struggle to keep up. I seem to be training people more than I’ve ever had to in the past. There’s a huge cost, not just in terms of putting the engineering and the products together, but also staffing up and resourcing appropriately to be able to sell these new technologies. It’s very consultative; we’re learning, but our customers are also learning with us,” he says.
Staying on the cutting edge as audio-over-IP deployments proliferate brings an inherent risk for a company such as Wohler that has invested money and expertise in new products, says Newbury. “We just launched a bunch of Dante, Ravenna and AES67 solutions, but then a new standard comes along, as it has with the SMPTE 2110, and suddenly 50 percent of the people that were interested in Dante last week have turned to something else.”
Planning for the future, Wohler has launched its new iAM (Intelligent Adaptable Monitoring) product line. “It’s software-defined and driven, in terms of its ability to adapt to what our customers need, through additional software components that we can add over time. Our value is around broadening the range of metrics and parameters as opposed to taking in different signal types.”
Wohler is focusing on a greater understanding of signals for its future offerings. “In the past, we’ve been focused on audio metering, but there’s so much more than how loud the audio is. There are a lot of tests that we can throw into the mix which add value to our customers’ ability to deliver good quality, well-received content, and do that more automatically, with less eyes on the screen. Because there are less eyes on the screen nowadays in the QA process,” says Newbury. Expect some new product releases at the NAB Show in April, he says.
“Networking provides a level of flexibility and functionality that you wouldn’t normally get without it,” says Phil Wagner, president at Focusrite Novation. “We’ve been hammering on that point for years. But what we’re seeing today is a much wider adoption at all levels. It seems to be very clear that the broadcast industry is adopting this wholly, post production is adopting it more and more, and production will follow suit.”
AoIP in all its flavors and the AES67 interoperability standard have been proselytized by organizations including AIMS, MNA, AES and SMPTE, says Wagner. “The key is that AES67 was developed to allow just the audio to pass. But the networks and protocols need to recognize each other with discovery, and that was not part of the AES67 spec. I’m very happy to say that finally the AES67 discovery protocols are coming together and we are seeing a greater level of interoperability, which will really open the door to more widespread adoption of AES67.”
On the post production side, Focusrite’s RedNet products are facilitating connectivity between multiple control rooms and one or more VO booths, either one-to-one or one-to-many. Focusrite’s RedNet 6 MADI bridge has found a home in Dolby Atmos post rooms, where it often powers Harman BLU protocol-based speaker monitoring systems. “That’s become pretty much a standard at film and post studios,” reports Wagner.
AoIP dovetails with the new emerging broadcast production paradigm. “It supports distance production, where you have remote production over longer distances and centralized control rooms, and different workflow opportunities that can be implemented much more affordably using fiber-optic connectivity over short and long distances,” says Wagner.
As a scalable solution, AoIP networking is allowing broadcasters to prepare for the continuing evolution of video resolution from 2K to 4K and 8K, he continues. “You can’t build a $5 million infrastructure in a facility, or $40 million in the case of a remote truck, and decide you need to replace it in a year or two. To amortize the investment, it’s important to have solutions that are scalable, that only networking provides.”