This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Pro Sound News. Innovations is a monthly column in which different pro audio manufacturers are invited to discuss the thought process behind creating their products of note.
Solid State Logic has been making consoles for 40 years, and fundamentally, our goals have not changed. Whether we are designing consoles for live sound, commercial studios or broadcast, we want to provide the best possible workflow for the audio operator. In the world of broadcast, audio operators are consistently being asked to do more with less while facing new challenges of both scale and flexibility in increasingly complex environments. This is true not only in “traditional” broadcast environments such as local news stations and large TV network facilities, but also within multinational corporate broadcast operations, streaming facilities and other venues.
In each of these scenarios, we have witnessed increasing demands on content dissemination over distributed networks. This has led to a need for more powerful audio consoles to accommodate more sources and buses—in multiple formats. The flip side of this is that broadcasters also need their operations to remain simple and scalable as technology continues to move forward. Our customers need the power and capacity to do more with less, while accessing predictable, familiar and nimble work surfaces.
SSL has been designing and manufacturing digital broadcast consoles for a long time, and each generation has pushed the boundaries of what was possible with technology at that time. Our System T, originally launched in 2017, was a significant step forward for broadcast operators. Its namesake derives from the SSL-developed Tempest engine, which allows an unprecedented degree of flexibility and audio processing on a very large scale. Rather than running on dedicated fixed signal processing hardware such as DSP or FPGA-based technology, Tempest relies on SSL’s own Optimum Core Processing (OCP) software on an industrial PC platform. In a quickly evolving market, this allows SSL to update dynamic feature sets so users can adapt to new operational and workflow requirements, such as immersive audio.
The Eye of the Storm
System T was a departure from SSL’s previous digital consoles, and it pushed our technology forward in three specific areas. First, integration of the Tempest engine meant that users now had an audio processor that could be reconfigured in between shows, or even while on the air. Adding or changing important features no longer required swapping out hardware or making complex changes. For instance, 5.1 was the native architecture when we launched, but now the system is fully immersive with 7.1.4 channels, buses and monitoring. This “future forward” capacity was available for users on the first day and presents a very nimble methodology for us to adapt to changing workflow requirements and to deliver them to users.
Second, System T is natively AoIP. Within the world of broadcast, embracing the rapid development of IP as the media transport mechanism was a logical step for our engineers while designing System T. Keeping the audio operator in the driver’s seat required not only the console’s audio I/O, but the console control software also had to connect to the IP network so audio routing could be facilitated from the console control surface, stored and recalled with the console’s show files. The System’s seamless integration with a Dante AoIP solution allows native routing control—not just between SSL devices, but among potentially thousands of Dante-enabled products on the network.
Recognizing that interoperability is a key component in the future of broadcast IP networking, we worked closely with Audinate to ensure that SMPTE 2110 is supported and that the System T infrastructure works with both Dante and open standard transport protocols at the same time.
Third, scalable control surface options, ranging from large-format surfaces to headless control, are also IP-based with remote log-in capabilities. For large entertainment shows, a production mixer and a music mixer can sit in two rooms on two surfaces mixing on the same console. In automated multi-studio facilities, A1s or broadcast engineering can change audio settings for each control room from a centralized location and shadow the productions without disruption. This affords not only the opportunity for increased quality but also an optimized workflow.
Building a Bridge
To satisfy the Tempest engine’s large I/O requirement, we needed to design a high-density connection to the audio network. This ultimately became the SSL HC card, which provided 512 bi-directional channels between the Tempest engine and the audio network on a single connection. (A Tempest engine can utilize six of these.) In the process of developing this technology, we realized that by adding sample rate converters, we would be able to solve a number of other network-related challenges—and so the HC Bridge SRC was born.
The HC Bridge SRC effectively bridges 256 channels of audio between two HC cards. With sample rate conversion, it allows two audio networks to be segmented while still sharing a large number of audio signals where required. Thus, our development of the HC card ultimately allowed us to solve multiple problems while addressing new applications for operators looking to integrate, say, mobile trucks and venues with disparate IP address schemes, clock domains or even different sample rates.
In early January, we launched v2.3 Release for System T, which included many incremental software improvements. This update took SMPTE 2110 and all of the SMPTE interoperability tools out of beta and into actual release. In the software update prior to that, we launched several new immersive sound tools that we were first to market with, one of which provided onboard A-B format conversion support for Sennheiser’s AMBEO format. This enabled operators to mix 3D audio in real time, with no rendering in post-production.
We continue to make refinements to System T for broadcast operators as production needs evolve. At SSL, we are excited about helping people migrate onto this innovative platform, while removing the obstacles they face in moving over to and ultimately mastering AoIP.
Thomas Jensen is part of the Systems & Support Group at Solid State Logic.
Solid State Logic • www.solidstatelogic.com