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NAB Show 2018: AI, IP and More

The NAB Show roars into Las Vegas each year, bringing with it gear that reflects the changes of the last 12 months and likewise keeps an eye toward the future of broadcasting in all its major, and occasionally macro, forms. Here, we take a look at not only what the convention presented, but how it did so.

IP was everywhere, there was a podcast showcase, manufacturers were touting AI, and at one booth you could use an intercom with a Dick Tracy-like tap on your wrist. Was it CES? Right city, wrong convention—welcome to the 2018 NAB Show.

IP has brought about a sea change in the world of broadcast, but it is only in the last year or so that the industry has had—to mix metaphors—solid ground on which to build, as AES67, SMPTE ST 2110, AMWA NMOS and ATSC 3.0 standards and guidelines have all fallen into place. Hammering the point home, 60 manufacturers and eight of the industry’s standards bodies and trade alliances banded together at the IP Showcase at NAB Show to demonstrate the benefits and practicality of making the transition from SDI to IP workflows in broadcast.

Related stories on Pro Sound News:
AIMS Theater Brings IP to the Masses at NAB Show, Clive Young, April 23, 2018
IP at NAB: Showcasing the Future, Steve Harvey, March 26, 2018

Audio-over-IP is enabling new workflows such as the networking and distribution of audio DSP and management resources. A mixing console, for instance, need no longer look like a traditional desk. SSL’s System T, to offer one example at this year’s show, is instead a set of network objects, including processing engines, traditional audio I/O devices and control interfaces, that can be distributed throughout a facility. At NAB Show, SSL also took the opportunity to debut its new “appified” System T v2.0 software, which includes native immersive audio support, and introduced System T S300-32, a compact control surface with fixed 32+1 fader configuration that can be combined with the complete portfolio of SSL’s System T control, processing and I/O options.

Related: SSL’s System T Software Gets Immersive, March 20, 2018

IP has also enabled the streamlined and cost-efficient remote broadcast audio production method referred to as REMI (REMote Integration) or at-home production, where mic inputs and IFBs at a venue are managed remotely, sometimes thousands of miles away, from the mixing desk at the plant. Console manufacturers including Calrec, Lawo and Wheatstone have all launched REMI products in recent years. Calrec participated in live demos at its NAB Show booth, using its RP1 unit to contribute audio across the floor of the Central Hall to a production hub at the Grass Valley booth, which provided live mixing for distribution to the booth of signal transport specialists Net Insight.

Podcast listenership has exploded over the last couple of years, thanks in no small part to the ubiquitous smartphone. According to figures from industry researchers, nearly half of all U.S. households are podcast fans, and a quarter of the population has listened to at least one podcast in the last month.

In the run-up to this year’s NAB Show, Chris Brown, NAB executive vice president of conventions and business operations, stated, “We have greatly expanded podcasting’s presence at NAB Show to help individuals and businesses understand and implement the latest technologies and content strategies to capitalize on the medium’s growing popularity and potential.” In the new Podcast Pavilion area, companies including Blubrry, Libsyn, Podbean, TuneVu, VoxNest and Zype had their hosting, management and monetization solutions on display.

Representatives from the Podcast Engineering School were also on hand to offer advice and assistance. As founder Chris Curran comments on the school’s website, “Since I entered the world of podcasting in early 2012, I realized that most podcasters and podcast producers have very little or no audio engineering skills, which virtually cripples the quality of their sound from the very beginning. That’s why I opened Podcast Engineering School.”

“What if you had your own virtual development platform with the AI to do virtually anything you wanted to do in the studio? And what if you could apply the same concept to hardware? What if your studio console could be as dynamically changeable as any software interface?” asked Dee McVicker, marketing communications director for Wheatstone.

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Version 2 of Wheatstone’s ScreenBuilder virtual development platform answers those questions, and adds new scripting for capturing RSS news, sports and weather feeds, while providing users with the tools to design display and control panels for tablets and touchscreens. Leveraging the IP-connectedness of every component in a WheatNet-IP facility, that virtual control panel could be as simple as a single fader, mute and level control that allows the talent to handle his or her own mic remotely, to a complex screen enabling a producer to manage all aspects of a multi-person talk show.

Clear-Com’s Agent-IC 2.2 app feels as futuristic as AI, with its ability to control a partyline intercom system from an Apple Watch. With a tap on the wrist, Apple Watch users on a Clear-Com partyline system are discreetly notified—via haptics—of an intercom call, can see the caller’s I.D. at a glance and can respond via a paired Bluetooth headset or iPhone.

Related: Clear-Com Accesses Apple Watch, April 5, 2018

On a grander scale, Clear-Com’s new E-IPA card allows users to build out high-density audio distribution and intercom systems. Potentially, up to a maximum of 256 IP ports may be added to Eclipse HX-Median and Omega systems—the highest density matrix intercom system available on the market, according to the company.

The Telos Alliance has taken a different approach, eliminating the digital matrix and leveraging IP to take the intercom system to infinity, if not beyond. The Telos Infinity, which had its own booth at this year’s NAB Show, is a distributed IP network solution that brings together voice communication and contribution audio on a single IT backbone. Employing the latest standards-based VoIP and Livewire+ AES67 AoIP transports, it also integrates easily into existing analog, AES, SDI and MADI systems using Telos Alliance xNode baseband-to-IP interfaces and other AES67 partner devices. 

Related: Telos Alliance to Show IP Interop at NAB Show, March 23, 2018