(click thumbnail)Few can doubt this Swiss company's expertise in the analog domain; for many decades Studer's two-track and multitrack machines have dominated the international marketplace. And in terms of digital transports, the DASH-format D827 Mk II 24/48-track made fans of reel-to-reel editing convenience. But the firm's console range, aside from relatively modest broadcast offerings, never created the same sort of buzz. Until, that is, the D950 appeared on the scene and dazzled post production and broadcast customers with its intuitive user interface and powerful, bullet-poof operating system.
Fast forward to half a decade ago, and the introduction of Studer's Vista Series, which very quickly established an enviable reputation for connectivity and enhanced user friendliness. The latest offering in the Vista Series, the aptly-named Vista 8 (app. $200,000 - $450,000), built on that pedigree and has attracted a lot of attention from the live-production community. A major key to Vista's success is the Vistonics display section, which offers function-specific relabeling of all controls plus a host of other advantages.
As will be readily apparent to anybody who has used earlier Vista Series consoles, Vista 8's Vistonics GUI has dramatically extended the concept to provide flexible output metering and control. In essence, Vista 8 combines the Vista 6's broadcast features with dynamic automation culled from Vista 7 to offer a flexible multipurpose live broadcast/production console. A revised Control Bay provides additional faders in a narrower frame layout, making Vista 8 an ideal choice for both fixed and remote applications. Fold in a revised snapshot system plus dedicated mute groups and the Vista 8 becomes equally at home in a fixed-install concert hall or theater.
Without a doubt, the primary feature of Vista 8 is a remarkably intuitive user interface; you sidle up to the console and know almost instinctively what controls handle what functions. Because if there is one potential drawback to fully assignable digital consoles, it is the steep learning curve for control mapping, and remembering how to reach hidden layers. With Vista 8, all of this assignability is there, of course, but it never seems to get in your way. (A not insignificant requirement for live operations.)
Studer's remarkable Vistonics GUI integrates rotary controls and buttons within a flat-screen display. Most digital consoles arrange controls around or below a TFT flat screen display, a topology that brings some ergonomic problems. While parameters are displayed on the screen, their associated controls might be located elsewhere. Vistonics uses specific colors and control shapes or icons to differentiate various functions. Vista 8's channel controls comprise a TFT screen with buttons and rotary controls mounted on it, plus a touch-screen area immediately below. Other channel-specific controls - fader, mute, on/off buttons and so on - are arranged above and below the TFT screen to form an instant overview.
Modular System Components
Vista 8 consists of a single Control Bay plus between two and six Channel Bays that incorporate between 22 to 72 physical faders. Remote D21m Hubs house an array of mic/line analog I/Os, AES format I/O, MADI I/O, TDIF I/O and ADAT format I/O, according to the environment, and connect via a MADI optical link to additional D21m Remote Frames, carrying control data for remote mic preamps. Each hub connects to the main Vista DSP Core via a CAT-5 port, and also outputs eight AES format I/Os to the separate Monitoring Frame. A simple optical connection links the Vista 8 control surface to the Core, with additional control connections from the surface to the Monitoring Frame via RS485 and to the Hub via RS422 serial ports.
The configurable DSP Core can be set to run at a sampling rate of 48 kHz or 96 kHz, with 40-bit floating point math. A small-format system might be configured with five DSP cards to provide 96 D21m inputs and outputs – for example, a 48-channel stereo console or a 34 to 42-channel surround mixer. With 16 DSP cards and 192 D21 I/Os, a medium-format configuration can be laid out as a 128-channel stereo mixer or an 82 to 104-channel surround console. Usefully, stem mixing also is possible with Vista 8 using group buses that can be patched directly to recorders, and subgroup master channels for stem summing provide additive monitoring. (Stem levels also can be displays on subgroup master channels.)
A routing matrix within the DSP core offers cross-connection between physical I/Os and internal ports, thereby eliminating the need for external patch bays or companion router. (The Vista 8's router can also be controlled externally using the industry-standard Pro-Bel protocol, providing audio-follow-video for broadcast applications.)
Each Channel Bay on the control surface houses an array of 10, 100mm faders, a Vistonics GUI screen, assignable rotary encoders at the top of each channel strip, plus additional buttons and controls. Each channel features a high-resolution, dual-color bargraph meter with an additional gain-reduction element for the built-in dynamics. Color-coding is used intelligently as an aid to locating an appropriate control on the Vista 8 surface. Within the Vistonics touch area, channel displays are green for dynamics, red for EQ and yellow for pan, providing an instant overview of each setting for the entire console with a quick glance. Pressing a Global View button causes the four Vistonics rotary controls on each channel to change their function throughout the console, displaying the selected audio function's four important parameters. And Global View buttons are located on each Channel Bay, providing handy access from anywhere on the surface.
Vistonics Ease of Use
By touching either the dynamics, EQ or pan curves on a particular channel strip, all controls and companion displays for the targeted function are available within the Vistonics panel. Touching EQ and dynamics on the same channel, for example, enables simultaneous control of these complementary functions. Simply turning the rotary controls enable parameters to be adjusted with instant display of numerical and graphical settings. As I discovered, Studer has provided Vistonics with icons that represent a logical readout for each individual function: graphical readouts represent frequencies, circles are time settings, bar graphs for levels, and so on – all easy to remember, making Vista 8 behave and respond more like a hard-mapped analog mixer than an assignable digital console.
It cannot be stated too strongly that the close integration of controls and readouts is a remarkable breakthrough; unlike other competitive schemes Vistonics' patented technology directs your eye and hand to work cooperatively in the same display – they are coincident, without sub menus - since every parameter can be accessed via a single button push. As Studer says so concisely in its sales literature: "Where you look is where you control."
Audio functions can also be copied and pasted using dedicated keys to transfer or clone just one or a range of channels. DSP channels not assigned to the surface can be accessed by scrolling or banking through available channels, with a freely assignable order across the faders. Each fader can be flipped individually to a second layer for fast access to "must-have" sources, such as backup microphones. And, usefully, all second-layer channels are provided with a small level meter that can be set to the channel strip.
All buttons on Vista 8 are logic-controlled to sense momentary or latching operation, by sensing how long it has been depressed. A quick tap latches the selected function/view, while a touch and hold temporarily activates the same function/view. The result is an intuitive and very powerful user interface that dramatically reduces the number of input processes compared to a conventional console. Controls can also be ganged to enable multiple channel strips to act as one, including mute, faders, copy/paste, plus bus assign.
Central Control Bay
The central Control Bay comprises a Vistonics screen equipped with 40 rotary controls and switches plus 12 faders: 10 that match the operation of those fitted to the Channel Bays, plus two extras. Overall philosophy here is, without a doubt, "One control per function" – thereby eliminating paging and hidden functions. The 10 "standard" faders can be mapped to control input sources or – more usefully - as VCA Masters or Group Masters via a four-bank array. Interestingly, the screen's rotary controls act as 40 additional faders with real-time meters – maybe as master faders to provide direct access/display of overall levels with headroom and overload indicators. But that is just the beginning. A very handy – and as far as I know unique - "Contribution" button located above each fader calls up a reverse bus interrogation mode, effectively remapping all of the faders that are currently controlling the contributing channels to the bank of rotaries above that channel.
The Control Bay also provides eight fully assignable, high-resolution dual-color bargraphs with dual dynamics readout. Each meter can be switched to display monitored sources, PFL and solo. An optional motorized joystick can be used to automate surround panning and Studer's unique Virtual Surround Panning (VSP) capabilities. VSP provides time-delay panning and ambiences, enabling mono sources to be processed and quickly produce highly realistic surround ambiances. The process "builds" a predefined acoustic space and then positions targeted sound sources within this fabricated space. LCR and surround pan elements control the level and location of early reflections with closely calculated directionality and time delays for each loudspeaker location, along with stunningly realistic late reverberation patterns. Hearing is believing!
For control room monitoring, Vista 8 supports LR/stereo, LCR to LCRS and 5.1, with Dolby EX as an option. Feeds can be set to a pair of independent studio areas, with a sophisticated talkback setup. Multiple GPIs and GPOs also are available for controlling external equipment, on-air lights and similar devices.
As well as offering conventional capabilities, each input channel provides features that are essential for live broadcast, live-to-tape and similar real-time production. In addition to 16 dedicated Mute Groups, flexible snapshot modes can be set up and actuated at the press of a button. Vista 8 offers talkback routing to Direct Out plus N-1, for example, while a series of flexible matrix busses can be configured to drive multiple headphone feeds for complex broadcast productions. (A Vista Remote Bay, with between 10 or 20 faders, is available on special order for operating channel functions up to a distance of 400 yards from the primary control surface.)
One particularly neat function: today's live broadcast or taped productions can be a nightmare to wrangle if outside sources need to communicate offline with one another and/or with the producer in independent, application-specific conference modes. Vista 8 comes equipped with a remarkable provision to set up private communications groups via the PFL system, including the ability to automatically deselect sources by putting them to air and/or the master busses. (Thereby allowing remote reporters, for example, to compare notes, update their impressions and even develop elaborate cues, simply by being routed via an N-1 PFL-activated buss structure. Truly innovative … and totally stress-free!)
The Studer brand has always meant quality and reliability, within analog and digital systems that utilize advanced technology and rugged innovation. The Vista 8 Live Production Console is no exception. It offers an easy to use, highly intuitive control surface that can be learned in record time, plus a flexible DSP Core and MADI-based system configurations that provide bulletproof reliability and redundancy. For live productions there are no second chances; you get it right, or the moment has passed. With Vista 8 there is an excellent chance that, with its remarkable Vistonics topology, this console will keep coming back for more and not get in your way. A remarkable development worthy of its Swiss pedigree.
Contact: Studer/Harman Pro at 818-920-3212, www.studer.ch.