When the coronavirus pandemic sent people into lockdown last year, television broadcasters scrambled to develop new remote production setups to keep live programming on-air. As established at-home workflows evolved into work-from-home activities, Solid State Logic fast tracked development of the System T platform to enable it to fit into the new production paradigm.
System T is a departure from previous SSL desk designs. Not only the audio but all the control, as well as the interaction of a system’s components, are on a standard IP network. Additionally, the platform was written as a series of software applications—an open-ended design that enables SSL to change the way the console works. That in turn enabled the company to further develop the platform for long-distance remote setups.
System T comprises three core components—the Tempest processing engine and I/O interfaces—which are linked over high-capacity AoIP network connections using Dante, SMPTE ST 2110 and AES67 protocols, plus various control surface options, connecting to Tempest over TCP/IP. Key to the new work-from-home setup is that Tempest, with its hundreds of high-bandwidth connections, is positioned at the event and only the control data, plus monitoring, is sent to and from the remote surface.
Because System T is essentially a software application, an engineer can operate the entire system from a touchscreen with no hardware attached, says Thomas Jensen, SSL’s New York-based VP of technical operations. That said, the product range includes two full-size console options plus a 16-fader remote tile extension. “The choice of surface depends on the application and how many things you need to control at once,” he says.
From the start, System T has supported up to three control surfaces. “You could have a music mixer, a production mixer and a front-of-house mixer for the audience, and they could all be collaborating on the same show,” says Thomas. “Whether you’re running it on a standalone touchscreen or a large surface, all of the functionality is available to both those instances.”
Since the platform was designed from the get-go to operate in a decentralized fashion at a single location, SSL had to do some additional development work to ensure that remote surfaces could control the system when separated from the processing engine and I/O by hundreds or thousands of miles. For example, System T’s discovery mechanism auto-detects additional control surfaces on the network, but requires the initial operator to authorize access. That works within a building, but what if there is no one available to grant remote access at a distant location?
The protocol’s handling of low-bandwidth connections over great distances also had to be verified, says Thomas. “We had a lot of experience running on a LAN in a building on a standard, dedicated IT infrastructure, but the moment you move out onto latent links, the call and response from the protocol introduces possibilities for error.”
The latest version of the platform replaces auto-discovery with fixed discovery mechanisms, simply requiring the IP address of a distant control surface. “The software now allows a person to gain control if they have the right credentials, and that can be enabled and disabled,” he says.
On a show, says Jensen, a system would comprise an audio engine, control software and stage boxes positioned at the location. “The audio mixer is going to sit at his house or a control room at the broadcast facility,” he says. “They just need control, and to bring the final mix audio back for monitoring, so the requirement for local resources is not that great.”
As the new functionality underwent testing late last year, SSL’s U.S. team successfully controlled an engine in New York from a surface in Los Angeles. For subsequent tests, they brought experienced A1s into the L.A. office to mix multitrack sessions played out of New York. “We encoded the monitor output of the console and sent it to L.A. via VPN over the internet, and they mixed as if they were sitting in front of the real console. We had 70 milliseconds of round-trip latency,” Thomas reports, so the delay between moving a control and hearing the result was barely perceptible.
Solid State Logic • www.solidstatelogic.com