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Is compact the only future for consoles?

As live and broadcast productions converge, a demand is emerging counter to the one that suggests that the only future format for these desks is a compact one.

As live and broadcast productions converge, a demand is emerging counter to the one that suggests that the only future format for these desks is a compact one. If you can get more channels and busses than before in smaller-than-ever packages, how many can you get in a large format? Sound designer Gareth Owen is already asking that question…

“The fact that I had to customise two Profiles [for I Can’t Sing!] to join them together – and the fact that they don’t do it inherently – speaks volumes,” he says. “Can you get two modern consoles to work together exactly as one console, and can you do it reliably? I’ve had a lot of experience of networks falling over when you add more desks. I know you can have mirrored consoles, one as master and one as slave, but that’s not the same as one desk being a true extension of the other.”

Owen’s point is that the economics of recent desk production have seen large, flagship platforms pave the way for more lucrative mass-market spin-offs. Scalability, it seems, is more often downward, and if you want to double your console power you have to cascade. But in design terms, the challenges of the control surface can only multiply with the resources hidden beneath it. As DSP power grows, so do the options for access. While DiGiCo’s adoption of the fibre-optic ring is a completely new processing-intense architecture, the advanced DSP landscape has also been addressed this year by both Studer and Midas – with other brands no doubt watching those atomic chip sets very closely.

The largest DSP engines to date – Infinity and Neutron – are from Studer and Midas, respectively. “There are 800 channels in the Infinity core,” says Vista product manager Roger Heiniger, “which dramatically expands the capabilities of one console. The Thalia theatre in Hamburg, for example, is handling all the speaker management for the venue on the auxiliaries of one Vista 9, as well as the usual high channel requirements. The configurability is in the DSP engine, as well as the console.”

“We use CPU-based technology,” adds Andrew Hills, Studer’s director of product strategy, “and that gives you the possibility to change the way the DSP is glued together. Most large channel-count offers use FPGAs – SHARC chips don’t scale up quite so well – but even FPGAs tend to be delivered in a fixed configuration. In their flexibility, CPUs suit Vistonics very well.”

“PRO X takes the architecture of the Midas PRO Series control surface,” says Graham Rowlands (pictured), Music Group’s VP of global sales, professional division, “and adds the ‘grunt’ of the new Neutron DSP – which can be located anywhere. We’ve taken the original PRO Series surface and replaced the master controllers, scan processor and added a new middle section for even easier access to your AUX and matrix busses. Essentially the PRO X, which can simultaneously deliver up to 168 inputs and 99 outputs plus 24 effects and inserts, is still only driving less than 70% of that DSP. There’s another card slot, should we want to go further.”

And, with Cadac switching to Time Division Multiplexing (TDM), so multiplies the minutiae of competition. Maybe one day we’ll need a bit of quantum tunnelling after all.