60-Second Q&A: Niall Feldman, Director of New Products, Solid State Logic
On Making a Multi-Suite Production Studio More Efficient
A: SSL’s Product Demonstration Area (PDA) is a suite of six fully functioning production studios covering a floor area of approximately 8,000 square feet over two floors. It is used for demonstrations, training, testing and product development. Each of the studios is acoustically designed by some of the world’s finest acoustic designers. The studios are all wired for HD video and surround audio and vary in size from approx 600 to 1600 square feet.
Our aim to centralize around a single machine area was largely driven by flexibility and efficiency. The demands on the facility and equipment means that at any time there may be a need to do a variety of different sessions simultaneously, e,g, 5.1 audio demo mix production in one room, at the same time providing a high-definition mix-to-picture training session in another. Centralizing resources gave us the flexibility to have free access to five Mac- and PC-based workstations, assignable to any room within a few minutes notice. A further benefit was the de-commissioning of two A/C units, dramatically reducing the PDA’s carbon footprint.
Q: How was the PDA originally wired for video, audio and workstation control? Why and how did that plan change with the new configuration?
A: Initially the audio and video wiring were cable trunks full of analog multi-core, coax cable and copper twisted pair. Workstation control was largely on a computer-per-room basis. This presented challenges when we needed to demonstrate a specific combination of workstation and console – a day or two was needed to prepare for the session, and an amount of PC lugging was required.
With SSL’s development of more green, energy-efficient technology it looked feasible that all studios could be fed from one machine area. It also seemed feasible that the majority of the installation could be future proofed by flood wiring with Cat5e/6 and fibre to carry all audio, video and control signals. These changes reduced power consumption and machine space, and liberated copper stuffed cable ducts to be freely accessible and capable of significant further expansion.
Q: How did you select and use the Adder X50?
A: We have had great experiences with Adder products. We have used their KVM solutions in demonstrations of SSL’s Gravity video production systems and they’ve performed superbly. Adder was our first port of call when we realised we had a KVM need for our PDA plans. A phone call and a day or so later they were on-site discussing the challenges and the options. The new X50 was an obvious choice for our application, specifically because of its support for high pixel resolutions over reasonable cable distances and USB 2.0 peripherals. The price was very attractive too – we needed quite a few! They sent a unit for evaluation and we were particularly pleased with the USB performance. We’ve had disappointing results with other long-distance USB devices in the past and in many ways this was our biggest concern. Video performance was great, too. It did everything we needed.
Q: Did you run into limits in terms of distance and/or video resolutions?
A: Our longest cable run was approx 120 feet, and certainly that presented no problems for the X50s and what we were doing (video and widescreen PC/Mac displays).
Q: What are the practical advantages of the new configuration?
A: The prime advantages are efficiency and flexibility. Within a few moments, we can change configuration from 5.1 audio mix production using Apple Logic to a high-definition mix-to-picture training session using Soundscape or Pro Tools. Our ability to fit customer demonstration needs is greatly improved and, with a fast-paced product development schedule, there are also time and product quality benefits, which are important in today’s very competitive markets.
Q: What was the biggest challenge?
A: Finding the time! We wanted to learn a lot from this exercise as a team. It was a great opportunity to put products into practice and realize the scale of what we could do with the wide range of products we now manufacture. This target meant that from planning to testing, we did nearly all the work with an in-house team that all had day jobs to do. That said, the challenge wasn’t as huge as we first visualised. Common cabling that could be bought ready-terminated and cable ducts that were now only one-fourth full meant that some of the more daunting tasks were actually fairly straightforward.
We learned a lot through living many of our customers’ challenges. SSL’s reputation for support and service is built on the value of these experiences, and there’s no better way to learn than doing it for real. Our PDA is equipped for its next decade of challenges. It’s greener and more flexible, and products like the X50 transformed impossible challenges into realistic, cost-effective goals.