As we 2009 comes to a close, I thought it would be useful to reflect on this year’s products and innovations that affected production sound, and speculate on what 2010 and beyond might bring for our corner of the industry.
But first, some goodbyes:
We said goodbye to Analog Television
. It was supposed to happen in February, but was pushed to June, and even then didn’t happen to all analog stations. But for all intents and purposes, the transition to digital television is complete, thus freeing up huge chunks of RF spectrum. Right now, we’re in a “golden age” of wireless mic and wireless comms spectrum – the brief window where we have all of the free spectrum vacated by former analog television broadcasts but before the onslaught of RF from TVBD (“White Space”) devices.
Along with the transition to DTV, the UHF spectrum above 698 MHz was officially handed over to Telecom giants and Public Safety agencies. Many sound mixers, rental companies and broadcasters stopped operating radio mics in that spectrum and purchased new units on frequencies below 698 MHz. Many others discovered that much of that spectrum remained vacant throughout this year, and that some of it (the so-called “D Block” allocated for nationwide Public Safety use) was not even successfully auctioned. Of course, it won’t remain that way forever, and eventually the RF squatters will be forced to leave.
Firewire and ExpressCard/34 expansion
Perhaps a little premature to be saying goodbye to Firewire, but Apple sent a clear message when they dropped FireWire from the Macbook line, and ExpressCard/34 from the 15″ MacBook Pro.
We said goodbye to the longest running TV drama when it aired its last episode on Spetember 18th, capping a 57 year run (not counting the 15 years as a radio show). We became involved with their Audio Department shortly after the show moved from studio cameras to small HDV cameras. Like many shows, they were forced to figure out a way to do the same quality for less money.
And, last but not least, we said goodbye to virtuoso musician and inventor Les Paul. He taught himself how to play guitar, and over the course of an eighty year career, he invented the first solid-body electric guitar AND multi-track recording, changing both rock music and audio recording forever.
Innovative production sound products introduced in 2009:
Zaxcom was largely responsible for introducing production sound mixers to non-linear recording with the DEVA II at the beginning of this decade, so it’s only fitting that they are responsible for it’s next leap at the end of the decade. ZAXNET ties almost all elements of production sound into what I refer to as a “Set Area Network”. Wireless transmitter gain, audio levels, slates, metadata and timecode are all dynamically controlled from the recorder. In addition, the DEVA recorder can coordinate playback from all Zaxcom transmitters, and since the transmitters are always recording, you never need to worry about RF intereference ruining a take.
Sound Devices 552 and CL-8
Sound Devices replaced their venerable 442 model with the 552, adding a fifth input and a 2 track recorder to the already impressive feature set of the 442. On the other hand, their CL-8 faders for the 788T recorder is a true innovation by introducing a control surface to the ENG market. It is now possible to record 8 discrete audio inputs and make 4 individual mixes, all over the shoulder.
Metric Halo ULN8 and 2d
Metric Halo introduced their new ULN-8 computer audio interface this year. In typical Metric Halo fashion, it is the heart of a digital mixer (complete with 80 bit computation and 64 bit DSP) disguised as a DC powered firewire interface with high quality mic preamps. Also in line with their company philosophy, anyone who purchased their 2882 and ULN-2 interfaces going all the way back to 2001 could upgrade to the latest DSP power with a simple kit.
The DSLR craze and Plural Eyes
While not audio products per se, DSLRs did spawn several products that can interface pro audio with the Canon 5d, 7D and Panasonic GH1. The best sound quality by far can be obtained by NOT recording audio on these cameras and instead treat it like a true “double system” camera, meaning record the audio on a separate recorder. To this end, Singular Software’s Plural Eyes (http://www.singularsoftware.com/) allows syncing separate audio and picture elements without timecode, automatically.
Trends for 2010:
The Disappearing White Space
Without much fanfare in the audio industry, the first data networks based on TVBDs were deployed in Claudesville, VA. Since the TVBD manufacturers see RF interference issues as cognitive problems, they are pushing for less protection for wireless microphones. Of course, once the FCC does finalize the rules for the TVBDs, they will turn their attention to the rules governing the use of wireless mics.
Control Surface as Metadata
Now that control surfaces have gained acceptance in the production sound world, the next step will be for the controller’s parameters to be treated as metadata – imagine the eq setting could be stored and recalled at any time – either by the production sound mixer OR the post production team. The mix fader positions could also be stored as metadata, and would appear as “volume automation” so that any mistakes made during the take could be corrected quickly in post without having to re-do the entire mix.
I wish all of Studio Daily’s readers a Happy, Healthy and Distortion Free New Year!