Remote Audio Management: Post-Pandemic Workflows Evolve to Offer Greater Flexibility | Industry trends

In some organizations, the change in work practices necessitated by the pandemic literally happened overnight. In both radio and television, program production teams more accustomed to working together in the same studios suddenly found themselves dispersed far and wide. And where they may have already had the technologies needed to support “full” remote production (but without having to use them at nearly full capacity), these have now become absolutely essential to maintain the on-air broadcasts.

David Letson, vice president of sales at Calrec Audio, is not the only one to note that “we already had a whole bunch of solutions [for managing remote audio] beforehand, but I’ve found that during the pandemic many of them have seen a strong uptake from our customer base. You could say that, somewhat unintentionally, we were already geared up for a much bigger shift to remote audio.

As Letson also observes, the past few years have seen “a lot of experimentation” among broadcasters in terms of routing and administering remote audio. In the (hopefully) more stable times to come, it is inevitable that many of the more temporary workflows will be revised and augmented. To that end, it will no doubt help that major audio providers seem to continually focus on improving their remote production solutions.

From novelty to necessity

As Lucas Zwicker, senior technical product manager of audio production at Lawo, implies, the concept of remote audio has undergone considerable change over the years. Thus, it is possible to draw a line under “a more traditional incarnation involving codecs and telephone hybrids, [where you could feature] a field reporter or guest expert as an additional contributor, while core content is still produced and managed on location or at the studio itself.

More recently, the industry has seen the rise of remote production hubs, such as NEP Australia’s Andrews Hubs, where processing cores are housed in dedicated locations and made available to all operators anywhere on a WAN network. Although this concept was well established before the Covid-19 shutdowns, “the global pandemic has obviously made remote productions a necessity rather than a new and more efficient way to use its infrastructure”.

Fortuitously, Lawo has been aiming for the physical separation of stage boxes and control surface processing devices for some time. After the first WAN-based forays into a major sports tournament in 2016, Lawo more recently launched the remote connection enabling technology, Gateserver, for its mc² consoles.

This ability, Zwicker explains, “allows [mc²] consoles to connect to the processing core through a routed Layer 3 network, WAN, and even the public Internet. But these were only the first steps.

“Our A_UHD Core [high-density IP audio engine] is based on a fully distributed architecture that provides robust redundancy schemes over remote connections. In fact, we just finished an exciting POC [proof of concept] in this area, involving an A_UHD core near Frankfurt and one in Munich which acted as a redundant pair for advanced resilience.

From an implementation perspective, users need to be able to understand how different elements meet Audio over IP standards in a given workflow.

As well as highlighting “the need for low-bandwidth connectivity” to support home production, Zwicker suggests that “we’ve learned a lot from the pandemic, and that’s bound to have a lasting effect on the industry – wouldn’t it? what because it can be more convenient, flexible and family-friendly to work from home when there is no urgent need to be at the production center.

Therefore, Zwicker expects continued expansion into “hybrid” setups, where “hands-on on-site or (literally) home-based production complements projects done in a beautiful mothership studio/control room environment” .

Like other leading companies in this space, Lawo itself is now evaluating how to implement the “ideas and experience” gained during the pandemic into its product ecosystem, “precisely to enable our customers to access to anything from anywhere when it suits them best.

This creates exciting new requirements for core components of a production system that will certainly result in new product releases, while others can easily be based on new software releases for our existing software-definable products.

Managing audio at a “granular level”

The rise of remote audio is, of course, entirely complementary to the advent of more flexible IP-based production environments. Synchronization accuracy and low latency are essential requirements of live remote audio management, and judging from Artel’s current developments, these aspects have also undergone further progress in light of trends. industry recent.

LAWO_UHD-CORE_web

For example, Artel’s Quarra family of PTP-enabled managed IP switches has recently been modified to reduce overall noise. The switches support multiple standards, such as SMPTE ST 2110 and ST 2059-2, enabling interoperable use of IP-based multimedia equipment with conventional genlocked SDI equipment – and thus supporting the hybrid production environments that are now so common.

“From a device management perspective, I think there are several key issues,” said Rafael Fonseca, vice president of product management at Artel. “First, understand the provisioning objects that each audio endpoint can support; and second, to understand the importance and meaning of the alarms/errors/notifications that each terminal can generate.

“From an implementation perspective, users need to be able to understand how different elements meet Audio over IP standards in a given workflow.” With Quarra switches, users have the ability to “sever and isolate suspicious parts of a network or groups of terminals, allowing proper troubleshooting of implementations when things don’t look right”.

As these developments indicate, Fonseca is confident that increasingly precise editing and management of remote audio will be a defining trend for years to come. “I think the most important aspect of remote audio management will be in the area of ​​granularity,” he notes. “Being able to manage audio workflows at a granular level will allow users to get creative with audio stream arrangements that reflect and support the needs of audio professionals.”

“Giving people greater flexibility”

One of Calrec’s solutions that has seen increased traction during the pandemic was actually launched as far back as 2016. The compact RP1 remote production processing engine allows program teams to capture a range of live events and mix them in a remote facility miles away.

Developed in part to help broadcasters produce more live coverage with minimal resources, RP1 has “really thrived” over the past few years, Letson notes, because “opportunity” has often become “necessity”.

Simultaneously, the company has also seen increased interest in its Type R IP mixing system, which can be deployed without a physical surface. Instead, control and configuration can be accomplished through the Calrec Assist app, which runs in a web browser and provides users with a virtual desktop running on a laptop.

It’s an approach that, Letson says, “has really come to the fore [during the pandemic]. We were lucky to have these tools in place already and only needed a few minor changes to give people the flexibility they wanted. The next step is to ensure that the Assist experience is standardized across the Calrec lineup.

As we (hopefully) emerge from the Covid-19 era, Letson expects broadcasters to continue to evolve their remote audio setups while refining their ideas for future release. “The pandemic has really expanded ideas about what can be done remotely,” he observes. In terms of live event production, “we still sell desks to use in the big trucks to get to stadiums. It works great – always has and always will. But we are also seeing more people thinking outside the box. »

In particular, he believes new methods of managing remote audio are benefiting sports fans: “People still want big sports, but there’s interest in other sports as well and it’s clear that [recent technology developments] make it possible to cover more sports than ever before.

To learn more about innovations in broadcast audio technology, browse the latest articles from the IBC365 audio archive.

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