Innovation, harmonisation, simplification

You could reasonably argue that “innovation, harmonisation and simplification” is a good motto for designers of any product to bear in mind. It is certainly true for mission critical monitoring, and it is what TSL has tried to do with its range of rack-mounted professional digital audio monitors.
Checking audio quality, and particularly levels, at various stages of the workflow is important. Viewers are particularly acutely tuned to changes in audio level, and complain loudly if there are problems. Keeping audio well balanced is an important requirement.
So for some time we have offered small and simple units which can be bolted into a rack wherever there is a need for an audio monitoring point. They accept digital audio streams or can de-embed audio from video signals. They handle surround sound and LRC signals as well as stereo and mono. Most important, as well as providing precision metering they include good quality stereo speakers for a quick qualitative check: you can hear that the sound is correct, clean and at the right comfortable level.
As part of its move to Salford Quays, BBC Sport identified a need for more capabilities, including simple mixing, alongside the monitoring points at some parts of its production chain. We looked and could not find a suitable device, so we developed our own, the AVM-TMIX, or Touchmix for short.
The requirement was for something that could de-embed audio from one or two SDI signals simultaneously, then mix this with analogue or AES signals. Obviously individual levels needed to be controlled, and the requirement also specified the ability to balance stereo signals and pan mono feeds.
This is not an unreasonable requirement: it might be the need to monitor multiple talkback feeds as well as the programme in an operational control room, for example. By extension, it could also be used in creative areas, as a simple audio mixer in an edit suite.
The basic construction – a 2U cabinet with high quality speakers – already existed in the range, as did the precision metering and digital signal processing required. What was needed was the innovation to create a practical user interface, which would be intuitive and offer the core functionality as simply and directly as possible.
The solution was to put a large 22:9 touchscreen display across most of the front panel. This shows stereo bargraphs for the 10 inputs and the master output. To control a channel simply touch it, then use the single rotary control to adjust levels and stereo position. For 5.1 signals you can group stereo channels together and down mix them automatically. This fulfils the requirement that the device should be simple, and the bargraph meters show levels.
Channels can be muted and soloed, again using touches, and single-level menus take you to routing and set-up screens. There is a front panel USB socket so set-ups can be stored on memory sticks. Programmes can build their preferred way of working and carry it with them should they be in a different studio or area next time.
Digging further into the operational requirements our first customers needed, it seemed clear that there would be applications when a single 10 channel mixer would not be enough, so we added a second identical but independent mixer into the unit. That means that, for instance, one mixer could be handling communications feeds or a foldback sub-mix while the other was controlling the programme feed.
On the other hand there are applications where the audio paths and levels need to be absolutely consistent and the device is just present for monitoring and reassurance. In these cases there is a lock-down mode in which users have no control apart from the monitor level and the ability to recall a single ‘default’ snapshot denoted by the ‘Home’ push switch.
The more you play with the Touchmix the more applications you find. The Salford Quays project has already ordered more than 80 for a whole range of areas, from creative suites to technical monitoring areas and master control.
It is a classical example of a product which is designed to tackle real-world complex tasks and make them easy. It is innovative because we could not find any other vendor making anything like this; it brings harmonisation because users can go into any one of 80 areas and know how to access the audio control; and by using the simple point at a touchscreen paradigm it is certainly simple to operate.

Tags: iss059 | tsl | salford quays | bbc sport | avm-tmix | touchmix | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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