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The evolution from audio to PIX… by Jon Tatooles S ound Devices has built a strong reputation throughout the world as a leading manufacturer of high-quality audio field recorders and mixers renowned for rugged reliability, operational flexibility and pristine audio quality. While our users are quite familiar with our folks in sales, marketing and technical support areas, they may not be aware of the experience and talent behind our design, engineering, testing and production teams, who played an enormous part in our expansion into video. This article provides a behind- the-scenes look at how we listened to our clients’ needs and transformed Sound Devices into an important equipment provider for both field- production audio products and high- performance, portable external video recorders, through the development of PIX. Team work: Setting the stage Sound Devices’ design and engineering department is headed by Matt Anderson, co-founder of Sound Devices. While I cover marketing and tech support, and Jim Koomar handles sales, Matt is essentially responsible for the group of engineers who design all Sound Devices products. He is surrounded by many highly skilled mechanical, software, PC-board layout and test engineers in our Wisconsin- based facility. Libby Koomar heads Sound Devices’ production department. She is responsible for all of the manufacturing, testing, purchasing, inventory and production 60 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE control. These areas are critical to manufacturing the cost-effective, world-class-quality products that Sound Devices develops, right in the heart of rural Wisconsin. The building blocks of PIX Sound Devices’ industry heritage lies within its production-oriented field mixers and audio recorders. As portable field-audio recorders transitioned from analog to digital- tape-based and, finally, fully file- based workflows, the Sound Devices 7-Series played a big part in completing that transition for production audio. Through five years of experience building file-based audio devices, the engineering team gained an abundance of user and product insight, preparing the way for the development of PIX. In video, file- based video for post production has been in place since the 1990s. Video production has now too become file- based, thanks to the rapid evolution of digital cameras and their myriad of formats. These cameras, combined with the introduction of production- grade video codecs that work across multiple editing environments, paved the way for Sound Devices to create an external video product that works with a wide range of cameras while delivering “standard” file types. The video connection PIX was born as an offshoot idea for the 788T audio recorder. A few users and dealers had mentioned to Matt that it would be beneficial if the 788T had an SDI input to stream audio channels into the recorder, since an SDI stream carries both audio and video. As we investigated this idea, users also suggested that if SDI was already coming in, then perhaps we could make it possible to record the video signal as well. This would allow a sound mixer to take a video feed and record it for his own use—to see if a boom mic got into a shot, for example. The idea was to record all the high- quality audio channels along with a lower-quality H.264 stream for on-cart consumption, much the same way a video tap used to shadow a 35mm camera for film production. This idea continued to develop, and before long the definition of PIX changed from an audio recorder that also recorded video to a video recorder that also recorded audio. In the meantime, the engineering group brought on several video industry veterans with substantial experience in designing video products. By the end, the audio circuitry from the 788T remained in the product, but the video portion was upgraded to record with Apple’s ProRes and Avid’s DNxHD codecs, with the addition of full scaling, frame-rate conversion and a fully integrated time code generator, courtesy of Ambient Recording in Germany. Running the course Once the determination to move forward was made, the realities of