Cool New(ish) DiGiCo Features

I totally forgot I wanted to write a post about this. These aren’t necessarily the newest features of the DiGiCo SD series of consoles, but they are some pretty cool ones that I wanted to point out. The first one makes doing things like virtual soundcheck and personal mixing a lot easier. The second makes it easier to conserve faders on the surface during a big event. Both make a great console platform even better.

The Copy Audio Matrix

When it came to virtual soundcheck recording, one of the challenges we had with previous versions of the software was what to do with local inputs. The way we normally set things up was to copy MADI 1 to MADI 2. That essentially takes the inputs from MADI 1 and writes them directly out to MADI 2 without any processing. When we play back, we simply press “Listen to Copied Audio” and the inputs from the rack are replaced with the recorded copies. It worked great. Except for local inputs. 

Local inputs are on their own MADI bus. And you can’t copy two busses to the same destination. So we had to get creative and use Insert A out to write directly to MADI 2 so we could record those channels. But playback was a problem as we didn’t have gain tracking, and we had to re-patch the inputs. 

Enter the Copy Audio Matrix. With the Matrix, it’s now possible to copy any input to any other MADI bus. Take a look.

Copy 1.jpg

It looks unassuming enough, but when you start opening up the matrix, it gets interesting. For example, below you can see that for the most part, the copy is set up 1:1. That is MADI 1 (the Rack) is being copied to MADI 2. But look at Rack Input 16. There is no red square there. 

Copy 2.jpg

That simply means that channel is not copied over to MADI 2. In that case, we were doing some M+S mic’ing of the guitar cab, and I didn’t want the second mic in the IEMs. But I did want to record it. So I copied it to MADI 2:62. 

I set Reaper up to record both tracks, and when we played back, the console did all the work of re-assigning the inputs to the right channels. And how about those local inputs. We wanted to record all the tracks coming from ProPresenter. Those come in on local AES inputs on the back of the surface. Copy Audio to the rescue. 

I didn’t really care about the click, so I didn’t bother to copy it. But the rest of the channels would get recorded to Reaper and would be available for Virtual Soundcheck. Another note on this. If you’re familiar with DiGiCo, you’ll know they use a 56-channel MADI mode. Generally, you can’t use anything above 56 for anything. But in this same version of the software, they created a virtual 64-channel MADI device that you can “assign” to a MADI bus. In this case, I configured MADI 2 as a 64-channel device, which allows me to use all 64 channels in the RME MADIFace interface we use to record. So I can capture all 56 channels from the stage rack plus another 8 channels of local inputs. Cool.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Another challenge to mixing large events is managing all the faders. The SD8 has 36 faders on the surface (plus master), which is quite a few. But on a big event, they go quickly. Now, I can use VCAs to group channels together for a reduced fader count, and I do that sometimes. But when you want to condense a group of channels down to a single fader, but still have rapid access to all the channels in that group, you need a Multi. 

A Multi is just that, a group of multiple channels on one fader. You can select up to 11 channels (any or all of which can be mono or stereo) for a Multi. Why 11? I have no idea. Maybe they wanted to do 10, but decided it should go to 11. Anyway, those 11 channels get “Folded” into a single fader. When you move the fader, all the channels move relative to the level of the fader. So if you have 1 channel set at −10 and another set at unity, if you move the Multi fader up by 5 dB, your first channel is now at −5 and the second one is at +5. It’s like a VCA in that way, only the faders move.

But if you want to get in and change the levels, just press the Unfold button and the channels spill out on the surface. You now have complete access to all the channels. In this way, a Multi behaves sort of like a POP group in Midas land. Here is an example of a Multi folded, and unfolded.

Multi 2.jpg

I like to use them for things like Video because I’m often using different channels for different songs. Its easy to adjust the levels, set up a baseline, snapshot those levels then mix them all one fader. 

So those are some cool things DiGiCo is doing with their consoles. There’s a new software update with a few other features, but that will have to wait for another day.

Roland

Today's post is brought to you by Pivitec.Pivitec redefines the Personal Monitor Mixing System by offering components that are Flexible, Precise and Expandable. Ideal for any application from Touring and Live Production to fixed installation in theaters and Houses of Worship.

Four Years Later—DiGiCo SD8 & M-48s

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 1.48.34 PM.jpg

I was just over four years ago that we sent the PM-5D packing. I had been researching options for quite a while and initially decided on an Avid Profile and Avioms. But I decided to buck convention and go with a DiGiCo SD8 and Roland M-48 system. As I often do, I took a lot of flack for it. A lot of people told me I should go with Avid because DiGiCo’s were terribly unstable and crashed all the time. I really liked the DiGiCo interface however, and loved the flexibility of the system. So we went for it. Four years later, do I have any regrets? 

Nope. I’d do it Again

The dire predictions of constant crashes and major issues never materialized. In fact, I have personally mixed several hundred services on the desk and managed to crash it twice. Both times, audio continued to pass, and I finished the service on the remote. After both crashes, I had extensive conversations with DiGiCo. And, later updates have made the console even more stable. In fact, I don’t think it’s crashed once in the last 2-3 years. 

The M-48s have been outstanding as well. Once in a while, one will get a bit weird, and we have to reboot it, but overall, the musicians love the sound and I love the flexibility. It’s pretty rare that any of the musicians would ask for something in their mix that we couldn’t accommodate. I love that kind of power. And because of the extensive library system, it’s easy to access and use every week. 

Favorite Features

There’s a lot to like with the DiGiCo platform. First, it sounds great. And because it’s built on an incredibly powerful FPGA, they can add new features like De-Essers, Side-Chained Compressors and more Dynamic EQ and Multi-Band Comps with a simple software update. Those updates have always been free, by the way. I love that any channel can be made into a stereo channel by pressing a button; and we don’t lose channel count when we do that. The fact that we can create any combination of stereo and mono groups and auxes that we need—up to the 25 bus limit—has been incredibly helpful. I’ve done services with 10 stereo auxes, 10 stereo groups, 2 mono auxes and 3 mono groups and the desk isn’t even breathing hard. 

Then there are all the new features. A recent software update brought us the Copy Audio Matrix. This amazing feature makes it simple to route audio between MADI busses for recording, monitoring or just signal routing. I need to do a full post on that sometime. The Multi-Channel feature is also pretty cool. It allows one to fold a bunch of channels into a single fader that can be unfolded with a simple button press. As channel counts grow, it’s a great way to keep channels close at hand, while maximizing faders on the surface. 

With the M-48s, the ability to give each musician any combination of the 40 channels in 16 stereo groups has to be my favorite feature. It makes it easy for them to operate; they only have 16 levels to deal with. But through software, we can fine tune that mix to give them just what they need. And of course, they have a 3-band EQ, plus reverb available. The engineer’s monitor is a feature I helped develop, and it’s a great way to help a musician that’s struggling with their mix. We can listen in on the mix, tweak it and give it back to them without leaving FOH. 

What’s New?

If I were doing it again today, would I do anything different? Probably not. In the last four years, DiGiCo has continued to innovate, upgrade and develop new features and consoles. Avid came out with the S3. There have been a lot of new players in the personal mixer space, but for what we wanted to do, I don’t think there is anything that would work as well as the M-48s. The Pivitec system would probably be the closest to what we needed, especially since they now have a MADI to AVB bridge. That would take some more investigation. Speaking of which, I really need to demo that system…

Of course, Yamaha has made a big splash with the CL-series. And they are great consoles to be sure. They are arguably easier to teach volunteers how to use, but I think I would feel limited by the fixed architecture. The Dante integration is great, however. Then again, the times, they are a changing. So maybe a CL would be fine today. But if I had my choice, it would be DiGiCo all the way.

“Gear

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

CTA Review: Livestream HD500 Studio

Streaming video continues to be a hot topic amongst churches, and it’s a topic I get asked about frequently. More and more manufacturers are building turnkey solutions designed to make it easy and we’re back to look at another one. This time, from what is likely the most popular streaming destination for churches, Livestream. 

Livestream recently released a series of products called Livestream Studio. As of this writing, there are four hardware solutions along with the standalone software. We received the mid-range and highly portable HD500 model for testing, though the software is consistent across the line. 

Self-Contained and Portable

The first thing you notice about the HD500 is that it looks like a small desktop PC with a handle on top. It ships with a magical carrying bag from Tom Bihn (seriously, this bag is nice!) What sets the unit apart is that it also has a 17” 1900x1200 LCD screen built into one side, protected by a removable metal cover. Weighing just 15 pounds, it’s easy to carry around, and would certainly qualify as carry-on luggage. 

Inside the box is a six core Intel Core I7 running at 3.2 GHz. An Nvidia GForce GT520 graphics card drives the built-in display, along with an external one that can be set up as a multi-viewer. There is a 2.5” 500 GB hard drive inside, and with 7 USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0 ports, you have plenty of ways to add more storage. 

Each of the Livestream Studio systems are built around Blackmagic cards; in this case a Decklink Quad and a Decklink Studio. The Quad gives you 4 HD/SD SDI inputs, and the Studio can be configured for input or output for a local live mix. In output mode, one can mix four cameras (along with internal graphics) to both a stream and local video output. 

The cards support embedded audio on the SDI inputs. The Decklink Studio card will accept analog and AES inputs, or you can use a USB audio interface. The built-in audio mixer in the software allows you to mix sources or have audio follow video. 

Everything you need fits neatly into the carry bag, making this an ideal solution for portable churches even if they don’t want to stream. The latest software update to the Studio software now allows for recording of up to four video streams at once. You can select from iso camera feeds, and a pre-graphics “clean” or post-graphics “dirty” feed. 

Full-Featured Software

Rather than relying on third-party software control, Livestream built their own. It has a clean, modern interface, and is easy to learn. Whenever I test systems like this, I always try to see how far I can get without looking at a manual. With this system, I had multiple inputs configured, was able to switch both a live feed and get a stream running in about 20 minutes. 

For the demo, they also included the Livestream Studio Keyboard. It's an Apple Extended keyboard, with custom key silk screened icons for every function. In no time at all, I was switching between our four cameras, adding lower thirds, and sending video to my Livestream account. 

I’m not exactly sure why, but the latency from the HD500 to what I saw on my laptop via my Livestream page was a matter of seconds. Most streaming appliances I’ve tested add a good 20-30 seconds of latency; this was more like 2-3. Setting up my account was as simple as entering my username and password, then hitting “Stream.” 

Built-In Multi-Viewer

The built-in screen will display the four camera sources plus preview and program. The source windows are too small for accurate judgments of focus and exposure. But, the system provides both VGA or HDMI port, which allow for a configurable multi-viewer of any size. There are quite a few screen layouts to choose from, and with a simple drag-and-drop interface, you decide what goes in which box. You can even add a clock, a stream window (to verify it’s online) as well as a viewer count. 

Much to my delight, when I plugged the second display in, it was immediately recognized by the system and the multi-view window appeared. I had fully expected to at least re-start the software, if not the OS. In fact, this rather summarizes my experience with this box; everything works pretty much as you’d expect without a lot of fiddling on your part. You can pretty much plug in and go. 

Graphic Options

Livestream Studio features a two-channel graphic engine with some pretty cool features. It’s easy to build lower thirds and full screen graphics in the editor. Where it gets interesting is the dynamic features. The graphic window offers a design mode, where as you might expect, you layout your graphics, text, logos and other features. Once complete, you enter data mode, which allows you to change the content of the text boxes on the fly with minimal trouble. For example, you could build a lower third graphic with dynamic text. Then, create several possible lines of text for different pastors or speakers. Simply clicking the line makes it active. In just a few minutes, you have a full set of graphics for your staff. And there is only one layout to update with new graphics for each new series.

Moreover, the graphics can contain video windows. Thus, you can build complex multi-input picture-in-picture effects that go to air with a single click. What I like about the software is that once everything is set up, it’s easy to operate, and completely visual. While it’s not hard to set up, it would take no time at all to train a volunteer to handle fairly complex graphic overlays. 

Other Cool Features

A new feature called Remote Camera allows you to turn a computer desktop (via network) into an input. Studio will accept network camera feeds from a variety of sources. This includes Google Glass, Android and iOS devices, and Windows PCs.  This could be handy for including sermon notes on the stream or IMAG screens. Even better, imagine the interactivity you could create for special events. You can also pull in content from your Livestream account as another input source. I didn’t get a chance to test this feature, but it may make it possible to stream from one location to another easily. Quality would be my main concern—but, the quality of the stream I sent from the HD500 was quite good.

Each of the four inputs has a scaler available to it, making it easy to mix and match input formats. For my tests, I pulled in a SD SDI feed, a 1080i output from my switcher and another 1080i camera. It converted each source to 1080i as needed without issue, sync'ing everything up in the process. For IMAG systems, everything should be running genlock, and the system allows that. 

Tally is not supported directly, but a recent software update makes Studio compatible with the tally system made by metaSETZ. Tally is often forgotten with these systems, and I’m glad to see it’s available. 

While this unit is obviously made to stream to Livestream, it’s also possible to send video to UStream, or YouTube Live. You can also use any RTMP compatible server or CDN, such as Wowza Media Server, Akamai, Flash Media Server. 

Conclusion

With an MSRP of $8500, the HD500 isn’t inexpensive (though you can find it for considerably less). But, when you consider that you can walk into a venue with a bag on your shoulder and in under 5 minutes be ready to stream, switch and iso record a service, it’s a compelling option. It’s easy to use (I never once consulted a manual or help file to figure anything out), and as far as I could tell, stable. We had no problems streaming a weekend, and the video quality was quite good with minimal latency.

The inclusion of the built-in monitor makes it especially appealing for portable churches. Not having to trudge a monitor in and out each week would be a huge benefit of this system. The system comes with a year of  phone support a one year warranty and software updates are free.

Roland

Today's post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

CHCC Renovation: Main PA and Lobby

Because of the cool rigging bar, we only needed two pick points to fly the array and get the angle we needed. Gotta love good hardware.

Because of the cool rigging bar, we only needed two pick points to fly the array and get the angle we needed. Gotta love good hardware.

By now it should not be news to anyone that we put in a Bose RoomMatch PA in Coast Hills. I have taken no small amount of flack for that decision, but I stand by it, especially now that we really have it dialed in. As I’ve said before, there are other PA’s that we could have used, but none fit the budget and provided the directivity control RoomMatch does. And in that room, we really need control.

Asymmetric and Symmetric Boxes

As far as I know, we are one of the first installations to use both types of boxes in the arrays. Now, I should point out that RoomMatch may look like a line array, but it’s not. It’s billed as a Progressive Directivity Array. That means each box covers a specific part of the seating area. There is some combining at lower frequencies, but for the most part, the boxes don’t interoperate much. 

Because of that, we were able to mix and match boxes for a very specific design. I wanted to provide some sense of stereo imaging across a wide chunk of seating in the middle, and keep as much sound off the walls as possible. To meet those goals, we used boxes that were narrow on the outside and wider in the middle at the top of the array. The arrays are mirror imaged and the coverage is indeed pretty tight.

I do love a good rack. Amp rack, that is...Get your mind out of the gutter.

I do love a good rack. Amp rack, that is...Get your mind out of the gutter.

Keep The Colors Straight

Apparently, when I wired up the arrays, it was dark and I was tired. I inadvertently wired a few NL4s wrong and we had some phase issues initially. But once we got that sorted out and began the tuning process, it was all fun. 

A couple of guys from Bose came down and started taking measurements throughout the coverage area. They averaged those together and we came up with a room curve. Interestingly, the curve they came up with was shockingly similar to the one I put in using a LAMA transfer function with the measurement mic at FOH. 

We ended up with about 4 filters in the system, and two of them are there to tame room anomalies. Otherwise, the system sounds really good out of the box. We did a little gain shading in the amps to dial out some summing that was happening with the LF elements in the arrays, and to compensate for the air loss at the HF end. But otherwise, the system is pretty flat. 

Stereo Imaging for Days

I really wanted to have an LR system, but didn’t expect to get great stereo imaging. I was surprised to be wrong on this point. Throughout almost the entire center four sections and much of the back outside sections, there is an excellent sense of stereo. We played a bunch of tracks through the system and each time we kept looking at each other saying, “Wow, the stereo field is amazing!” It’s some of the best I’ve heard in a live PA. 

But vocals image right in the center where they should and speaking sounds fantastically present. So I’m very pleased with that. Time will tell if they really utilize the stereo image as well is can be, but it’s nice to have it available. 

This is a terrible photo of the subs. but you get the idea.

This is a terrible photo of the subs. but you get the idea.

Big Bottom

The system also has four dual-18” subs in a cardioid pattern flown over the center of the proscenium. They are in a 2x2 arrangement and once we got the timing right, it’s pretty remarkable how little low end there is on stage. But throughout the whole seating area, there is plenty. We ended up dialing those back a little bit because Coast Hills has never been thumping the bass. There’s headroom there, however, should the new style of worship desire more bass. 

Because the main boxes go down so low, the subs are really only working at the very low end, just like they are supposed to. Off hand, I don’t recall where they are working, but I believe it’s from about 30-90 Hz. 

Good Lobby Sound

For the last 5 years I’ve been frustrated by the sound in our lobby. It was terrible, really. We had a bunch of ceiling speakers mounted in the walls. Under the best of conditions these won’t sound good, and these were not good conditions. 

I spent a little more money in the lobby than I ordinarily would have, but I’m glad I did. We hung four RMU208 Utility Speakers from Bose up in the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. The RMU208 is a dual 8” plus a horn configuration, and it’s driven by a PowerMatch 8250. The 8250 puts out 250 watts into 8 channels, so each speaker is powered individually. I went with 8 channels because someday, they want to blow the front of the building out and put speakers out front. So they have 4 channels to expand into. 

I didn’t have time to do any tuning of the lobby speakers, but I thought they sounded acceptable out of the box. At some point, I want to go in and play with the Smaart rig and tweak them a little bit, but for starters, it works. My choice of Bose speakers for the lobby was based on the idea that I wanted them voice matched to the mains. As you walk in from outside into the lobby, then into the sanctuary, it just keeps getting louder, but it sounds the same. I think we hit that goal. 

Overall, I’m very pleased with the system. It has enough headroom to get really loud if they want, but it sounds clear at lower volumes. It’s very present without being harsh and has a nice, warm low end that doesn’t mask the midrange. And the lobby sounds good. That’s a win in my book.

Roland