Audio Monitors Get Simpler, More Portable

NEW YORK—Once a relatively simple task, monitoring audio has become increasingly complex for professionals in the broadcast industry. Vendors are responding with ever more portable devices that address the need to monitor multiple formats and levels and check for signal integrity throughout the ENG and production chains.

Simplicity of operation is critical, according to Carl Dempsey, CEO of Wohler Technologies in San Francisco. The company’s new iAM-MVAM Multifunction Confidence Monitor handles multiple inputs and can decode and monitor streams that carry MPEG-2 and MPEG-4/H.264 video, which allows the unit to monitor audio and video simultaneously.

TSL Products PiCo Touch Media “There is not another solution on the market that can take such a wealth of inputs and decode them for confidence monitoring purposes,” Dempsey said. “The iAM-MVAM will take multirate SDI video and audio; MPEG-2 or 4, as either ASI or as an IP stream, and synchronously decode not only the video and audio but also take deep metadata information; data and metadata collection is a huge and growing part of the signal environment too.”

This functionality cannot come at the cost of a product that’s too difficult to use. “In the fast-paced broadcast environment, having something that ‘just works and works well’ is critical,” Dempsey added. “If a device is too complex the operator could miss his/ her cue or make a wrong on-air decision because they are having to concentrate on that device. The operator shouldn’t have to be a computer scientist to effectively use a monitoring device.” Along with the iAMMVAM, Wohler has also launched the 1RU MADI multichannel monitor as well.

Portability is also one of the key features of Linear Acoustic’s MT2000 handheld audio analyzer and generator, according to Director of Technology Larry Schindel. “The portability factor is a very key consideration, and so are the various types of inputs and audio formats that must be supported,” he said. “Being able to walk around a facility, venue, or remote site and instantly monitor, measure, generate, and listen to the digital audio signals in various formats [PCM, Dolby-coded], is a big benefit that the MT2000 provides. Analog audio links and lines are becoming less and less available, even on sets, so being able to monitor digital audio signals quickly and easily is really necessary.”

RTW SurroundControl 31960 Signal degradation can occur quickly, and in the hectic world of live broadcast they can go undetected until serious problems arise. MT2000 users can be confident that audio information is in the correct format, is being inputted correctly and that the correct number of Dolby E programs is included, according to Schindel. Most importantly, corrupted audio is detected immediately, since the operator can listen to content using the MT2000’s internal speaker or a pair of headphones.

The device includes true peak metering, which many audio professionals believe is critical. “The MT2000 is as useful to a broadcast engineer as a digital multimeter is to an electrician, and it enables broadcast personnel to quickly and easily verify the integrity of the signal path,” Schindel said. “Its ability to output test signals in both PCM and Dolby-coded formats makes it an ideal test signal generator as well as an analyzer.”

Matthew Colman, audio product manager at U.K.-based TSL Products, points out that technical staff are often required to wear multiple hats. Building an audio monitoring device that a video editor would be comfortable operating was a key consideration in the design of the PAM PiCo Touch Media, he said.

“The target user for the PiCo Touch Media is the colorist in the edit environment, and potentially the broadcast engineer in an SNG truck,” he said. “The PiCo allows engineers to check the integrity of signal in terms of color, and it’s also a comprehensive audio tool that can test loudness with a true peak meter that works in an intuitive fashion. These days the workflow is consolidated; editors are expected to put together audio as well as video, and be able to produce a piece of content that meets broadcast specifications in both areas.”

Linear Acoustic MT2000 The PiCo Touch is designed to slot into a truck or edit suite. It features a 7-inch multi-touch screen and can monitor 5.1 audio and ships with 3G, HD-SDI, AES and analog inputs.

TSL Products also recently released Phinix, a suite of software tools that allows engineers to analyze and adjust audio within the video environment.

RTW customers have been asking for audio monitoring devices that offer more channels and IP audio with multiple formats, according to Mike Kashnitz, head of product management for the German-based company. RTW’s SurroundControl 31900 and 31960 monitoring devices share the same feature set; the 31900 is a 19-inch/1U rack-mount version with remote control only for use in studios/facilities with machine room, while the 31960 is designed for video editing suites and technical control areas and places with restricted space.

There is no other device on the market with the combination of visualization and monitoring that these devices offer, according to Kashnitz. “The combination of analog I/O [up to +24 dBu], AES I/O, SDI up to 3G plus Dolby decoder up to 7.1 is unique, as is the RTW SSA-Surround Sound Analyzer, known as the ‘house display,’” he said.

Both units provide status information panels which give the user lots of information. One panel reads the status of linear or embedded AES channels, another indicates the SDI status, and a third shows the active and valid digital audio channels plus an indication of the digital sync reference and delays of other input channel to this source. A fourth status display deals with all metadata status coming from a Dolby decoded signal.