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Digital Information Exchange 1987 (part 2)

Although the Digital Information Exchange is not used to seeing participants’ home movies, Al Hart’s video (‘home movie’ is his description) of two of Modern Videofilm’s sound editors was illuminating...


Although the Digital Information Exchange is not used to seeing participants’ home movies, Al Hart’s video (‘home movie’ is his description) of two of Modern Videofilm’s sound editors was illuminating. Particularly the use of the Synclavier for adding sound effects. The time saved purely in calling up effects is considerable. One man-week of production on the Synclavier is equivalent to five to six man-weeks using conventional mag film techniques.

Al’s presentation included examples of how their Sony 3324 multitracks are interfaced with other equipment such as NTSC and PAL video. There was also a diagram showing the 3324 linked to a Magna-Tech film recorder. It seemed, from what he was saying, a little like matching a Porsche engine to a horse and cart. But as long as mag film remains the standard medium of interchange in the film world, it will be necessary.

John Watkinsons’s presentation, Digital VTR in Practice, clearly explained the basics of the cassette-based D2 format. Also, how tracks may be recorded on tape without a guard band between them by the use of two sets of heads set at slightly different azimuth angles. The recorded track can actually be narrower than the head. Fascinating stuff, and employing technology similar to that of R-DAT - but on a larger scale. Even more fascinating is the prospect that the D2 format could in theory be reconfigured as a 100 track digital audio recorder. ‘But who would need a hundred tracks?’ was John’s comment, with one eyebrow raised.

Bill Aitken of Quantel - the company responsible for the famous Paintbox video artwork tool - brought with him a showreel demonstrating the capabilities of the Harry hard disk based video effects system. If you think you are getting tired of tricky video effects, this is the one you have to see. Quantel’s aim was to produce an editing and effects system which could compete with the naturalness of the film medium. The editing screen display shows ‘film clips’ which can be electronically cut, joined, and processed in a variety of ways.

HarrySound is the audio complement to Harry and is a hard disk based audio editing system. Here, the display shows six sound ‘reels’ - the analogy being with conventional film sound procedures.

Although the Harry and HarrySound displays mimic traditional methods of operation, the advantage is that sound and vision can be manipulated together, rather than separately as in current practice.

Day 1 ended with Phil Wilton of Sony Broadcast describing an HDVS (High Definition Video System) production with digital audio of Genesis in concert at Wembley Stadium. Two large HDVS monitors were wheeled in and the lights dimmed. The difference in picture quality between HDVS and old-fashioned PAL has to be seen to be believed. Phil’s argument was that such picture quality demands the highest possible sound quality, and judging by the interest the system generated, the audience took the message to heart.

Day 2 started with Bob Ludwig of Masterdisk giving us an update on mastering in the US. A series of colourful pie-charts showed the audience the increasing proportion of Masterdisk’s business coming from digital - as one might expect. As well as confirming what we knew already, Bob’s presentation was packed with interesting details that you probably wouldn’t hear about elsewhere, such as the fact that Masterdisk do more business with the Mitsubishi X80 than with the more recent X86. Also, out of a thousand mastering projects, only eleven came in the Dolby SR format.

Bob’s talk was entertaining, and a useful insight into what is happening in this particular section of the audio industry.

David Ward of Mitsubishi contrasted different methods of music recording, looking from the perspective of a manufacturer of digital multitrack. Three basic types were defined: The tape transport type of recorder, which would include systems like the Solid State Logic 01, which behave in a similar manner to a tape machine remote although actually hard disk based. Type two is the desk top multifunction terminal with hard disk and RAM, where the features depend on what the manufacturer considers important. Type three would be the MIDI controlled keyboard, where the musical information is pre-recorded (sampled) or synthesised, and recording takes place by logging MIDI data.

David brought things down to basics by asking what it was that all these recording methods had to do, which was to capture spontaneous musical creativity. The advantage of multitrack is that at the current state of development it is a better artistic tool and imposes fewer constraints than hard disk systems. The point was made that you didn’t necessarily have to choose one or the other, perhaps a combination of systems may be more appropriate.

An interesting point was raised, during questions on this presentation, on the subject of noise reduction for digital. Apparently, people are using NR to gain a worthwhile lowering of the noise floor. Other advantages are that at low levels, more bits are used to describe the signal. Also, sources of noise reduction error are removed by using a digital recorder with a flat frequency response, and having a low noise level to start with. Is there a possibility we may see a noise reduction system DEDICATED to digital recording?

It is perhaps worth noting at this point that although the DIE is Sony sponsored (together with Sony distributor HHB) they don’t overplay the Sony connection. Mitsubishi’s contribution is more than welcomed, the more angles there are to the debate, the better.

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By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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