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May 16, 2013
  Open House: A tour of Shure's IL headquarters
Posted By Luke Harper
Right before departing for IL for a Shure press event, I had a lot of conversations like this:

"Wait, you're going where?"
"Niles, IL. HQ of Shure."
"You Shure? HAHAHAHAHA seriously bring me back a '57, k?"
"Ha. Yes. I don't think they have a gift shop."
"They should have a gift shop."

Turns out they don't have a gift shop. But they have a lot of marvelous things... Now,  you might not be an audio nerd, so why should you care? Well, because they're an impressive company. They would be in any field. The biggest and brightest have relied on their gear since the 20's, and still do to this day. From Roger Daltry to  President Obama to NASA, their client list is a thing of beauty. How they've managed to do it all these years is fascinating and worth knowing about. 

So, with that, here's a recounting of the tour. 

Shure is located in Niles, IL. Actually on the border of Niles and Skokie, if you want to be specific. Their HQ is a massive, beautiful work of modern euro-sensibilities, all exposed concrete and glass. It's totally open in the center, and the roof is also transparent so light flows throughout. This is useful in a climate such as theirs, as a little sun goes a long way.

Upon entering we were introduced to our two tour guides, Christopher Lyons and Mike Lohman. Christopher Lyons is the Manager of Technical & Educational Communications at Shure, and a consummate host. The man is the perfect cross between corporate pro, diplomat and genuinely nice guy. Mike Lohman is the Senior Manager of Media Relations at Shure. A massive weightlifting booster, and as loyal an employee as you'd ever want to meet.

Unfortunately cameras were verboten, to the extreme woe of the videographer types representing, but they did have a corporate photog following who was very accommodating. The photog was a technical writer for the company for years, so was also a great source of info.

Armed with all of this, our troop was lead upstairs where we had the privilege of meeting the President himself, Mr. Santo LaMantia. (He's known as "Sandy" around the company, but I wouldn't try it). A note about the leadership at Shure because it's interesting: The company was founded in 1925 by Sidney N. Shure, a salesman of radio parts. Since then, there have been two other presidents, both engineers. Mr. Shure's wife is still the Chairman of the Board, and a very consistent presence within the company.

Mr. LaMantia spoke of Shure's main challenges right now, which are common to the industry: wireless spectrum allocation woes. The FCC wouldn't be honestly described as either fast-acting or wholly clear about their intentions, much to the chagrin of companies like Shure, who have a large customer and product base dependent on the reliability of wireless signals. 

After this interaction, we were lead to the second part of the HQ. The Shure layout is sort of mullet-y. Business in the front, party in the back. The other building, while connected and of similar design, has a wholly different set of functions. Among other things, it also houses the studio, product design and testing facilities, archive and service departments.

First, the studio. Oh, the studio. The Russ Berger Design Group was contracted to do an interesting thing with this facility - they had to design a hybrid. Aesthetically the main room looks more or less like your average big main tracking room. The appropriate angles and materials are all present and where they should be, the acoustics are gorgeous... but there's something fundamentally different about the very basic footprint. This room was designed to mimic real-world spaces, which can often be not ideal. Along the back wall, there's a full backline. There's even a monitor world in the left wing. They need to test real world conditions, and can quite well. A lot of thought went into this. The control room is a symphony of amazing - The Pro Tools system is fed by 192s and Prizms, and the monitoring is all massive ATCs in a modular 5.1 set up. They have more than one theater, and the surround rears can be wheeled between set ups. 



From the studio we went into the heart of the Shure beast - the development and testing area. We all know that Shure gear is hella tough. This is because since 1945 everything they make is "milspec", or up to military specifications. So they have to function in adverse conditions. Like really gross humidity, or being repeatedly slammed into concrete. And by work, here's specifically what I mean: Out of the box the stock piece is given a frequency spectrum analysis. After torture, the equipment is tested again and has to perform within a fractional degree of that response. 

The machinery they've both contracted and built themselves to torture equipment with is pretty comprehensive, ranging from brute simplicity to incredibly expensive and high-tech. For instance, they have a mic stand positioned over various surfaces which is designed to be triggered to fall from certain heights. Six feet is the average for microphones, but rack gear is also subjected to gravity, albeit from lower positions. Rack gear isn't typically six feet up and precarious, though, so I think they've done a reasonable job covering their bases. For the sheer hell of it, the Manager of Corporate Quality Engineering, Boris Libo, dropped a 58 a few times, denting it rather nicely. 



Apparently the spherical filter on the top of the mic is multi-purpose - besides being a popper stopper, it's also very specifically designed to be a crumple zone, and crumples in a pretty specific way to avoid hurting the capsule. Clever. Every single piece of gear gets hurt, though. Every lav, wireless receiver, microphone... everything gets drastically heated and cooled, beaten and maimed, and dunked in the grossest humidity outside of Minneapolis in the dead of summer (90%! Yay!). 

For sonic testing, they have a pair of matching anechoic chambers. I don't know if you've had the pleasure recently, but anechoic chambers are kind of creepy. To be more specific, what they do to your hearing and equilibrium is a touch creepy. 



The entire space is designed to eat any and all acoustic reflections. We are so used to sound coming at us from a specific source or set of sources and then reflecting off whatever we are surrounded by, that suddenly having that removed is disorienting. So you're standing in there, looking down through the mesh floor at the same massive wedges underneath you as are on the walls and ceiling, marveling at the precision of it. And then the guide starts talking, and turning while he talks. The difference in volume between facing you and facing the other direction is remarkable. The voice becomes quiet to the point of slightly hard to understand. 

The point of all of this, of course, is to create as ideal a sonic situation as possible to test the frequency responsiveness of the equipment. There is a track upon which a stand and mic are placed, and aimed at a high-end and incredibly flat loudspeaker, through which test tones are run (it's a concentric-coned Tannoy, just in case you're keeping nerd score). These tones are very specifically tailored to provide a wholly accurate response test from the microphone. You see the results from these represented as the frequency response charts within the documentation that comes with any microphone. Something like this, which is the KSM313.



After the anechoic chamber, we traipsed to the radiation room. Which blocks pretty much every electromagnetic signal that tries to barge in. It's funny to watch your cell phone before and after, five bars outside and zero on the inside. You are effectively shielded. In this chamber they can bombard gear with various frequencies and make sure that they aren't too permissive in reception and easily jammed up, and, if so, where their faults are. 



They can also use this facility to make sure the equipment is transmitting as it should and not interfering with anything else. When you make some of the best wireless systems in the world, there's not a huge amount of room for error.  The Axient® line is about the most trustworthy, solid and comprehensive wireless system in the arena. I'm not just saying that because they are nice people. They took great pains to show us the very guts of the operations, and how even when jammed, the Axient can dance from one transmitter to the other, and to another clean band within significantly less than a second. This means that even a worst-case signal stomping results in the barest flicker in the performance. 

After all this testing and developing, we moved on to the heritage section, where their in-house archivist and corporate librarian Julie Snyder took us on a brief tour of the history of Shure products. And what a history it is. 



Every United States President since Lyndon B. Johnson has had a pair of SM-57s on the lectern. The White House has hundreds of them, and they fly into every location the President is to visit before for set-up and testing. These are stock, entirely off the shelf 57's. Shure also created the world's first wireless mic for artists, The Vagabond. This was in 1953, if you can believe that. It was pretty rudimentary, you had to stand within a circle of copper wire connected to the receiver for it to work. But work it did if the conditions were right, which is pretty outstanding for that era. We were also shown a Shure microphone that has been to space some 22 times. On the OUTSIDE of the shuttle. Tough little bugger. Anyway, no one could argue that Shure doesn't have an amazing history in the industry, and I think that it's superb that they've dedicated an archivist solely to collecting and maintaining a library of memorabilia. It's pretty fascinating for the audio nerds among us.

So that's the past, what's the future? Well, battling the good wireless battle for one thing. Maintaining the standards of yesterday and innovating the products of tomorrow for another. For example, the VP83F LensHopper is one of the best ideas I've seen in awhile - It's a combination mini-boom mic/SD card recorder that fits right onto your standard DSLR hot shoe. It's a brilliant and extremely timely concept that was executed extremely well, and I hope to have a dedicated review of it and the VP83 DSLR mountable mini boom microphone coming up in the next couple of issues.



So that's it. A great American company making great American products. I hope you didn't think my tone too commercial, but let's be frank: We all use their gear. Reliability in the face of mission critical objectives is crucial, and knowing about the process can help ease minds even further. If you're ever given the chance to tour the Shure HQ, I can't recommend it enough.


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May 08, 2013
  Can clouds help the surge in post?
Posted By Tom Coughlin
By Tom Coughlin
Coughlin Associates
San Jose
tom@tomcoughlin.com

At the 2013 Digital Hollywood Conference (www.digitalhollywood.com), the moderator in one session indicated that post activity in 2013 is up 40 percent from 2012.  However what appears to be driving this new post demand is production of Internet-based content (e.g. NetFlix sourced video) rather than traditional studios and channels.

If content is made for the Web, then it might make sense to look closer at Web-based tools for video workflows. Since video files are often quite large, digital storage in the cloud will play an important role in Web-based products. We will look at a few of these services that were on display at the 2013 NAB show, including cloud editing and post, cloud-based play-out and cloud-based disaster recovery services for broadcasters.

Web based tools and storage are enabling new capabilities for long range collaborative work which works well for proxy viewing and other lower-resolution download-based services, however the high latency can be an issue for more real-time high resolution, high frame rate work since coast to coast communication latency can be about 100ms.

Prime Focus announced its CLEAR Hybrid Cloud technology platform and diital content services. These services are meant to support multi-platform content production. Prime Focus's CLEAR platform will provide multi-platform content operations, enterprise digitization, mobility, contextual advertising, cloud editing and content analytics.  It is interesting to see "cloud editing" on this list since this requires much faster access to content and potentially higher data rates. It is likely that this approach works best for compressed lower resolution proxy content where the editing is generating an editing decision list (EDL).

Deluxe showcased its cloud-based play-out platform, which they called MediaCloud.  The platform includes select tools for HD video content creation, management and online delivery, as well as additional Deluxe media services that can include archiving.  As a result of working directly on the cloud Deluxe says that it can deliver an exceptionally short time-to-air and significantly lower costs and overhead for their customers.

Front Porch Digital has a cloud-based storage service called LYNX that is being used by broadcasters via Ericsson as a cost-effective disaster play-out recov ery solution providing a redundant capability that can be used if the original content is not available. LYNX can ingest content from tape or as file-based media.  By sharing a standardized recovery platform between multiple customers the individual costs can be significantly reduced.  Note also that Front Porch Digital is integrating Sony's new Optical Disc Archive product into its DIVArchive CSM system (pictured, right).

Remote data center services, including digital storage, are playing an ever more important role in producing content.   We expect that the rise of on-line driven content will make the role of on-line storage even more important. The increase of online driven content will also drive demand for on-line workflow tools. Used together this may make faster time to play-out possible and also provide new tools for disaster recovery and service continuity.

Thomas Coughlin runs the data storage consulting company Coughlin Associates (http://www.tomcoughlin.com), which produces the Storage Visions Conference. He is a frequent blogger for Post Magazine.

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May 07, 2013
  An interview with Adobe's Bill Roberts at Adobe MAX
Posted By Larry Jordan
By Larry Jordan
larry@larryjordan.biz




Last evening, at the Adobe MAX conference, I had an extended on-the-record conversation with Bill Roberts, director of product management for Video and Audio Solutions at Adobe. Roberts started with Adobe three years ago, specifically to take charge of the future development of all their video applications: Premiere Pro, Audition, After Effects, Prelude, Adobe Media Encoder, Encore and SpeedGrade.

After listening to the Adobe keynotes, and the Executive Briefing afternoon, I wanted to get a lot more detail and hard facts on what Adobe was planning.

NOTE: Unless I've put quotes around it, I've paraphrased many of Roberts' answers in the interest of condensing our 90-minute conversation.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE KEYNOTES?
I started off by asking: "Why was so little said at the keynotes this morning about Adobe's audio and video applications?"

First, Roberts (right) said, historically, Adobe MAX was a Web programmers event, not a video event; this year's event focuses more on creativity than programming. Our video event was the 2013 NAB Show, last month, which is where we first rolled out these products. We tailor our product showcases to match the event.

Second, Adobe is best known for print and Web products. The keynotes launched new versions of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and a variety of Web applications. This was their day to take center stage.

Third, last year, the Creative Cloud was the place to download an application or store a file. This year, we wanted to explain that the Creative Cloud was actually much more. That's why we spent time today talking about Behance, an online digital portfolio.

"Behance is like LinkedIn for creative professionals. It's where design and motion graphics professionals can talk with their peers, find work, collaborate and share ideas."

"If I were to describe our video product family," Roberts said, "I would call it a 'train on the track.' We know where it is going, it has a clearly defined path, and its speed is increasing."

IS THE CLOUD RELEVANT TO MEDIA?
I shifted gears to the Cloud. "There is a lot of discussion online about whether the Cloud is relevant for video professionals because the files are so big, bandwidth so constrained, and privacy/security issues are paramount. Is The Cloud even relevant?"

That depends, Roberts replied, on what you are storing to the Cloud. If you are storing source media files, today, probably not. There are lots of issues with storage, bandwidth and infrastructure. And today's explosive growth in shooting ratios requires a rapid and never-ending need for increased storage. The future for Adobe may lie in creating infrastructure, but not now.

What we are seeing now is that editors are not sharing source media via the Cloud, but sharing project files, and linking them to media which is stored locally for every editor.

New with the CC release of Premiere Pro is easy relinking of files. "Relinking is part of the media world for a while to come. But, ultimately, storing multiple versions of source files - one for each editor - needs to go away.

NOTE: Another big concern for the Creative Cloud is encryption and security. Adobe has a page on their Website devoted to this issue. Here's the link to that page. http://www.adobe.com/products/creativecloud/faq.html#data-security

ADOBE ANYWHERE
Roberts continues: What we see Adobe Anywhere providing is the next step up from sharing project files. Computers and storage have both become cheap enough that we can move basic computing functions from the local computer to the server.

When we store the source files on a server located on the customer's premises, an editor can request that file from the server. Instead of copying the file to the local hard disk, the server streams it directly from the server into the editing application so that the editor edits the stream directly in Premiere. The files are created in realtime as they are needed by the editor. No proxies, no local media, accessible from anywhere.

What Adobe Anywhere does is provide a server/editor architecture, which is hosted by the customer, using their servers, storage and editing platforms. What we provide is an ability to move the main compute function to the server, which allows editors anywhere in the world to access the media files, without needing to store them locally.

NOTE: Most of the pilot implementations of Adobe Anywhere use VPNs to handle transport and security. This allows the customer, not Adobe, to make sure their files are safe.

June 17 is the release date for all our Creative Cloud programs, including the video software. "We are actually ahead of the curve at the moment, so I'm not too worried about meeting that date." However, Adobe Anywhere will probably follow a few weeks after that June 17 release, "because we want to make sure we get it right."

WHY SUBSCRIPTIONS, NOT PACKAGES?
I asked Roberts about the concerns I'm reading online about Adobe going "all in" with subscriptions. "Couldn't Adobe," I asked, "continue with both package and online versions?

Roberts said that at the keynotes, Adobe's CEO said that subscriptions allow for more consistent revenue, but there's also a very big reason from the development point of view. The cost of maintaining two separate product lines, one boxed and updated annually, and the other available online and updated much more frequently, causes major reconciliation problems between the two development teams. It also requires twice the developers to accomplish the same amount of work.

NOTE: The Sarbanes/Oxley law has very stringent requirements on how software is updated and how sales revenues from both the initial sales and upgrades is accounted for. Under the law, it is not possible to do incremental updates without major accounting hassles.

Roberts continued saying that subscriptions allow for easy incremental updates, bug fixes, and new features. Then, every few months, we will create an "anchored state" of the software that you can always revert to, if you need to go back a version. This is one reason that all Creative Cloud subscribers will get every CS6 application as well as the CC version. "You can always revert back to CS6 if you need it, or are working with someone else who uses that version."

PREMIERE PRO CC

"It seems to me," I asked Roberts, "that Premiere Pro CC is, essentially, Final Cut Pro 7 designed for more modern hardware."

"Three years ago," Roberts replied, "when I joined Adobe from Avid, I set the objective to make Premiere Pro the Photoshop of video. I wanted it to be an essential creative product."

"My first goal was to put the right team together. My second goal was to look at the competition and see what we can do better. Our user interface was not intuitive. I wanted to find out what our competitive weaknesses were and make them better."

"Premiere Pro CC is the fastest NLE on the market for file-based workflows. It stands on the shoulders of our competition and improves on them. Adobe anchored its work in the professional editing environment and focused on editing faster and telling stories better."

"We didn't want to create new paradigms. We wanted to take the existing paradigm and improve it. Personally, I think we are better than Final Cut Pro 7."

ADOBE AUDITION
Audition is an audio editing program that I like and use daily. I asked Roberts whether Audition was part of the Creative Cloud?

"Audition is part of the Creative Cloud. Adobe doesn't want to displace Pro Tools, however, we can be Avis to Avid's Hertz. Audition is anchored in broadcast, news and documentaries. You can edit, clean-up, and mix great stories with it.

"We are happy with where Audition is at the moment. The key question we are wrestling with is where do we take it in the future?"

NOTE: It is worth mentioning that Bill started his career in radio, and uses Audition for his music podcasts.

ADOBE MEDIA ENCODER AND ENCORE
Turning to a new subject, I said that two of the video products that have not seemed to get a lot of love in this go-round are Adobe Media Encoder and Adobe Encore. How come?

"That is a very interesting question. We did not do any work on Encore in this release. The CS6 version of Encore fully supports Premiere Pro CC, and, in fact, we will have a video showing how the two work together at the release."

"However, while optical disc creation is still important to many people, it is not a growing market. Adobe thinks that the current state of Encore CS6 meets the demands of the market today. It is not worth investing engineering resources into improving Encore at this time. And we spent a LOT of time talking with customers and within the company to arrive at that decision."

Adobe Media Encoder (AME) is a different case. Not only is it a stand-alone product, we also provide an OEM version for other developers to use, plus five different versions used in different Adobe products. "This was crazy."
 
Internally, this year, we restructured the development team and standardized on a single version of AME. When AME CC comes out, it will support ProRes. It will support DNxHD. It will be a great transcoding platform for Prelude.

"Run a test with AME CC and you'll discover how much faster the latest version is. It will be on par, or better, than any major competitor." And we are not stopping there. Wait till you see what it looks like next year.

SUMMARY
I asked Roberts to sum up his feelings about this product release.
 
"Honestly, this is my third year at Adobe. I was involved in every single aspect of this feature set. It's the first [development] cycle where I had a full team of experts."

"I am as proud as I could be of what the team has delivered. The teams outdid themselves - they did an amazing job. The NAB Show was amazing, and I can't wait for the launch."

- - -
Larry Jordan is a producer, director, editor, author, and Apple Certified Trainer with more than 35 year's experience. Based in Los Angeles, he's a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America. Visit his website at http://www.larryjordan.biz.

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