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Why we need broadcast consoles

Or even a more broad question, why do we need different consoles for any kind of post production? I received a very interesting email, where the writer suggested that the current live sound digital consoles should eliminate the need for the broadcast and post production consoles.

As this topic comes up from time to time I decided to answer it here, so anyone can read about the real reasons why we in the post industry need so different consoles.

Digital live consoles

As I’m in the live industry also, I have a quite good, up-to-date experience about the current state of the top of the line live sound consoles, including Avid, Yamaha, DigiCo and Soundcraft consoles. These are very fine equipments with tons of clever and useful features, well thought out architecture and most of the time they are very reliable even under tough circumstances like excess heat, dirt, etc.

But still, they are lacking in many areas. I won’t say that it is a fault, because live sound and post sound most of the time need different things. This is why these consoles cannot be really used in a serious post production situation.

In live sound and specifically in these top consoles there are many restrictions. Channel count, DSP power, number of busses and auxes or VCAs and the lack of ample amount of outputs and flexibility. I know now it may sound strange as really top notch guys touring with these boards, but believe me, these live oriented boards will fail miserably in the post world.

Post production needs

To make a clear and understandable point, here I mean post production as a big container which comprise everything from broadcast to film sound. I know it’s quite broad, but in this way it is more easy to understand the main differences and needs.

In a typical post situation we need insane amount of outputs compared to live sound. For example let’s see a live concert show with guests and different performers.
The input count can easily reach 96 inputs if not more. But, here comes the grip. We need to record this, so we have to route the 96 inputs to different locations as we usually record at multiple sources either because of simple safety backup purposes or because you have to give streams to different TV stations and one or two local recorders and also have to feed some line to the Radio. If we add all this up:

  • we need minimally 4 Madi outs (more would be more convenient)
  • high bus count as we provide feeds for everyone, including the director, the TV, the Radio

The other important point is buses and their capability. In the live consoles there are simply not enough bus and the other restriction usually is that you cannot route a bus into another bus. For various mix reasons this is essential in post production. Without this, we couldn’t conveniently do a live mix while we feed different mixes to different places and recording pre-specified stems.

If we delve even deeper into the film world then automation will be the second huge deal breaker where live sound seriously lacks. This is not a real fault though. Think about it, in a live situation you might need some automation on a few occasions, but still it is nothing compared what we need in post. Just take a look at Pro Tools as that is the “industry standard” DAW in post. What we daily use is write, read, touch, latch, touch/latch, preview, write to current, write to end, punch, etc. and these are only the main properties of the automation, we haven’t even seen the myriad of parameters that needs to be reliably automated.

Even a simple TV show, or a short film’s mix can get so complicated that the biggest live console could not handle it. It wouldn’t have the channel count, the bus count, the DSP power, the routing flexibility, and the automation power to do these mixes.

Right now I’m working on a huge live show where we have 17 bands, each play one or two songs many times each song goes with different members and instruments, and the whole show comprise of 42 songs. As I’m responsible for the FOH consoles, the snapshots I have first hand experience what each live console is capable of when it comes to automation and snapshots. And I can see that how a big (and sadly very expensive) “post console” could help me out easily, where right now we meticulously work our way through the insane amount of changes.

Which is better?

There is no such thing as better. While live and post are adjacent industries, have very different needs. So this question is simply invalid. It’s like comparing huge trucks to sport cars. Both have engine, wheels, etc. but serve very different purposes. So it’s not about simple tech specs. Every job has its own perils and we have to choose the right tool for the job. I hope this makes a bit clearer.