Before I start, let me make one thing clear. Compatibility may not be the first thing for someone, but it is definitely a must in the professional world no matter what side of the industry you are operating in.
In the studio you may need to open even 2 or 3 years old sessions and if your software cannot cope with this task then you cannot do your job. In the post production world we need session compatibility because during the collaboration process you exchange huge number of sessions not to mention the need to open up old sessions. In live sound you need file compatibility, or else you can easily loose your show files with a console upgrade.
Historically Pro Tools is the king when you need to be compatible with many fellow engineers and studios, or if you often need to access older sessions. I should’ve said Avid is pretty good at this, because their live consoles just leave the competition in the dust when it comes to show file exchange and compatibility. During for example a festival season I receive many show files for different consoles. I have to check them and if for some reason the file contain any error I have two options: correct the error or inform the sender that his/her show file is not usable with the latest software updates.
Before getting into it, one thing to note: I only share my experiences about different consoles/softwares and manufacturers. This is not to bash any of them, but to inform you about these issues. I really don’t want a flame war, but in my opinion it is good if we all know about the possible issues that we may encounter.
Recently I had to go through some quite old Pro Tools and Nuendo sessions and to be honest I was surprised that I had so few problems. Out of 40 Pro Tools session only one had some minor problem but it was easy to sort it out making all 40 old sessions absolutely usable. With Steinberg it was only a bit different. From 28 sessions twenty was absolutely perfect, 6 had some minor issues and sadly two turned out to be corrupted for some reason rendered them unusable. The minor issues could be solved with a few minutes of work so at the end of the day I had 26 perfect sessions. As you can see the ratio is very very good in the post production side of the industry.
Let’s take a look at the live sound side. Well, frankly it is just infuriating. Most manufacturer just don’t pay enough attention to the software side of their products. Here’s a little list of my recent experiences all based on the last few months of work on the biggest Hungarian festivals’ main stages.
Very little compatibility between different consoles, their offline session converter is rather a hit and miss than a professional solution. On the other hand, console software upgrades rarely screw with your show files, which is good. File management is still very rudimentary which is quite surprising if you know the history of the company.
It seems that the company is working hard to maintain compatibility between various consoles, but sadly these efforts mostly seems to fail miserably. Lots of issues with show file compatibility. Actually at this point I would say that exchanging show files is very dangerous with these consoles. We had some minor issues with software upgrades but mostly we could handle these small hiccups.
Almost all session exchange went smoothly, the only issue I’ve found is that if you make a session on a smaller console (vi4 for example) and then open that session on the bigger brother (vi6) you might end up with swapped channels as the bigger one misdetects the positions of the fader banks. This is pretty easily solvable though so it not caused real trouble for us. Have no direct experience with console software upgrade here.
Frankly, almost complete full compatibility everywhere. Between consoles their software effortlessly convert any hardware or software specific difference. Console software upgrades never interfered with the show files. After more than a hundred show files I can really tell you that we haven’t experienced a single issue here. I guess Avid just very cleverly used their post production knowledge.
Sadly there is virtually no compatibility here. I’ve heard they now have sort of session convert, but in real life, if you have a sd10 file for example, don’t even try to open it on any other DigiCo console and frankly you have a good chance that it won’t even work on another sd10 unless that console have the very same firmware installed on it. In our experience each and every console software update completely breaks compatibility with previously made show files.
Why do we need compatibility?
For a couple of reasons. With most of the manufacturers being so lousy in this department I’ve spent many days sleepless sorting out less and more serious issues. Remade countless show files from scratch thanks to their incompatibility. Just imagine this in the post world, actually even a tv show’s post would fail if we had these serious issues what live sound has. The whole big issue is really a pain causing lots of trouble, even that big some show can only go on with serious compromises which is unacceptable in my book.
This might seem like a rant and actually it is for a degree, because the improvement through the years is not enough. Compatibility still seems like luxury for live sound, though it should be default. I know that there is room for improvement in the post world too, but still, it is light years ahead and for me it is very embarrassing. Although year by year I do less and less live work, I still do selected jobs there and I hate the fact that I encounter the very same problems year by year. Now digital live sound consoles are quite ubiquitous so manufacturers should do something to maintain compatibility. As you can see it, what is a very basic requirement in the post production world is almost ignored in the live sound world although the need for it is obvious.