We've been hearing about the so-called “convergence” in the industry for so long that it's become a tired cliche. Even the word itself brings up memories of the 1987 “Harmonic Convergence,” when everybody was supposed to come together and join hands in the spirit of hippie-dippytude and feel our auras transcend the cosmos. But once convergence went from a movement to a marketing slogan, it was all over. First applied to “multimedia” — whatever that was — convergence was then affixed to interactive CD-ROMs (remember those?) and finally to the Internet. These days, it's hard to even use the “C” word without snickering, but perhaps this time, there's a reason for a comeback, and it's spelled D-V-D.
Taken beyond the “transferring-home-movies-to-convenient-disc-form” stage, DVDs combine motion video, stills, text, graphics, audio and any format of computer files in the best example of a universal format ever devised. The same DVD that plays in the home (in mono, stereo or surround, with or without multiple soundtrack capability) can just as easily be viewed in a backseat car deck or on a laptop, desktop PC or flip-top portable viewer. In short, there's a whole lotta media going on inside that 4.75-inch circle of plastic.
Consumers may see this new media as a convergence, but it's the production process in which a true convergence has finally brought everything together. Compared to the old days when audio for video required a multitrack recorder (minus one track for timecode), an outboard synchronizer and a clunky 3/4-inch U-matic deck, slick production tracks can be created on the desktop using little more than a Mac running Final Cut Pro with its new Soundtrack application offering rapid music creation. The whole shebang is priced far less than that Adams-Smith or BTX sync rig alone would have cost in the old days — and it tosses in fairly sophisticated picture editing capabilities as a bonus. Certainly, Apple's FCP is not the only player in town, but it's an outstanding example of a program that brings many disciplines together. And with other computer companies getting into audio, such as Pinnacle's purchase of Steinberg, Adobe Systems acquiring Syntrillium and Sony taking on the digital assets of Sonic Foundry, there's a lot more of this on the horizon.
On the hardware side, things are heating up from an integration standpoint. Single-box solutions in the sound-for-picture realm are hardly new, ranging from SSL pioneering ScreenSound (1989) to Digidesign's new ICON, which debuts at NAB and is profiled in this issue. Meanwhile, the networked studio infrastructure has developed to a point where huge media files can be accessed, shared, searched and cataloged over many users/facilities and sent over long distances as easily as sending an e-mail.
So what's ahead? Improved codecs, ranging from H.264 on the video side or the new enhanced Dolby Digital for multichannel audio (also profiled in this issue), will bring streaming Internet broadcasting and video-on-demand ever closer to a consumer reality. These technologies will bring more increased demand for more product, and the savvy production facility will be ready to reap the benefits. Discovering more about the process is the first step, making this month's NAB the place to look, listen and learn.
See you there!