We are an industry of audio fanatics. In fact, we're so hooked on sound that we've taken the vows of poverty that accompany an audio career. Walk around this month's NAB show and you'll see crowds packed around booths showing the latest in high technology — for picture. Audio still takes a backseat, but little by little, the perception of audio's importance has increased, thanks mainly to the rise of multichannel sound for theater, television and home DVD systems. In terms of advocating audio, we still have a long way to go, but we're miles ahead of those backwater days when sound for picture was defined by the phrase “just throw a mic in there.”
Ironically, when we retreat to the safe havens of our control rooms, we're surrounded by imaging devices. In my studio, this means a lot of displays: one picture monitor, two matched 19-inch screens for Pro Tools, a 17-inch for PC-based stuff (sequencing, Acid and virtual synths), a 15-inch mixer automation display and a small console-top phase meter. Of these, all except the 5-inch phase LCD are good-old (well, old), low-tech, traditional cathode-ray tube models, which are bulky, heavy and hot. The last is especially aggravating, as multiple CRTs will quickly heat up a confined space, such as a control room, leading to the added cost and noise of air conditioning.
Heat aside, other drawbacks of multiple CRTs include that annoying 15kHz whine that displays can produce, and the nasty effects of electromagnetic interference when guitar or bass pickups are used too close to a typical CRT. The combination of a monitor's large choke and the coils of a nearby Strat creates a most effective transmission chain. Ugh!
If transforming your control room into a buzz-laden convection oven wasn't bad enough, then consider placement issues. The weight of single or multiple 17- or 19-inch glass displays is formidable and can be hazardous to your meter bridge. In a traditional studio, placing a picture monitor above the fishbowl front window requires a large soffit for a flush-mounted appearance. And, as the dimensions of the soffit determine the size of the display, going from a 27- to a 32-inch screen can be very expensive. Perhaps the worst indignity comes from CRT picture distortion caused by stray magnetic fields from speaker magnets. The solution comes in the form of shielded monitors, but their effectiveness varies widely. In many cases, engineers must compromise speaker placements to accommodate picture displays.
Fortunately, flat-panel LCDs offer an affordable alternative to CRTs, with low power-consumption products that run cool, are lightweight and immune to magnetic field effects, and don't emit strange EMI. On the larger side of things, projection systems and plasma displays are ideal for studio applications, especially in wallmount or unobtrusive swing-down/pull-down installations. With that in mind, in “The Fast Lane,” Stephen St.Croix continues his three-part examination of high-performance projection systems and plasma technologies.
As any audio pro will attest, image isn't everything. But sometimes a little image enhancement isn't such a bad idea, and with prices for large-screen products dropping to record-low levels, NAB provides an excellent opportunity to check out some new offerings for sound and picture.
See you there!