NCP-14 Embraces Next-Generation Audio

New Century Productions’ latest truck, NCP-14, takes a different approach to audio-signal routing and control. NCP Director of Engineering Mike Mundt describes it as a “deeper dive into the MADI pool.”

Typically, a remote-broadcast truck’s audio could have hundreds of point-to-point connections in its signal-path design, which increase nearly exponentially with the increase in audio channels from sources ranging from as many as 10 VTRs, another 10 disk replay machines, and potentially dozens of frame syncs, each supporting between eight and 16 channels of audio. Since truck designers can’t predict what resources might be required on a given day or during a given event, all of these potential sources need to be brought out to a patch bay, where they can be patched into the mixing desk and thus become available to the A1.

Mix-console I/Os have expanded, but the physical dimensions of the truck environment impose their own implicit limitations. Multi-layer digital consoles can help alleviate the channel crowding, but the fact remains that A1 mixers rarely like to go below the second layer in the pressure cooker of live sports broadcasts, thus limiting the number of channels they can comfortably access.

“The result is very, very large patch panels in trucks,” Mundt says. “These patch panels add a lot of weight and complexity to the design, and all of those patch points are also potential points of failure.”

That changed on NCP-14, which was designed by NCP and built by Little Bay Broadcast Services for cable channel Showtime and will cover boxing and other sports events. Instead of the usual pair of MADI converters assigned to new truck designs, Mundt’s plan called for eight.

“This lets us take, for instance, 32 channels of audio from the VTRs onto a single co-ax cable, which is a real saving in terms of weight, complexity, and space,” he says.

The console board on NCP-14 is a Calrec Sigma, and both it and the router are MADI-compliant, eliminating approximately 43,200 ft. of cable, six patch panels, and 40 D/A converters. As a result of this design, the number of I/Os on the console had to be increased to a total of more than 800 discrete channels, concomitantly increasing the mixers’ cost.

But, says Mundt, MADI I/Os are less expensive than AES pairs and are less costly than analog channels. Moreover, the elimination of patch panels and D/A converters “dramatically” reduced the truck’s overall weight, he says. Less cabling inside the truck also reduced overall weight, allowing self-sufficient operation, without the need for a B unit to carry additional equipment.

All well and good, but Mundt wants more. In the future, instead of separate console and router, he wants to see them integrated, using specifically designed software to coordinate and automate their operation.

“These new Calrec mixing consoles are, essentially, huge AES audio routers,” he says. “With the right software, you can eliminate the need for a separate audio-routing switcher since the mixing desk has more than enough capacity to do everything.”

The beauty of such a system, according to Mundt, is that any audio available in the router is, by definition, also available to the A1 without patching. “Conversely, any mix or submix the A1 creates in the console is routable to anywhere in the truck, again without patching.”

He believes that could be accomplished via collaboration among console and routing-switcher manufacturers to enable the audio and video routers aboard a truck to act seamlessly as a single router.

“It’s really a control-protocol question,” says Mundt. “They need to establish communication between the console and the router so the control software from the video router thinks the router in the mixing desk is the usual audio router it normally interacts with. If they could to that, it would be Nirvana.”