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Keeping the virtual real

Looking back, virtually the whole of our year has been spent in the virtual world of hardware emulation and this IBC our stand is packed with virtual products; FLX Virtual Clocks and Timers which use low-cost HDMI screens for display, i-PPM which uses TFT screens that look like – and behave like – conventional level meters and MIDAS (Multi-Instance ACCESS Software) codecs from Comrex which are being used as part of the BBC Virtual Local Radio project (ViLoR), behaving just like the hardware equivalents they are replacing.

Compared with a software application, dedicated hardware has big advantages – dedicated hardware for a start – and designed for a specific purpose, hardware devices generally do what they do and do it well. On the other hand, software has big advantages, flexibility being perhaps the highest on the list.
But by being able to easily offer so many choices in software, what should be a straightforward simulated device can become cluttered with distracting features that only serve to confuse. Take for example the smartphone – good at everything – except making a call. I rest my case.

And herein lies the key; by making all this virtual stuff behave just like the ‘real thing’ – constraining it to the hardware version in effect – with luck and good management, it will still be straightforward to use. The flexibility provided by software of course has its advantages but there can be so much realtime data available that meaningful interpretation becomes difficult.

A hardware box may have a light showing ‘OK’ but in software, there are likely to be many degrees of ‘OK’ and whilst becoming better informed, you are quite likely to end-up none-the-wiser. Just like the weather forecast, we don’t need to know every minute of every day, just whether to take a coat – or not.
We took this thought with us with our MCC Multi-Codec Control ‘Glass Cockpit’ which provides the user interface for both hardware and MIDAS software ACCESS codecs. Simple Dial buttons produce the address book whilst realtime graphs show how a connection may be deteriorating and virtual ‘traffic lights’ show connection status at-a-glance – three degrees of ‘OK’ if you like.

With FLX, our virtual clock and timer system, users can choose combinations of timers and clocks of any type, in any colour, in any size and on any display, making it extremely flexible. However, it is still intuitive and easy-to-use. And in the spirit of emulating hardware, we have gone to a great deal of trouble to produce graphical images that match our conventional digital and analogue clock ranges. So many choices…

Our iPPM looks just like a conventional audio monitoring unit but uses TFT screens to emulate conventional 22AF PPMs (or VU meters, or Bargraphs, or Loudness Meters or LED meters), selectable in combinations and they look and behave just like the real thing. So many choices – at the touch of a button.

It all seems so simple but while from above we seem like swans gliding along, we are actually paddling like hell underneath.