Console Trends: Suppliers See Growth in Lower End of Market

The tectonic shift in the audio-console market that began several years ago — the transition to digital consoles with multilayered work surfaces — is well under way and, to some extent, well entrenched. The submix suites of remote vehicles are a more diverse place today in terms of brands and models, and a more highly functional one, too. A broader range of manufacturers continue to consolidate their gains in the trucks and look forward to the expansion of those broadcast fleets.

The Middle Class
The new wrinkles are coming less from the highest tiers of remote broadcasting than from the burgeoning middle class of regional broadcasters, which are looking for many of the same features in mixing surfaces — 5.1-surround capability, multiple-layer operation, compatibility with networks and other digital systems — for a lot less money.

“There are people out there that are only going to spend $15,000 on a broadcast-audio console and that’s it, but they’re doing or are going to be doing some pretty high-profile sports shows,” says Chris Fichera, VP of audio for Group One Ltd., which distributes the DiGiCo console line. “The big-league market in terms of remote trucks is expanding, and that’s good, but the biggest expansion is at the other end of the market, and that’s what we need to be addressing with products.”

Fichera points to DiGiCo’s SD11 desk, which costs between $15,000 and $30,000, depending on configuration, as an example of bringing high-level functionality to a lower price point. He says more than a dozen of those consoles have recently been sold or specified for prime-time work for two major networks, uses that will give the brand the visibility necessary for a large market.

New markets are compelling lower prices, according to Anthony Harrison, regional sales manager for Calrec. He says the recently introduced Artemis Light console, with a 4RU instead of an 8RU processing package, came about to meet the growing academic and minor-league markets.

“The trend has been how to reduce costs but still keep up the channel counts,” he says. But, Harrison adds, even those markets will have to keep upgrade paths in mind, just as the major-league users do. “As the need for 5.1 increases and, to a lesser extent, as 3D comes along, all users are going to need to be able to expand their channel counts and bandwidth to accommodate surround audio.”

Signal Transport
But, while the lower end of the digital-console market continues to broaden, the upper end finds the console becoming less a standalone item and more a component in the evolution of digital-signal transport. “There’s lots more fiber infrastructure coming to trucks, and, as a result, console choices are becoming part of much larger strategic decisions about entire routing systems,” observes Rusty Waite, president of Stagetec USA, which manufactures a line of digital consoles and the Nexus digital router system. “These are complex systems, and the decisions around them will determine what platforms a company will use for several years. It’s not just a matter of buying a console anymore.”

Audio consoles will continue to be creatures of the digital paradigm: they’ll become more powerful and functional even as they shrink in footprint and price. For the top-tier remote trucks, that means they’ll become further integrated into the more complex routing systems they’re moving toward. For the burgeoning base of the midsize and smaller trucks, it means more power than they might have dreamt of even five years ago.

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