As You Wish

ON AIR flex: The individual broadcast solution with new three-part structure

A new alternative version of the ON AIR, the smallest of the STAGETEC mixing consoles, enters a brand new arena. ON AIR flex is positioned as a small, adaptable broadcast mixing console with limitless freedom

OnAir flex gesamtThis is not the first time we have discussed the fundamental question, what actually defines a mixing console? After more than 20 years of digital mixing technology many answers have been given. Yet there is still considerable potential for new concepts. Concepts that enable more than was ever thought possible when the first tentative designs, drawing on analogue practice, appeared.

Three factors define a mixing console today: the audio processing hardware, the user interface and the control intelligence. The latter connects the first two, determining what audio processing is executed when an encoder is turned, a fader is opened or a button is pressed. The control intelligence also ensures proper feedback, displaying, for example, the level numerically, as the user changes it.

“Field engineers now have a tool to adapt systems on site according to customer specifications.”  Treva Head

In the analogue world these three elements are combined in the mixer itself. Digital design has shifted audio processing away from the console to a 19" rack in the machine room. Now STAGETEC is separating the control intelligence as an individual element too.

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CRW 7008The ON AIR flex Team
The young STAGETEC specialists Tim Dylla, Stephan Eichler and Bert Münnich are part of the ON AIR flex team in Berlin. They developed the design of the new three part structure in particular. Treva Head, Regional Manager in Australia and not shown on this picture, installed the first ON AIR flex at his customer ABC and provided the development team with first-hand feedback from the field.

The result is ON AIR flex, a compact mixing console that visually resembles an ON AIR 24. But unlike its counterpart, ON AIR flex is much more flexible in configuration.

Separating the control intelligence makes the console’s logic independent and accessible from all sides. The three main components of the ON AIR flex, which are the audio processing, the user interface and the control intelligence, communicate intimately with each other. STAGETEC chose the standard IP protocol for communication. IP brings streamlined cabling and increased freedom of physical location of the individual elements.

Ultimately, you could integrate any control input through the control intelligence. As an extreme example, it would be possible to mute the mixing console by pushing the switch on the coffee machine so you can enjoy a break in peace and quiet.

“... specify your mixing console functionality and logic with a simple text editor!”  Bert Münnich

Not everything that is feasible is also useful. Our example does show how far reaching the consequences of this separation of the mixing console’s user interface and intelligence can be. Customers can implement the precise control logic they require. It also facilitates combinations, such as loading pre-defined source routing and mixing console channel assignments and parameters to ON AIR flex at the push of a button.

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OnAir flex schraegON AIR 24 and ON AIR flex
The new ON AIR flex and the ON AIR 24 which was introduced in 2011, have a lot in common. Both are modular mixing systems whose audio processing is provided by one NEXUS slide-in board, the XCMC. This board calculates up to 40 input channels when configured with eight groups, eight sums, eight auxes and eight mix-minus buses, independent of the number of physical fader strips. Alternatively the XCMC can support up to 54 input channels without groups.
The inputs and outputs are available through the NEXUS network which can range from a single Base Device up to a campus-wide audio network.
The ON AIR 24 control surface is based on compact control panels with only four faders, enabling the customer to construct very small mixing units. These panels can also be used for ON AIR flex. ON AIR 24 can already be controlled through a software-based touch-screen GUI. However, both the hardware controls and the GUI software are significantly more flexible with ON AIR flex.

Moreover, the control panel offers the maximum possible flexibility and scalability. Today, consoles may be created from any number of OFAD fader panels, OMON monitor panels and screen-based controls, or any other STAGETEC control module. And there is still so much room for future developments!
To edit the control logic, STAGETEC software engineer Bert Münnich developed the MapCfg language to create mixer configurations. MapCfg is based on a relatively easy to learn vocabulary.

“We can provide extensive customisation without changing the actual software.”  Stephan Eichler

Moreover, the control panel offers the maximum possible flexibility and scalability. Today, consoles may be created from any number of OFAD fader panels, OMON monitor panels and screen-based controls, or any other STAGETEC control module. And there is still so much room for future developments!

To edit the control logic, STAGETEC software engineer Bert Münnich developed the MapCfg language to create mixer configurations. MapCfg is based on a relatively easy to learn vocabulary.

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ONAIR-AUSTRALIA-02 bearbThe First Customer
Over the last few years, ABC in Australia has been one of the STAGETEC customers heavily involved in product development. The ON AIR 24 was premiered at the Australian broadcaster in 2011 and its latest sibling, the ON AIR flex, was developed specifically with the requirements of ABC in mind. Installations have been in operation at ABC's studio in Canberra since October 2013.
Treva Head advises ABC on site in Australia. His assessment: “We are now able to map any workflow our customer requires quickly and in great detail with the console configuration. At ABC this means the complex interaction between several control rooms, which may need to be combined in various different ways.”
The scope of this initial project is already evident on the basis of the large number of changes STAGETEC Berlin and Treva Head created in Australia: Approximately 2 600 lines of MapCfg code map the many different processes at ABC's studios in the capital.
“The strong logic programming behind the consoles works to our advantage. With it we have achieved with a very minimalist install mixer. But in the background the extensive control logic can control very complex processes.”

Users will find the new possibilities resulting from the free choice of controls particularly intriguing. Each element supporting the control protocol may be integrated into the control interface, and assigned any function. This is true for the ON AIR 24 control modules as well as the screen and touch-screen interfaces.

The ON AIR 24 can already be used with an optional touch screen. With ON AIR flex, STAGETEC took a big step forward and implemented an all-new screen-based user interface. Since any web browser can display this virtual interface, operation can be achieved from any point in the network. Again, the operating controls are customisable to a large extent. The basis for this is kind of library of interface elements, which are compiled in the browser interface to exact customer requirements.

“Now the browser is an alternative GUI.”  Tim Dylla

The original version of the classical on-air console, the ON AIR 24, was based on the assumption that consistency in appearance would enable non-technical users, for example, a presenter in a self-drive studio, to operate the mixer. It virtually followed the principles of a hard-wired console: Signal paths today are exactly the same tomorrow. Many customers appreciate this but at the same time they also want to define to a large extent what this hard-wiring should look like. This is particularly relevant in international sales, since opinions as to what an on-air mixing console should look like can be very different from country to country. The new concept gives users unprecedented freedom. Customers can acquire a highly customised ON AIR flex from STAGETEC in terms of control logic and appearance.

Diagramm ON AIR flex englischMany users also utilise the compact broadcast mixing console in very different settings. In OB trucks for example, trained technicians who are more than familiar with the concept of configurable mixing consoles also use it for minor monitoring tasks or for pre-mixing.

ON AIR flex and its new MapCfg script allows not only for a one-time initial configuration, but also reconfiguration to suit various different application situations with different mixer functionality. STAGETEC created the concept, and experienced customers create their own workflow.

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StageTec-NEXUS 02-14 110 A4A new generation of NEXUS AES/EBU cards
Two new AES/EBU boards were added to the range of NEXUS digital audio interfaces in March 2014. Unlike previous AES/EBU boards, they combine inputs and outputs on one board. This new approach reduces the number of boards needed, particularly for smaller installations where only a few AES/EBU interfaces are required.
The standard version XETR offers four AES/EBU I/Os and can be equipped with either XLR or BNC connectors. The new high-density version HXETR is offered as an extremely compact solution for fixed installations and provides eight AES/EBU inputs and outputs on D-sub or RJ45 connectors.

“The MapCfg interpreter is extremely small and can run on our XCMC.”  Bert Münnich

Once upon a time, mixing consoles were made-to-measure for demanding tasks — especially in the German broadcast landscape. The customer would choose the exact fader they needed, had a say in how switches and potentiometers were arranged in the channel strip and chose colour of the paint. Digital technology brought standardisation back to mixing consoles because each customisation would have required additional software development. In contrast, ON AIR flex is positioned as an individual broadcast console. This is because the separation of the control intelligence and the new possibility of configuring the control logics makes bespoke consoles possible once more, with unprecedented variety and exciting prospects for the future.