Further thoughts... The Deva, the Fusion and the Mix 12. September 2008
It's been three years since my last update and my Deva IV is still going strong but I now enjoy many improvements.
The software has been maturing.
EQ and COMP/LIM
I now have compressor/limiters and EQ on every input. Each channel EQ consists of three bands switchable between Low Shelf, High Shelf and Peaking and 2 separate notch filters. Level, Frequency and Q are fully adjustable. As well as in each input compressor/limiters can also be switched into any of the outputs.
The Mirroring process (or Idle Copy in other manufacturer's speak) has improved enormously. It is now possible to Mirror from one folder to either the internal DVD or an external firewire drive whilst recording to another folder. This makes it much easier, for example, to catch up with backup copies the following day or whenever. Similarly it makes mirroring when on a video shoot more flexible. I change folders as the Cameras change tape and this results in a number of folder changes throughout the day. It also means that I don't have to wait until the last segment in a Folder has been mirrored before I change folder. Perish the thought that I would keep Cameras waiting!
It is now possible to set the mirroring to run while you are recording. This is its Continuous mode. I have to say that most of the time I leave it in its Normal mirror on stop mode - unless it is the last take before lunch (when I hand over the morning's rushes) and I think there may be a race to the Caterers!
An Advanced Options button has appeared on the Mirror Page. This now gives you the option to offset the Mirrored timecode from the Hard Disk "true" timecode. A number of Sound Mixers are finding this helpful in overcoming fixed offsets that occur on some Separate Sound - Hi-Def workflows.
There is also the option to create a CSV (Comma Separated Values) Report file. This can be cut and pasted into a spreadsheet template to create a Sound Report of your own design. (I have placed a demo of this in the Deva User group files area entitled “reportdemo”.)
An improvement here is that it is now possible to enter STN (Scene, Take, Note) info while in Record. This can save time while labelling Wildtracks or correcting erroneous Take info.
I try and keep up with this data for the benefit of Post but before I give up using my hand written Sound Sheets I will need a bigger Notes field. Currently it is only 20 characters long. It is possible to label individual Tracks in a multitrack recording but only before you go into Record. These cannot be edited later which is one reason why I think the Notes field should be much larger so that Track ID info can be entered here after the event.
There have been calls this side of the Atlantic to have an option to retitle the "Scene" field as "Slate". As of this moment that has not happened.
For trolley based work a great addition has been the Mix 12 control surface. Although this has replaced my analogue mixing desk no audio passes through it. All my microphones and other sources are plugged straight into the Deva. All the mixing and FX treatment is carried out in the digital domain in the Deva. There is just a serial lead between the Mix 12 and the Deva which radically tidies up the back of the trolley! In addition the Mix 12 draws a lot less current than a comparable analogue mixer.
Each of the analogue inputs and the first four digital inputs have their own rotary input gain control and a Penny & Giles fader. There is a very slight time lag between making a sharp fade and the change in the audio. At first I thought this might be a major issue but in practice it has been fine. The EQ jog wheel and low, mid, high knobs bring the full parametric capabilities of the Deva EQ to the fore. The jog wheel is particularly useful for sweeping through notch filter frequencies when trying to lose noisy HMI lamp whistle.
The first four outputs each have a rotary knob associated with them. These can be useful, for example, for setting levels to video village or, indeed, for close at hand control of a playback speaker feed.
Analogue Outputs 5 & 6 are still available on both the D25 socket and the 10 pin Hirose connector. I use a plug in the latter with an internal jumper to feed an external slate microphone out of output six and back into Camera Return and from there routed to the Deva Slate Mic Input. The Deva has its own internal slate mic but in trolley situations it can sound a bit distant and it does pick up quite a lot of mechanical noise from the internal DVD drive.
This year I have taken delivery of the newest recruit to the Zaxcom marque – the Fusion. This is an 8 input device that looks similar to the Deva apart from having 8 rotary faders on the front instead of 4 and having no inbuilt DVD burner. However the recording medium is very different. Both the Main Drive and the internal Mirror Drive are Compact Flash. I currently have a 16GB card as the Main drive and an 8GB card as the mirror. It is still possible to Mirror to an external Firewire drive.
My version has the ability to record to 8 tracks and has EQ and Compressor/Limiters on each channel.
I have had the Fusion for a couple of months and it has proved invaluable in many roles:
- It is a fully featured standby replacement for my Deva, including working with the Mix 12.
- It is ideal as an over the shoulder recorder so we no longer have to derig the trolley mounted Deva for run and gun material or low loader (Process) shots.
- It can be sent off for Wildtracks or Voice Over recordings away from the Main Unit.
- Even forgetting the recording option it is a very handy portable mixer with its standard 10 pin Hirose connector.
I had an interesting little job for it the other week. We were filming a duo performing in a pub to a backing track. I wanted to create a simple PA mix for the monitor speaker as well as create my usual mix to Track 1 and record separate ISO tracks. So I:
- plugged the two microphones and the backing track into three channels of the Fusion. These were sent to analogue output 1, each one via separate front panel faders which were used to create the PA mix.
- used the recent Digital Direct Output feature to send the two mics and the backing tracks direct to Digital Outputs 1 to 3.
- plugged these three Fusion digital outputs to the Deva's digital inputs 1 to 3. These then appeared on the Mix 12 on faders 9-11.
- selected these three digital inputs on the Deva's Disk Mix page and sent them all (via the Mix 12 faders) to my Track 1 Mix and also sent them direct to separate ISO tracks.
I should point out that the Digital Direct Out feature is not available on my older Deva. Machines of Hardware Revision AUD_B and later are required.
The Deva has matured into a very proficient lady but of course we are never satisfied! I look forward to:
- A Playback Matrix. The ability to route playback of any track to any output. (Available from May 2009, version 5.99u)
- The ability to change Track names after the event.
- Bigger Notes Field.
- Video and/or Wordclock Sync Input (carry on reading!)
ZAXCOM and SYNC
The Deva and Fusion are still without a dedicated sync input (other than the AES digital input 1) so they cannot accept, directly, a Wordclock or video reference signal (see American and European differing attitudes to Timecode sync below). There will be some situations where this may be an issue. However in my current world of separate sound for episodic TV drama it has not been a problem.
At this point can I just update the Update from the perspective of June 2009. Ambient have brought out the ACL203 (Red) Lockit which includes in its repertoire of sync signals an AES "black" (or silent) digital audio stream. As I intimate above this signal can be used to synchronise the Deva and allow it to run with Lockit accuracy (within 2 or 3 hundredths of a frame over a day). For the last few weeks I have been trialling this system on my trolley rig with great success. I have not needed to tune the ACC501 controller and all the Lockits to the Deva crystal (see below) but have been able to tune all the Lockits to the Controller's mid setting of 115.
You will see from the picture that I have tapped a 12v power feed from the lead feeding the Deva. For the sync signal I have made a short lead from the Lockit BNC output to the Deva AES in. For my Deva IV I have needed to wire the signal to pin 2 (+ve) and the signal screen to both pins 12 (-ve) and 10 (Ground). The Fusion is less fussy about whether the screen is connected to Pin 12 or not. With this set up I don't bother with batteries in the Lockit.
I like the fact that I am able to tune the shoot to the median setting of 115 on the ACC501. It is also nice not to have to think about checking any developing offset between the Deva and Master Controller timecode.
For those not lucky enough to have an AES sync source for the Deva I will now return to the original September 2008 Update and my “keep a shoot in sync” work around.
I use Ambient Lockits and the newer ACC501 Master Controller. I am careful to tune the ACC501 to the Deva/Fusion (using the tune to LTC (Linear Timecode) option) and then the camera Lockits are tuned to the ACC501. I then have the ACC501 plugged into the Deva/Fusion where I can keep an eye on any developing timecode difference. Once or twice a day I hit the Jam button on the Deva but the difference is rarely more than a few “hundredths” of a frame. (I say “hundredths” but to be precise due to the niceties of SMTPE timecode the ACC501 is probably displaying 80ths or 160ths of a second).
American and European differing attitudes to Timecode sync
When I first encountered the Deva I was quite surprised to discover that it did not have a Sync Input. Why should this be so? I hope you will forgive me this broad generalisation but I began to notice on internet User Forums a trans-Atlantic split in attitudes regarding the use of timecode, with there being much more reluctance to its use Stateside. In a way this is quite understandable as the American environment of non integer frame rates, pull ups/pull downs etc. makes the implementation of an automated timecode based separate sync system far from straightforward. As a result it is commonly accepted that daily rushes need to be synced by hand. Free running recording devices with accurate internal crystal control will keep good enough sync for the length of an average take.
Here in Europe the more benign 24 and 25fps frame rates have meant that it has been easier to implement workflows that dispense with a manual sync process. In the “good old days” of film the daily syncing up of rushes was an accepted and budgeted for part of life. With the advent of shoots using Tape based cameras Production Companies were quick to spot the audio tracks and the economies that could be made.
Obviously we as Sound professionals were never comfortable with the master sound being recorded on a machine out of our control. I know I have not been alone in being desperate to return to the days of separate sound – however any workflows we develop now have to satisfy productions that have got used to not paying for syncing up daily rushes. And thankfully here in PAL land we are lucky enough to be able to lay down useful timecode on sound and picture allowing corresponding moments in time to be matched up. And now, at last, most Non Linear Editing systems have caught up and can use these timcode values to automatically sync picture to sound.
Of course any separate system requires us to get camera and sound to run together maintaining an acceptable level of synchronocity (plesiochronous, thanks for asking!). Acceptable in this case being not just for one take but for many - typically for a 5 hour session. The common approach is to use external synchronising devices from companies such as Denecke or Ambient to control the speed of recording devices – hence the European desire for sync inputs. Using a Deva you need to come up with a system such as I describe above or find a way of utilising the AES input.
As a by the by the advent of File Based sound recording has additionally meant that our sound rushes can be drag and dropped directly into the edit system (many times faster than the real time picture tape ingestion!) and, importantly, without needing to go through a TK stage where, with the greatest of respect, it was not unheard of for levels to be knocked, tracks to be switched, lost etc..
The Insitute of Broadcast Sound (now Institute of Professional Sound) Wiki (now Knowledge base) contains useful articles on Timecode and Workflows. As well, of course, as a lot of other interesting stuff!
Wolf Seeberg's Sync Sound for Film and Video is also worth a read.