Saturday, April 16, 2016

21st Century Quadrophenia

The music industry is enjoying a resurgence in vinyl sales these days, thanks to hipsters, high-school students and tenacious audiophiles who still feel that surface noise, an antiquated RIAA curve and recycled vinyl make a sound recording more "authentic" or "warmer" than digital.  I'm not going to go off on the vinyl vs digital thread here (though I will later), but I do want to highlight another survival story that has slowly bubbled to the surface in the wake of vinyls's recent success.

That surviver is Quadrophonic Audio.

Perhaps because of today's vinyl surge, or perhaps despite it, we have been recently exposed to a number of archive projects dealing with Quad mixes, and our good friends at Rhino Entertainment have taken the bold move of releasing it to the public.  The Chicago box set, lovingly named Chicago Quadio Box, is set to hit the streets on April 29.  It contains the band's first nine studio albums, from Chicago Transit Authority (aka Chicago I) to Chicago X (Chicago IV was a live recording recorded straight to stereo, and therefore never rendered as a 4-channel product).

After the release and success of Chicago V, the band's entire collection was mixed to quad up until their 10th release.  We had the privilege of restoring, mastering and authoring these titles to 192kHz, 24 bit Blu-ray here at CMD.  Very cool stuff.  It's great that we can present a historic collection like this in such high fidelity for consumers to reproduce in their own home entertainment systems.

I have to say that it sounds phenomenal, and I really appreciate that the band took bold risks in utilizing the multi-channel format (horns only in the right rear, organ and hand claps only in the left rear, etc.).  Not every recording weathered the test of time as well as the others (and yes, the band did produce some of the sappiest songs of the decade as well), but overall, it is a beacon of rhythm and brass that has stood the test of time.

So it's cool that we are able to deliver this in such high fidelity to anyone with a surround home theater system.  It's easy: four channels of HDMI out of your BD player and into your receiver; we just ignore the center and the sub - you won't tell the difference.  But while working on this project (we started in February of 2015), some of our younger crew began asking what should really be an obvious question today: How did people experience Quad audio in 1972?

Naturally, one would need a 4-channel amplifier component with 4 speakers delivering sound to the room, but what delivery methods did the music industry use to get Quad to the masses?  It turns out that there were three main Quad delivery formats back in the day, one of which is brilliant, if not imperfect.

The first system was open-reel 4-channel tape.  You could purchase a 7" reel for your 4-channel, one-direction 7.5 IPS tape deck, which fed into your Marantz quadrophonic hi-fi.  Very hip at the time (did you know they actually made quadrophonic headphones back then?).

Mmmm, Stravinsky.

The second (and most popular) format was 8-track tape.  Most cars in the 1970s that had any more than AM radio (or even more typically, single-channel FM) boasted a groovy 8-track cassette player.  Some sprung for the happening Quad upgrade, so you could park behind the drive-in and suck face to Dark Side Of The Moon all night long.  Literally.  8-track players never stop once they get to the end of the tape - they flip over and play the next "side."  I have no idea how this played out for the Quad aficionados, but perhaps this is what got Tipper Gore so worked up about listening to Black Sabbath backwards.  If Paranoid were ever released in Quad.  I don't know.

You know it's Quadrophonic 'cause it says so 4 times.

For my money though, the most interesting and unlikely delivery format in quadrophonic hipness was vinyl.  That's right: four channels of discrete audio delivered by dragging a metal stick over a hunk of wax that rotated 33 1/3 times per minute.  

But wait - how does that work?  The mechanics of vinyl are that there are two walls to the groove of the record.  Each wall has a unique topography that represents the audio information of each channel, left and right.  The needle responds to that topography, and through a series of magnets, inductors, filters and preamps, pushes out two channels of audio per disc.  By definition (and limited by physics, man), you can only ever get two channels out of a record.  

But they did it.  And they were very clever about it.  

So as an audiophile and a guy who argues in favor of high-resolution, high bit-depth PCM audio all the time, I feel compelled to stop right here and mention that I am not applauding the fidelity of multi-channel audio delivered on vinyl.  There are plenty of quadrophonic screes out there bemoaning the failure of Quad on vinyl, mostly because it's a matrix-based format prone to degradation over time, but I'm going to praise the solution (or at least one in particular - there was more than one Quad-on-vinyl scheme out there at the time), because it is a very clever feat of engineering innovation.

The solution, as just mentioned above, was in a matrix.  A matrix and a very high-frequency component.  The solution we will focus on here is CD-4 (Compatible Discrete 4), aka Quadradisc.  CD-4 was developed in 1971 by RCA and JVC.  Part of the problem was that the music industry had introduced this new 4-channel format to the world, but most of the world was grooving to their tunes literally with grooves - vinyl.  Everyone was still buying vinyl, but not everyone had a Quad system installed at their pad.  So how do you make a quadrophonic record that is still compatible with all the still-remaining stereo LP players in the marketplace?

The answer: make a stereo-compatible piece of lacquer, and push all of your additional channel information up onto a subcarrier that lives at a higher frequency than the human ear can perceive.  

EM photography by Ben Krasnow

In a regular stereo system, the circuitry (and hardware) are limited to an upper-frequency range of about 20kHz.  This is similar to CD, as our human ears are unable to directly perceive much information above 22kHz (more for kids, of course).  The CD-4 system takes advantage of this natural "flaw" in our aural intake, and pushes the frequency response of the needle and circuitry up to 45kHz.  At 45kHz, they introduced a subcarrier that was then FM modulated to carry the Quad information for those with Quad compatible systems.

That's where the matrix comes in.  Remember that we have to keep these discs playable for regular stereo owners, too.  How do you do that?  Easy.  Just add the Left Front channel (Lf) and the Left Rear (Lr) channel together, and put them on the left wall of the record.  Add the Right two channels (Rf + Rr) together and do the same.  But if you take the difference of the left channels and the difference of the right channels and place them on that 45kHz subcarrier, BOOM!  You've got a matrix.

So here's the deal:  Left Channel (under 20kHz) is just L = (Lf + Lr).  Its 45kHz subcarrier is Ls =(Lf - Lr) - a difference signal.  Right Channel under 20kHz is R = (Rf + Rf), and it subcarrier is Ls = (Rf - Rr).  Upon playback, you filter each channel such that the lower frequency component goes to one side and the upper frequency component goes to another.  Demodulate the FM subcarrier to get your difference signal, then simply add (L + Ls) to get the discrete Left Front (Lf) channel and subtract (L - Ls) to get the discrete Lr channel.  Do the same with the right two channels, and you've got discrete Quad audio delivered on two-channel vinyl.

On Vinyl:
L = (Lf + Lr)
Ls = (Lf - Lr) @ 45kHz

R = (Rf + Rr)
Rs = (Rf - Rf) @ 45kHz

On Decode:
Lf = (Lf + Lr) + (Lf - Lr)
Lr = (Lf + Lr) - (Lf - Lr)
Rf = (Rf + Rr) + (Rf - Rr)
Rf = (Rf + Rr) - (Rf - Rr)

The result?  Genuine engineering brilliance (with a tip of the hat to the NTSC's solution to the color sideband solution dating back to 1953).  More on that later, but we got discrete 4-channel audio out of a 2-channel delivery system, and if you notice, people with stereo audio systems didn't notice a thing, because the Lf and Lr components stayed in their left speakers (and similarly for the right), and no additional information was added to or subtracted from their listening experience.

Over time, one would find that after multiple plays, the 45kHz subcarrier signal would degrade, due to the physical stress of dragging a diamond stylus across a piece of vinyl.  The response was to manufacture harder, wear-resistant vinyl and a differently shaped stylus to improve the durability of the subcarrier component.  However, by the 1980s, the downward-turning economy and the promise of CD soon overshadowed the desire to spend money on crackly 12-inch obelisks, and the 4.75-inch shiny round thing took control of the audio consumer's market.

Mark Anderson is a nice guy with a very outdated website (I know - who are we to complain, right?), but he's got very useful information if you care to look further into the history of the quad world.  He can be found here:

Monday, February 1, 2016

Beehive Reporting Instructions

Reporting functionality in the Beehive helps you to analyze your projects in ways that can show the status of current projects and the properties of projects from as far back as 2010.  You can view data across project types, territories, labels, requestors, artists and more.  All reports are downloaded and saved as Excel spreadsheets so you can further sort your data.  Let’s have a look at how we create, edit and run reports in the Beehive.

The Report Manager
To view your reports, click on the Reports tab in the amber bar next to My Projects.  

Here you will see all the reports that are currently available to you.  There are three default reports that have already been created for you.  

Video Project Detail [All] - This gives a detailed list of every video project in your account, including Label, Artist Name, Video Name, ISRC, Frame Size, Frame Rate and Duration – all of the deep details regarding your video.  It also lists its status (pending, in progress, etc.).

Video Project Status [All] - This is a brief overview of all videos in the specified time range.  It is useful in determining the state of your video projects without the more technical details included in the first report.

Video Project Status [Incomplete] - This report shows the status of all open or aborted videos.  It is also a brief overview of your projects.

To view a report, simply click on Run Report on the right-hand column of the window adjacent to the report you’d like to see.  

You’ll be prompted to enter a date range (we’ll talk more on date ranges later). 

Once you click Run Report, you will be prompted to name and save the report.  You can then open the report from your browser’s Downloads window, or through your OS.  You can now use Excel (or any other spreadsheet application) to inspect, sort and further manipulate your data.

Editing A Report
Perhaps the default reports are almost to your liking, but not quite.  That’s okay – you can edit the ones that already exist and make changes to them that better suit your needs.  NOTE: We strongly recommend cloning an existing report before editing it.  That way you can always go back to the original report if things get too complicated.  

To clone a report, click the Clone button next to the report you wish to duplicate.  Confirm that you would like to clone it by clicking OK in the dialog box.  A new report will appear under the original with the same name amended with the word copy.

Next, click on the Edit icon (the blue pencil) to the left of the report’s name.  This will open a new page with two columns.  

The Field Selection Page
The columns on this page are the fields (properties) that are available to be reported upon.  The left column represents fields that are not included in the report, and the right column contains the fields that are in the report.  These will become the column names once you run the report.

To add a property to the report, select the desired field in the left-hand column and click the Add button.  You can select multiple fields at once by holding down the shift key or command key and clicking the Add button. 

To remove a property from the report, select the unwanted field in the right-hand column and click the Remove button.

The columns will appear in the report in the same order viewed in the right column.  The right column will display the fields in the order in which they are added from the left column.  To change the order that the fields will appear in the report, select a field name and click the Up or Down buttons until the field is in the desired position.  Once you have selected your desired fields, click the Next button at the bottom of the page.

The Filter Page
This is the filter page.  This page allows you to narrow down data in your report based on values that you select. 

In this example, the only variables we are filtering for are Project Type and Due Date.  Our report will display one of the three selected project types whose due dates fall within the displayed range and ignore all others. 

Any field name that is not filtered will display its value in its corresponding column in the report.  Fields that are blank, lists that display “Please Select” and lists that contain no highlighted values are all unfiltered fields.  If you would like to filter for all aborted projects here, for example, you would select Aborted in the Asset Status Type field and select Next.

The Suppress Column Checkbox
Sometimes we may want to report on a particular client or division or a single project type, but we don’t necessarily need for it to display as a column in our report. 

Let’s say I’m reporting on Video Archive & Encode (VAE) projects only.  I’ve selected Video Archive & Encode in the Project Type field, but when I run my report, a column called Project Type will be created, and all its cells will be populated with the title Video Archive & Encode.  This is meaningless, as I already know it’s a VAE report.  To prevent this superfluous column from displaying in the report, we can click the Suppress Column box before selecting the Next button.

The Summary Page
This page displays a summary of the search parameters we selected on the previous page.  It also allows us to name the report (required) and include a header or a footer on the report itself (optional).

There is also a checkbox on this page called Filter Empty Count, Duration and Hours.  This button prevents duplicate assets from displaying in a project where those values are missing from a task.  For most reporting purposes, we will not need this checkbox.

Once we’ve named our report, it’s best to save it.  We can run the report from this window, or using the Run Report button on the main Dynamic Report page.

A Little Something About Those Field Names
You’ve probably noticed that some field names on the Field Selection page (page 1) are the same, but they refer to Project instead of Asset or Task and vice-versa.  Consider Date Completed (Asset) and Date Completed (Project) for example.  Here’s what they mean (and this is where things can get confusing).

The Beehive is a project-based management system.  A project can be as large and complex as filming, editing, designing and authoring a Blu-ray/DVD combo or as simple as ingesting a music video for distribution to iTunes.  The majority of Beehive projects are simple video projects.

A project has at least one asset.  Here is a simple project called “Goodbye Song (Visualizer)” and its asset is called “Goodbye Song (Visualizer) RC01.“ 

When we expand the asset, we see all the tasks associated with the asset in their various states of completion.  All tasks in this project are complete.

Typically, we report on things that are complete, whether they are projects, assets or tasks, but sometimes we want an update on projects in progress.  For a broad overview of current projects, we’ll report at the project level, say, to see what projects are still open and why.  The default report called Video Project Status [Incomplete] does this.  It looks at all project types that are related to video and considers all Asset State Types besides the completed ones.

The more data we want about projects, the deeper we dig in to them.  This is done by searching for data about tasks.  Warning: running reports on tasks without filtering them in the Filter Page will result in a single line of data for every task associated with a project.  This means that the report will display about 6 – 10 duplicate rows for each project.  It’s best to select one task type on the Filter Page in order to return a single line per project.

Most reports are run by selecting a date range.  In fact, the Beehive’s reporting interface was designed so that its users can create report templates whose only variables are start and end dates.  It is possible to create a report with multiple date fields, such as a due date and a completed date. 

When reporting on multiple date data, it is important to remember that date filters are independent of each other.  If, for example, we searched for projects that were due in July 2015 and projects that were completed in June 2015, we would come away with a blank report.  For this reason, it is best to only use one date range as a filtering parameter.  Leaving one range blank will allow for all date ranges in its field, but the report will still be restricted to the date range defined in the other field. 

In Conclusion
You can create and save as many reports as you wish.  Please feel free to experiment with your reports and explore the many different options available to you through Beehive reporting.  If you are having difficulty getting the right data to show up in a customized report, feel free to reach out to us, and we’ll help you get it right.

We are very pleased with the power and flexibility of the Beehive’s reporting tool.  We feel that it is a tremendously valuable asset that will help you manage data associated with your content. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

New Beehive Updates

Hey Beehive users!

We’ve been making a lot of behind the scenes changes to the Beehive.  You may have noticed a more robust and reliable network environment and an improvement in search and load speeds.  We’d like to highlight just a few of the new features we’ve made available to you.

New Project Status
One notable change is the addition of a fourth project status: Fatal Error.  In the event that we receive assets that are guaranteed to fail or be rejected down the road, they will flagged immediately with the Fatal Error status and the project status will be changed to stalled.  We will require replacement assets in order to continue.

In order to improve load times, we have limited the number of projects that display in the Beehive to 50 projects per page.  To navigate to another page, simply scroll to the bottom and use the numeric page controls to browse from page to page.

Dynamic Reporting
Perhaps the most important improvement to the Beehive is the new Dynamic Reporting feature.  This feature allows you to create robust reports on all of your project data from any time period.  You can create reports on stalled projects, completed projects, projects that included closed captioning, projects that were aborted, rush projects, HD projects, projects of a certain duration – the possibilities are quite endless.  

You will notice that your account has two default reports already included under the Reports tab.  These are generic reports that allow you to see the statuses for video projects.  The names are self-explanatory, and we encourage you to try them out.  Simply click the “Run Report” button to the right of the report you’d like to view, enter a date range and run the report.  The Beehive generates an Excel spreadsheet which you can open and edit or sort as you wish.

You can also customize, edit and clone reports.  Detailed instructions for creating and editing reports will be available shortly.

In the coming months, we will rollout features that give you more flexibility, such as asset management, online ordering options and an improved look and feel.