Audio Global Viewpoint – October 2020

Engaging With Latency

Lockdown has empowered broadcasters to deliver creative working practices that we would have otherwise never considered. But how does control latency influence our decisions for work from home?

Video processing has taken place in central technical areas away from the main studio control room for the best part of thirty years. There’s certainly lots of monitoring in the studio but the main bulk of the heavy video processing takes place in 19inch racks some distance from the control surface. As audio transitioned to digital, processing was also moved away from the studio in a similar fashion.

This has resulted in the production switchers and sound consoles respective control panels operating as remote human machine interfaces (HMI). As we move to cloud processing, we’re moving the 19inch rack equipment room further afield. Although this is an incredibly difficult task, broadcasters partnering with vendors are demonstrating the potential of this technology.

Theoretically, it is only one step further to move the HMIs to homes allowing control of the video and audio processing from anywhere in the world. This may sound like a utopian ideal, and I’m sure the reality is somewhat different. Latency, our enemy, soon rears its ugly head and the rapid studio responses we have become accustomed to soon slow as we move to internet connectivity and lag occurs. I accept that the lag may be small, but it is perceptible and will be much longer than our familiar experience.

Is this increase in control lag really as much of a problem as we may first imagine? When we operate these controls in the studio, we rarely notice the lag. There is certainly some lag, albeit very small, but it’s barely noticeable.

This begs the question of whether the lag we will tolerate is a variable perception of our accustomed experience or a fixed condition within our minds. Some anecdotal evidence of my own experience points to our tolerance to control lag being a function of perceptions rather than some innate function of our minds. For example, we have two cars in our family, one much bigger than the other with completely different driving characteristics. What I do find is that I can adapt very quickly to whichever car I’m driving at that time implying my responses are adaptive.

If there is one lesson we can all take away from our lockdown experiences then it is our ability to very quickly adapt to changing environments and conditions. Seeing many technical operators and creatives switching and mixing shows from their homes clearly proves this is possible and we can adapt with breath taking speed.

I haven’t seen any vendor provide data or information on HMI control lag, but it would be really interesting to hear from anybody who has had the opportunity to conduct research in this area, especially for live environments. Not so much claims of low latency, but real experience of users working in remote environments.

My view is that we shouldn’t fear control latency, after all, we’ve been living with it for as long as we’ve been operating TV studios. Some may argue that it’s so small we don’t notice, but is that because we’ve just become accustomed to it? Something humans do like is consistency, so instead of getting hung up on latency figures, maybe the solution is to make sure latency is fixed and predictable?