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Al McKinna is the principal product manager on Avids Live Systems and

Consoles team who oversaw the development of S6Ls VENUE version


5.0 softwarea key cornerstone of the new system. I spoke with Al
about this enormous engineering project and the teams design
approach to creating the new software for S6L, which provides current
VENUE users with a familiar software interface optimized for the
powerful system while offering new customers the benefits of 10+ years
of road-proven mixing workflows.

DH: So lets start at the beginninghow did the team decide to build
S6L using the existing VENUE software versus creating a new software
interface?
AM: First and foremost its about familiarity. VENUE has developed over
the course of about ten years. So by the time we started developing
VENUE v5.0 software for S6L, not only had we built up a huge user base
familiar with using VENUE, but we had also engaged with countless
engineers over those years, and as a result, have a very good
understanding about how they want to work. VENUE has an intuitive UI
that is very easy to navigate aroundeven for novice userswhile

providing experienced engineers with all of the deep features, controls,


and fast navigation they need to handle the most complex shows. We
didnt feel it necessary to reinvent the wheel, when the VENUE software
that was already being used was working for a huge user base. By
leveraging the existing software, any engineer familiar with VENUE can
walk up to S6Lwhich at first glance doesnt look like other VENUE
systemsnavigate the external GUI and start mixing straightaway.
The navigation, the location of all controlsall of that is unaltered. And
that means, of course, that if youre a Profile user, you can immediately
go and work with S6L and vice versa. You dont have to learn everything
again. And you can move between systems freely so that you can scale
your show up and down, depending on what system you need for the gig
youre doing. It also means that you can use the VENUE Standalone
software to learn the software offline and then learn the control surface
afterwards.

S6L also offers compatibility with show files created on other VENUE
systems, enabling you to easily move between systems. We have a
whole community of engineers that have spent years perfecting their
VENUE show files from tour to tour on various VENUE systems. Someone
thats been using VENUE over lets say the last eight or nine years will
have their mixes dialed in. We werent about to bring out a new system
and have these customers have build new show files from scratch in
order to make the jump to the new systemwe wanted to make that
transition as easy as possible. Between the common VENUE software
and show file compatibility, the learning curve for jumping onto S6L is
minimal.
Show file portability is a very complex thing to design. To take something
from a completely different architecture and then bring it across onto a

new system that technically runs on a completely different environment


is a huge challenge. But when you load a show file from another VENUE
system, S6L automatically recognizes what system and version of VENUE
software your show file was created on and knows the differences
between the processing capabilities it can provide and the processing
capabilities that you had before, and resolves these differences,
providing you with a list of any aspects of your show file that have
changed.

DH:

What then was the biggest challenge in updating the VENUE

software for S6L?


AM:

We knew early on that S6L would introduce a new level of

performance to the industry with the huge jump in processing channels.


We wanted to remove any concern about having enough processing

channels and busses. We wanted to provide engineers with more than


enough power to make those questions academic, so they wouldnt have
to worry about specs when choosing the right system for the job. But
apart from the significant engineering challenges of creating the new
E6L engine, the greater challenge in many ways was how to design a
user interface to navigate and control all of this power. If youve got 192
input channels, you cant just have them all sitting in front of you at all
times. There has to be some kind of meaningful way that you can get to
the things that you need instantly, which is, of course, the requirement
of the live sound engineer. So that was the primary UI challenge: how
to enable quick access to a specific channel or parameter when youve
got so many to navigate through. Furthermore, everything needs to be
presented in a way thats simple to understand and provides quick
navigationwithout having to dive through layers of menus.

DH: Lets talk more about the relationship between the VENUE software
GUI and the control surface touch screenshow are they related?

AM: We could have just incorporated the traditional VENUE software


directly into the control surface if wed chosen to do that, but it was a
conscious decision to split the VENUE GUI from the surface screenswe
think of them as being two separate areas. The functions that are driven
from the control surface screens relate directly to operations you
perform on the control surface. You can see and access all of your
channel processing and surface navigationwhat is displayed almost
always relates to something physical in front of you, on the faders or
knobs.

On the other hand, the external GUI displaying the VENUE software
relates to whats happening in your wider live sound environment,
including functions like Snapshot programming, patching, and other
configurationtypically functions that you probably dont need to access
during show time. Walk up to the console, and the screens display
everything you need to operate the control surface and control your mix.

Turn to the external VENUE GUI, and its your window into the wider live
sound environment and your system configuration.

DH: Looking at the VENUE GUI, the layout is almost the same but the
look has been updated from previous versionswhy is that?
AM: The first thing youll notice is that the software has a new ID, and
that the look and feel of the control surface matches the new look and
feel of the software. For example, the way EQs look on the control
surface screens match those in the external GUI. Weve also designed
the new software to be touch driven, and weve optimized the touch
zone for the various controls to prevent miscuing. We know the average
touch space required for each control, and were very careful about what
areas of the screen you can touch to actually affect a control to make
sure that its very difficult for you to alter something that you didnt
intend. When you get on S6L and have a play with it, youll see that it is
very accurate in that way.

In addition to being optimized for touch, the software has also been
designed purposely for the resolution of the touch screen that were
supporting. So its not that weve just taken the VENUE software and
stretched it for a wider aspect ratio or made it work for HD. Weve made
sure that when a user is operating the external GUI, theyre getting the
exact user experience that we had in mind when we were developing it.
Youll also notice that the VENUE software now sports a darker look to
provide better contrast between the elements on screen. This improves
navigation, which is now a lot clearer. The UI designers putting together
the color scheme were always aware that daylight-readability was one
their highest priorities, fully understanding the kind of stark contrast
needed, given that S6L would be going out in the midday sun.

We also unified our design approach to consistently present functions in


a similar manner to speed up navigation, no matter whether theyre on
the surface, a touchscreen, or the external GUI. That applies to
consistent use of color as well. Youll notice that the color scheme that
weve used for the control surface and in the GUI all aligns with what
weve always used in the Channel Control for SC48. So EQs are green,
compressor is blue, the gate is yellow. And by maintaining these color
schemes across the system, its very simple to identify these elements
quickly. We can also use color schemes to do things like highlighting. For
example, we use an amber highlight or amber surround to identify that
something in the UI is selected or targeted, and we use bright blue to
identify that something is attentioned as the globally selected channel.
At first you might think about them intellectually, but it quickly becomes
second nature to identify these colors with specific operations.

DH: Explain the difference between attentioning and selecting a


channel with S6L, and how does each factor into the software
navigation?
AM: There are two interlinked concepts that we use to create the most
flexible UI possible and take the greatest advantage of S6Ls multiple
touchscreens and external GUI: attention and select. Attention is
what we used to call select in earlier versions of VENUE, and can be
thought of as a single, globally-targeted channel. When you attention
any channel (via a surface key, Universe View, or external GUI), it will
immediately be targeted to the external GUI, be displayed on the
central, master screen of the control surface, and if the user has it
configured this way, automatically assigned to one of those two little
master faders that we call the Flex Channels for instant control. This
allows us to have instant access to a single channel at all times,
irrespective of the active bank on the surface. Think of this as a money
channel that is available on the surface and External GUI at all times.

In S6L select refers to something different than with older VENUE


systemsselect is now a local operation that only impacts a specific
region of the control surface. This allows us to assign and control
multiple channels across various sections of the console independently
of each other, which is absolutely awesome and gives us simultaneous
control over multiple channels at onceits also perfect for dual operator
workflows. Just select a channel on any bay of eight channels, and you
can instantly access its parameters on the corresponding knobs and
touchscreen above.
So rather than just going for a kind of local selection for everything, you
can now choose any channel from anywhere across your systemall 192
inputs and 96 outputsand have it up on the screen at all times without
interrupting your control surface workflow, which is something that
weve never been able to do with VENUE before.

DH: Youve taken us through some of the cosmetic changes to the


software and the touch-optimization, but Ive noticed that there are
several other tweakscan you talk about some of those?
AM: Although we kept pretty much everything in its original location,
you will note a few changes. On the Inputs page, for example, customers
have long requested that we present the elements in order of signal
flow, so you are now presented with input channel functions feeding into
EQ, feeding into the gate and compressor, etc. Youll also notice that
weve optimized the way that we present the various inputs and outputs
to more easily navigate the huge number of processing channels that
S6L provides.

Another addition is that VENUE now offers you tabs with which to switch
between channel, GEQ, and Matrix Mixer views for all outputs. This is
important, as S6L not only features a seven-band parametric EQ for
every output, but it also enables you to simultaneously assign a GEQ
across any output. And maybe you also want to access the matrix mixer

for the channelthats a bunch of different information all relating to


that output channel. The tabs allow you to quickly navigate from channel
processing (with EQ, dynamics, inserts), to your GEQ, to your matrix
mixer.

Another new thing that youll see is the significant work done with the
Options > Devices page. S6L is a modular, networked system that has
multiple components all connected via Ethernet AVB. The new Options
Devices page shows you all of the components available on the network,
and offers quick drag-and-drop configuration of engine, control surface,
stage racks, and attached Pro Tools workstations for recording. Once you
pair your control surface with an E6L engine itll be paired for life until
you un-pair them, and you can name each component so that you can
quickly identify what each is for, and your system will automatically boot
up in the same configuration every time until such time that want to
change the configuration. This page will be especially important when
S6Ls I/O Sharing functionality comes into play, and will offer a
comprehensive overview of all components across various networked
systems. In addition to managing your various system components, this
page also displays the processing capabilities of the E6L engines HDX
cards that run your plug-ins.

DH: I know from the S6L surface workflows that we now have userdefinable fader layoutsexplain that feature and how does it relate to
the VENUE GUI?
AM: At the bottom of VENUEs Inputs and Outputs pages theres a little
tab labeled layout. We first introduced user-definable fader layouts
with the VENUE | S3L-X system, and its an especially important feature
in S6L that enables you to always keep your most critical channels at
your fingertips. It allows you to assign any channelinput, output, VCA,
group, etc.to any fader on the control surface, enabling you to create
custom layouts for all your key workflows. And the cool feature here is
that you can create multiple custom fader layouts and then recall them
via snapshotsyou can imagine the kind of power you get right there.

When you go to the VENUE Snapshots page and look at the scope
section, theres a new button there that says LAYT, and that relates to
the user-defined fader layout. If you scope that as part of your snapshot,
then whatever the current assignment of the user-defined fader layout

is, thats what will be stored within the snapshot. So when you recall that
snapshot itll recall those assignments instantaneously. So for example,
you can always have the most important faders that you need under
your fingers for each given song based, automatically updating whats in
front of you based on the snapshot recalled.

DH:

Finally,

can

you

tell

us

about

VENUEs

expanded

Virtual

Soundcheck capabilities?
AM: Theres also been a major update to VENUEs Virtual Soundcheck
feature. All of that VENUE Link functionality from version 2.9 on is
brought forward to S6L: automatic session creation, naming, patching,
etc. But now you also have the ability to run Virtual Soundcheck per
channel, which is another feature that we first introduced with S3L.
There is now a button for every input channel that toggles the feed of
that specific channel from the stage rack input to the associated Pro
Tools playback track, letting you select which tracks from Pro Tools you
want to play back on a per channel basis. This enables some completely
new and very powerful workflows. For example, you can run Pro Tools
playback tracks back in through all of your input channels for everything
except the vocal, in order to let the vocalist to sing over the Virtual
Soundcheck from yesterday. It allows us to have a bass player that
couldnt make sound check suddenly join in with a Virtual Soundcheck to
add him back into the mix.

Lets say that youre a monitor engineer and you want to work on
various different parts of the mix in real time. You can now get individual
band members on stage, open up a live mic, and work with them to
perfect the monitor mix for each song without needing the other
musicians. This is a very powerful feature because you can recreate the
exact environment that the artist was in when performing on the
previous night, and weve already heard from several monitor engineers
that this is an invaluable new tool for them to hone their mixes. The
added bonus of this new functionality is that it also allows us to engage
Virtual Soundcheck without having to change the configuration and
reboot the system, it will just do it with a button press and its seamless
and the audio glitch free so you can just do it in real time. So its very,
very powerful!