Field Report: Telos Systems Profiler
Sep 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Michael Kernen
At first glance, the Profiler from Telos Systems appears to be a replacement for the modified cassette machine that exists in nearly every radio station. We've all installed such machines after spending hours trying to devise ways to keep the auto-stop feature from activating while the motor is stopped, or to keep the pause/run of the machine synchronized with the microphone on/off state. I've gone so far as to install bread-board circuits inside to convert the console logic to one the cassette machine could deal with. Many times, these machines would soldier on in the studio with little or no maintenance, but when they broke and the new one arrived � sans the needed modifications � hours were spent cooking up new modifications. The cassette's day is at sunset nonetheless.
At closer inspection, the Profiler could replace the dreaded open-reel logger, too. How many times have you tried to find an air check on one of those historical artifacts? Never mind the abhorrent audio quality present on the segment you actually found; try sending that to a client.
The Telos Profiler is entirely digital and devoid of nasty mechanical mechanisms, tape heads and best of all, backroom modifications. Profiler runs on a Windows-based PC. The minimum PC specs are a Pentium-II/400MHz PC (or better) running Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional with 128MB RAM and an open PCI expansion slot for the included balanced-I/O audio card. It requires 5MB of hard drive space for the system files. A minimum of 30GB free space is suggested for audio storage. The playback software requires a Pentium-class PC, 64MB RAM, Windows 95 or better and 5MB of hard drive space. Telos includes a 5V PCI card, so don't plan on running it on the newer 1RU computers that feature the 3.3V PCI slots.
Performance at a glance Pre-record buffer for skimming
Supports bit-rates from 16 to 320kb/s
Fraunhofer MP3 compression
Multiple archive capability
Simultaneous skimmer and logger
Creates time-stamped audio files
IP archive client access
The benefits of the Profiler system are abundant. All audio is collected in the form of 15-minute chunks; these files can easily be transported via the LAN, USB memory drives or CD/RW. Copying these types of files happens at many times normal speed and you can easily fit several hours on a single CD. Profiler uses Fraunhofer MP3 compression so the files it creates are of respectable quality and can easily be imported into editing programs such as Pro Tools or Audition. We even re-air them in our weekend �best of� compilations.
Another feature of the Profiler system is its ability to act as a logger when the mic is closed and a skimmer when it is opened. The system will automatically increase the encoded bit-rate when it detects a contact closure so that live segments are captured in higher quality than the recorded programming � or the opposite, if you prefer.
The server software configures the various recording streams.
Profiler keeps tabs on disk space and continually knocks the oldest element off to make space for the new ones. If you prefer, you could have a program such as Retrospect archive the files to an alternate location and keep an infinite history. Because each file is time stamped with the date and time, simple file copying will create a somewhat organized archive. Further organization is provided by way of folders that contain each day's audio. Any more organization would be manual or a function of the backup software you choose.
Experience to date with Profiler has shown more ups than downs. On the positive, the Profiler will continue to run without user intervention or maintenance. I'm archiving three streams at the 160kb/s 44.1kHz sample rate on two separate 1RU server-class machines. One of these machines has two Profiler cards and is responsible for two of the three stations we serve, the other has just one. Each card can be used in a dual-mono format so that this same hardware could be configured to archive six mono streams if I desired.
While reasonably well thought out and easy to use, we have experienced several crashes and some slow response times with Telos' client side software. Further investigation is needed to pinpoint the problem exactly, as the circumstances surrounding the crashes are unclear. I'm in favor of building a Web access system into the Profiler server software. This would allow jocks to review their air checks from home, programming personnel to acquire air checks for clients and PDs to review performances remotely. Telos would also do well to include a simple burn-to-CD feature that would make Profiler more accessible to the less computer savvy among us. I've found little use for the app that streams live audio over the network, though some engineers might and it sounds quite good. It can be configured for a different bit-rate than the archive so you can balance sound quality vs. network bandwidth according to your needs.
The archive player software provides an interface to review archived audio elements.
One hidden benefit of 24/7 logging is that it aids in troubleshooting. When someone reports an issue related to something that was on the air, all that is needed is the approximate date and time of the occurrence in order to review the affected audio. It actually helped us find a faulty fiber optic card in our distribution system by allowing me to hear what the reported static sounded like.
Telos uses a proprietary PCI audio card with a Crystal Fusion engine. Contact closures are sensed using a game port on that same PCI card. Telos documentation shows several pins on the port linked, but it is unclear as to whether the pins are already linked on the card or must be linked by the user. A suggestion would be to use an off-the-shelf audio board such as the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live. That card maintains the needed game port but provides wide spread driver support and the ease of simply picking one up at a local computer retailer. Software security could be provided by use of a USB dongle or a software authentication system. In this way, future host PC technology could be more easily accommodated.
You can also create archives by daypart so that each talents show can be saved in a different shared folder on the network and security can be assigned accordingly. This would allow each talent access to only their audio. An e-mail feature would also be handy � each daypart could be sent to the inbox of the appropriate person at a reduced bit rate for review upon returning home. A slow-acting AGC would be helpful too, for those of us that wish to re-air Profiler audio and don't want to record the heavily processed air signal.
Whether it's to provide an affidavit for a client or fodder for station improvements, we are quickly finding the Profiler to be indispensable.
Kernen is chief engineer of Greater Media Detroit.
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