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Past audio predictions review

AudioBus Specification

In 1988, I was frustrated with the challenges and lack of progress on integrated multi-component / multi-function systems, as well as by the serious user-experience issues that integrating sophisticated electronics presented.

So I decided to design and write up a product concept that would address this.

The full text of the original is in this attached PDF.

[Note that it's scanned from the original printed copies, as I misplaced my source files]

The concept was called the 'AudioBus' because it was primarily based around the thought that a dynamically assignable bus matrix with a combination of audio channels as well as data and control signals would enable expandability.

The other core concept was the self-contained, self-describing and self-configuring modules one could plug into this AudioBus. Each module contained a 'plug-in' style User Interface extension to the core master framework presented on the large GUI.

Remember that this was 1988, years before the introduction of the only product to even remotely address some of the ideas I outlined. That product was the ground-breaking Meridian 861. Which while it addressed many of the audio aspects of my concept, it did not deliver on the user experience side. And of-course, only Meridian produces boards (or modules) for it.
The fact that after more than 15 years in production, the 861 is still being sold is a testament to the value of extensible platforms.

Fast forward to the tail-end of the first decade in the 21st century, and we have yet to achieve all the goals outlined. Much progress has been made, but key gaps remain.

This review will highlight some of the salient items.

Common user experience and extensible, GUI-based interaction

In the case of a given brand, there is a distinct trend towards normalization of a UI paradigm amongst devices, Sony's Cross-bar media UI is an example, but cross-vendor standards do not seem to be evolving. This is a major barrier to progress.
Imagine if the PC industry had not settled on a small set of common GUI platforms (Mac/Window) that third-party software could then address. We'd have the Wang word-processor box, the VisiExcel spreadsheet box, you get the drift.

So the vision of a cross-vendor, extensible and normalized user experience has yet to be realized.

Modular expansion

The vision of hardware module expansion has seen some designs appear in the past 20 years, with the Meridian 861 being the best, and Integra also tried their hand at it but abandoned it. NAD is still giving it a shot, but with mixed results.

Which is a shame, as we've seen a tremendous need for upgradable hardware as the industry transitioned from analog to digital over these two decades.

So this is still to be fully realized as well, but Meridian gets kudos for trying and succeeding to a large extent.

Exchange of digital audio signals

It took almost 15+ years, but finally, when HDMI arrived, there was a cross-vendor standard for exchanging multi-channel digital signals between devices.

Unfortunately, no one seems to offer a 'processor' loop type arrangement for digital signals, so if you want to post-process anything from a preamp, you must still do it in the analog domain.

HDMI still has challenges, but vendors are addressing them well.

Exchange of Control signals and information

This is still an emerging area, but with HDMI 1.3 and CEC there are the beginnings of cross-vendor information exchanges and command and control standards forming.

It's still anything but seamless, but at least headed in the right direction.

Summary

For a design that was created 21+ years ago, it showed tremendous foresight and provided concepts that have yet to be realized today (2009) and forecast many things that are indeed being realized.

It was less than perfect in many technical areas (given 20 years of hindsight), but conceptually was a shot in the right direction.

We can only hope vendors will address user experience and extensibility notions explored here as we move forward.