AV and IT professionals know the Q-SYS Platform by QSC for its audio routing and processing capabilities, as well as its natively-integrated video conference cameras and bridges. However, many are unaware of the robust software-based control capabilities within the platform.
Greg Mattson, QSC Product Manager for Installed Systems, talks about the advantages of software-based control, and what it offers integrators and programmers as our industry migrates away from dedicated, proprietary hardware control processors.
Advantages of aligning with IT standards
Q-SYS is radically different from all other audio DSP and control processing systems on the market today. Since its inception, QSC designed Q-SYS as a software-based platform with an open IT-friendly ecosystem.
With Intel processing and a refined Linux distribution with purpose built real-time extensions, Q-SYS offers fully integrated audio, video and control on a singular platform.
On top of these IT layers sits the Q-SYS Platform real-time operating system (RTOS), which handles signal processing for audio, control and video routing. This allows QSC to take on many common features at the software layer, where others typically require dedicated hardware for many of those tasks.
“The Q-SYS Core processor is effectively a computer that is customized for real-time processing,” said Mattson.
“As a result, we can leverage standard IT development environments and present modern programming toolsets and methodologies to our customers. This approach to AV&C processing allows us to worry less about how QSC Q-SYS can exist on an IT network (since it is an IT product, after all) and instead focus on how Q-SYS can interface with an IT solution at the software layer.”
Integrated Control: Consolidating control from a hardware perspective
A typical meeting room might include a control processor, an audio processor, video cameras, video distribution, and an end-user control point – either a touch screen or a keypad – along with loudspeakers and amplifiers.
Each hardware piece is dedicated to a specific task and as such, needs to be managed individually. Each piece requires specific programming in order to integrate with the rest of the room’s hardware. For example …
- The control processor has to talk to a multitude of variables on the audio processor.
- The audio processor needs to report back on those variables to the control processor. In order to display those parameters on the user interface, the touch screen needs to query the control processor for control feedback from the audio processor and any other product in the system. The list goes on and on…
Overall, control programmers may have to manage as many as 90 manually configured software-based control links in a small conference room.
This not only presents a ton of work, but also a mess to manage, particularly when changes are requested, all while increasing the potential for error.
“We are replacing those discreet hardware processors with a single platform-based processor,” he said.
“As a result, everything is natively embedded inside one product making it much, much easier to create working systems. So much manual integration work simply vanishes with this hardware consolidation. This means integrators are no longer required to spend as much time on seemingly benign DSP-to-control integration. And of course this principle applies to cameras, bridging devices etc.”
Programming experts not required
One of the hallmark capabilities of the Q-SYS Platform is its ability to integrate with nearly any third-party device through its open programming environment and QSC’s library of pre-built plug-ins.
“We offer our customers the ability to use existing plug-ins as well as develop their own if desired. It really illustrates the openness, power, and flexibility of our platform,” says Mattson.
For example, Attero Tech built and support a number of QSC Q-SYS plug-ins for their Dante and AES67-enabled devices. These plug-ins allow the Q-SYS Platform to remotely manage, control and monitor their devices almost as though they were native to the platform.
“Plug-ins make it really simple for integrators who don’t have great expertise in writing code or building programs to simply take off-the- shelf hardware products and attach them with a Q-SYS plug-in.” Mattson said.
Simplified Software-Based Control: Eliminating the proprietary closed loop
AV control programmers currently work through a quagmire of older and newer programming technologies and frameworks, most of which are not supported outside the AV community.
For those new to AV control programming, it typically requires them to invest heavily in training in order to understand enough to handle even basic systems. As a result, end users are often forced to hire external programmers, even to make small changes to their system.
“QSC always looks to leverage existing, well-established technologies whenever possible,” Mattson said.
“The same is true with our approach to Q-SYS Control. We chose to leverage a scripting environment based on Lua, an open source lightweight programming language used in countless applications outside of AV. It’s widely accessible, documented and supported by a community of programmers and training material outside the AV industry.”
With Q-SYS, an IT team can easily troubleshoot and support custom control functions without the need for extensive AV programming experience.
In terms of creating a user control interface, Q-SYS Designer Software eliminates the need for control coding and lets you drag any control element from your design into the UCI editor. Then you can simply deploy on any native Q-SYS touch screen controller, iOS device or Windows PC.
Scalable Control: Flexible for the modern enterprise
Scaling a dedicated hardware control solution results in a painfully linear investment.
When you add 10 rooms of control, you are looking at dozens of unnecessary pieces of hardware, processors as well as redundant AV control programming. All with high adoption costs, lots of potential maintenance, and siloed hardware. This simply does not offer the flexibility and scalability required for the modern enterprise.
With Q-SYS, users get software-based control, which means there is no dedicated control processor. Q-SYS Core processors handle audio, video AND control and can be placed in the room, or operate from a central location, like in a data center or IT closet.
When another room needs to be added to the system, or features added to an existing room, you do so with a simple software push.
The typical ‘rip and replace’ paradigm for programming no longer applies. “Most AV control programming solutions used today offer a “feature lite” or configurator style programming environment, which often hit ceilings or can be exhausted quickly, particularly when seemingly simple changes are required.
When you need to add rooms or make changes, you are often forced to rip out the old programming and rebuild the ENTIRE control system programming from scratch using a more feature-rich environment.
That simply doesn’t happen with Q-SYS. Q-SYS Platform design files are easily transferred to any Q-SYS Core processor, which allows you to scale up or down while maintaining your entire software-based control programming design and end point configuration.
And did we mention firmware?
With the Q-SYS Platform, the user can update an entire system including the Q-SYS Core processor and all Q-SYS peripheral devices in just a few minutes. Should you find an issue and wish to rollback to a previous version, simple, just another few minutes (firmware updates should be stress-free no matter what day of the week it is).