Mac OS X Con: Developing ProTools Plug-Ins
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Dogs at the beach in San Francisco.
[Here are the details for this panel, fully titled “Go Pro: Audio Production & Plug-In Development for Pro Tools.”]
[Even though I just ate lunch — a crappy fajita with a bit of salad and three rolls at the hotel, complements of Mr. O’Reilly — I’m still kind of hungry. And I have a headache. And though I’m not sure I will be doing a whole lot of plug-in development for ProTools, none of my other conference options look all that compelling and I don’t just want to just fuck around in the upstairs lobby. So here I am!]
[The speaker, Joseph Saracino, works for DigiDesign (makers of ProTools), so this may be in large part sales pitch. Who knows. But that’s offset by the joy of starting up iChat and noticing that it automatically picks up all of the other Macs running iChat within wifi distance… Which is, like forty.]
[Joseph’s going to free-ball it: no mic.]
Joseph: I manage the DSP group at DigiDesign. Used to work at Apple. We’re responsible for all plug-in design and support. We have a very active developer program.
[He’s describing what ProTools is.]
Joseph: …a “word processor” for audio… Very powerful and quick.
Joseph: We have two flavors of ProTools. ProTools LE plug-ins are all host-based. ProTools TDM is the flagship. Plug-ins mostly run on a seperate DSP card, reducing latency. Also takes processing load off of the host computer, increasing flexibility.
Aussie Questioner Guy: What happened to ProTools Free?
Joseph: Well, we’re trying to get our for-pay software ported to OS X first. Then we’ll consider porting ProTools Free. I would love to see it. It was a great thing. It’s just a question of priorities.
[On to control surfaces…]
Joseph: Very important. Makes manipulating the software easier and you get direct metering on the boards. Our flagship controller is ICON, a gigantic desk-sized system with its own monitor and everything. The controls on the boards are just knobs, so you can map the knobs to all sorts of different controls in your software.
[Now we’re going to listen to a lovely demo. The file is called “Salvation Demo.” Yeah! More cheezy sounds. This is a kind of manufactured girl band Ashlee Simpson sort of thing. And we’re looking at a few plug-in effects running. D-Verb. EQ. Delay. Compressor.]
[Technical difficulties with the projector.]
Joseph: TDM means “Time Division Multiplexing.” They run on Motorola 563xx-based DSPs. Most of the DSP market in the 80s were 56xxx-based Motorola. RTAS means “Real-Time Audio Suite.” These run on the host. AudioSuite is the same thing, but they do not run in real-time. You would use these if you just wanted to permanently de-noise a track or something. ProTools LE only runs the RTAS and AudioSuite plugs.
[Projected are a bunch of example plug-ins.]
Question: What is HTDM?
Joseph: Host-based TDM. You can run your TDMs, but routes the audio data through the host. So you have latency, but you can do some other stuff. It’s being phased out and we don’t encourage developers to develop for it. Develop for TDM or RTAS.
Joseph: So let’s talk about the plug-in market. Who buys them? High-end studios and post-production facilities buy the TDM stuff. And they have the deep pockets. Smaller and home studios are more RTAS customers. And people who would use virtual instruments. AudioSuite is used by mastering and restoration houses quite often.
[Now he’s going to show some example plug-ins in a file called “Bad Boy Bill.” Now we’re looking at the d2 Focusrite RTAS EQ. He’s showing us how he can control the plug-in using the external control surface.]
Aussie Questioner Guy: Why are you so hostile to independent plug-in developers? Yous SDK isn’t free. Why?
Joseph: Quality is one issue. We want developers to be dedicated to bringing a product to market. The SDK also contains info that could be used to crack plug-ins. And this is a huge issue for developers.
[Aussie Questioner Guy is in the mood to get into a debate about this.]
Aussie Questioner Guy: One of the reasons VSTs become so popular is because it was so easy to create your own plug-ins.
[Yes, okay. We’re wasting time right now. Random Guy At Conference isn’t going to make Big Company change its mind…]
Joseph: Plug-in features include metering support and control surface integration. We also have MIDI support, like everyone, and surround support (5.1, for example). And they’re C++/56k-based. And we have a GUI framework, though it’s a dinosaur and it kind of sucks ass. We also have a wonderful developer support staff team! And a developers conference every year (coming up next month).
Joseph: If you want to be a plug-in developer, what do you do? Well, it’s a very competative market. Very. And copy protection is a huge, huge issue. Without it, you simply won’t make money. And you have to have good sales, marketing, and distribution. If you want to become a development partner, you can go to our website and request SDK material. The bar isn’t high to get the SDK. We have an “evangelism” staff, though, who help get developer plug-ins out into the market. And they’ll keep up with you. And if you haven’t done anything with it in six months or whatever, they’ll revoke your access to the SDK.
Aussie Questioner Guy: I don’t want to come off as the bitchy guy. But. You guys have changed the way you’ve organized the plug-ins…
[Etc. I don’t really care.]
Joseph: DigiDesign test piles of third-party plugs and we sent off bug reports to the developers all the time.
[The room is filling up with people waiting to hear the next talk about Apple’s consumer audio products… This was a pretty good presentation, though. Good speaker.]
I'm Josh Knowles, a technology developer/consultant on a variety of mobile, social media, and gaming projects. I founded and lead Frescher-Southern, Ltd. I grew up in Austin, Texas and currently live in New York City.
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