QSC: Striving to deliver the networked cinema

With its roots in rock and roll, QSC has been a stalwart name in high-performance amplifiers for many years. But today its range extends far beyond audio, into a fully managed theatre operation system. Cinema Technology lifts the hood on a processing powerhouse.

 

If Barry Andrews’ motorbike had not broken down on the street in front of Pat Quilter’s amplifier shop in 1968, QSC might never have happened. Pat was building guitar amplifiers for the budding rock and roll industry, and with his innate skills, could offer much needed mechanical assistance. Though Pat had the technical genius to build high-performance power amplifiers, he lacked the business acumen to grow QSC into a world-class, global organisation. Fortunately, Barry and his brother John did.

For over 50 years, QSC has developed the technology that powers immersive cinema, live performance audio and digital collaboration and meeting experiences worldwide. A recognised innovator in the design and manufacture of high-performance loudspeakers, digital mixers, power amplifiers, audio processors, cinema solutions, and Q-SYS software-based audio, video and control ecosystem, QSC thrives where technology and audiovisual experiences intersect. 

QSC expertise is evident in its advanced manufacturing and quality control processes. The company manufactures many of its products in its 81,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility, in Costa Mesa, California. Utilising a complement of demand planning, parts procurement, operations and logistics, computer-controlled precision assembly, and rigorous testing and control, the QSC facility is designed with build-to-order flexibility, giving the company unprecedented ability to respond to customer needs while keeping both parts and finished goods inventory at well-maintained levels. Select partners in Asia provide additional manufacturing. QSC has earned the trust of customers and partners worldwide with award-winning sales, service, and support teams

QSC Corporate Offices are located on 51,000 square feet which include a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility as well as, Engineering, Sales, Marketing, Technical Support, and Service. Additionally, QSC has offices in Boulder, Colorado, San Luis Obispo, California, Sinsheim, Germany, Bengaluru, India, Weybridge, United Kingdom, and Hong Kong, with sales and support staff located throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. QSC maintains a local warehouse and distribution facility in Corona, California, with other facilities in Tennessee, Netherlands, and China.

Employing over 600 people, QSC is seen as a great place to work, attracting the talent from all over the world. The company strives to provide a casual fun work environment where people are excited to bring forth their best. Indeed, QSC is a seven-time recipient of the Orange County Register’s “Best Place to Work” award.

One of the hallmarks of QSC is to have a vision, and continue investing in the future. Beyond their passion for delivering high-performance products and long-term commitment to customer relationships, QSC is devoted to building a brand known for unmatched quality and reliability. 

To learn about QSC products and technical support, visit: qsc.com

 

The QSC Product range

For the first 25 years, the company’s focus was building reliable, high-power amplifiers for sound reinforcement applications. These quickly gained a reputation for reliability and outstanding sonic performance. Movie theatre technicians learned of the superiority of the amplifiers and soon QSC became the amplifier of choice for cinemas across the US during the 1980s. Today, the company estimates that QSC amplifiers are installed in more than half of the world’s cinemas.

It wasn’t until 1990 when QSC hired its first product applications engineer, a young projectionist and cinema technician, that the company took a serious look at the Cinema market. Having worked for National Amusements and then Ballantyne Strong, Barry Ferrell knew what would work in the projection booth, and ultimately, how to create cinema products genuinely optimised for the industry.  

That “from the trenches” perspective is a hallmark of the QSC Cinema team — today, nearly every member of the team has an extensive background in cinema. Their experience covers the spectrum from running projection booths to entire theatre operations, as well as the development of cinema-specific products. In fact, this deep, hands-on experience in cinema operations inspires many of QSC’s best technological innovations. One example of such innovation is DataPort connectors, which allow a single cable connection between the processor and amplifier to carry audio, control, and monitoring. Every QSC product is full of features that make installation quick and easy — usually inspired by a QSC Cinema team member who has suffered through using gear from manufacturers with less empathetic motivations. Hands-on roots and technological innovation has led to what QSC claims is the cinema industry’s most comprehensive catalog of cinema solutions. Over 140 products fill the pages of their catalogue — it’s a lot of products, so the catalogue is divided into six product families.  

 

Processors

Cinema processors are becoming more complex, with a greater level of functionality, often replacing a number of separate boxes with a single piece of hardware. QSC offers four series of cinema sound processors, all of which interface easily with its DCA and ISA Series power amplifiers, and provide complete signal processing and crossover, with many models also offering booth monitoring. QSC processors deliver optimised DSP equalisation to QSC loudspeakers to maximise the audio performance and simplify installation.

 

Amplifiers

Since amplifiers were the first “core competency” of the company, it’s no surprise that QSC continues its dominance in cinema power amplifiers to this day, with three series of 2-, 4-, and 8-channel amplifiers, specifically designed for cinemas.  QSC’s DCA Series has been an industry standard for over 20 years and can be found in the majority of the world’s projection booths.  The newer DPA Series is a class D design, which is available in 4 and 8 channel models, and includes DSP for loudspeaker signal processing and other functions. A special version of DPA, called DPA-Q, is intended for use with the Q-SYS Ecosystem and is used most frequently for immersive sound formats with the Q-SYS Core processor.

 

Loudspeakers

QSC offers a wide range of loudspeakers for behind the screen, surrounds, and subwoofers.

Its passive, 2-, 3-, and 4-way screen speakers all deliver the same hallmark QSC sound quality for rooms of any size. The SR Series surrounds fit the bill for rooms from 5.1/7.1 to the largest immersive or PLF applications. They also offer both single and dual-driver subwoofers, including the massive SB-15121 21-inch “earth-shaker,” to reproduce the lowest of the low frequencies.

 

Media Servers and Test & Measurement

In 2017, QSC acquired Ultra Stereo Labs (USL), the highly regarded cinema processor manufacturer based in San Luis Obispo, California. While some may have perceived this as an easy way to reduce competition, in reality, QSC was able to absorb a cadre of extremely talented engineering resources, and add several critical product categories to its catalogue. In other words, this was a strategic and calculated acquisition. Not only did USL make some of the best and most useful cinema test and measurement products, but they had already proven to be a leader in the early days of IMBs. Having an IMB, or IMS, in the catalogue dovetailed neatly with the growing acceptance of Q-SYS for Cinema, the company’s network audio, video, and control ecosystem.

 

Network Audio, Video and Control

Unlike many manufacturers, the Q-SYS Ecosystem is the only truly software-based ecosystem that offers audio, video and control processing, networking integration plus remote monitoring and management in one tightly integrated solution. Cinema complexes, like any other business establishment, are migrating their operations towards a software-based network infrastructure, the Q-SYS Ecosystem helps to ensure the best user experience while reducing design and deployment risks and costs. 

 

Accessibility Products

As part of the USL acquisition, QSC was also able to add a full range of Accessibility Products to its catalogue for hearing and visually impaired moviegoers. In the US, it is estimated that there are over 50million people with hearing loss and almost 8million with visual impairment. Statistics are likely to be similar around the world. Many of these people have given up on going to the movies because they can’t fully enjoy the experience. Across an entire cinema chain, that can be a lot of lost revenue for a theatre operator.

 

Hands on with the CMS-5000 Media Server 

At CinemaCon, I had the opportunity to get my hands on the CMS-5000 Cinema Media Server in a demonstration at the QSC booth, writes Peter Knight. The server comes with an internal solid-state drive along with a 10G fibre port, which means it is possible to ingest a feature while in playback at an incredible 5-8 minutes. The current average is half an hour or more — meaning the CMS-5000 provides significant time savings. As a freelance projectionist, I am used to going into projection rooms with a variety of equipment, so it has become second nature to use existing software. For me, this was the test of the QSC server — could I build and use the interface without help or information from the QSC team? The short answer was yes. 

It was effortless and straightforward to build a playlist and utilise the playback feature. Following the demonstration, I spent another half an hour discussing small changes I felt would make the interface more user-friendly with the product manager and developer. Overall, I enjoyed using the CMS-5000 and look forward to seeing the product in cinemas worldwide. 

 

 A View from the top

Barry Ferrell, senior vice president, QSC Cinema Business Unit

 

Barry has been involved in cinema his entire working life, starting as a projectionist while earning his electrical engineering degree, writes Peter Knight. In 1988, Barry went to work for the well-known Strong company as a projection pre-wire supervisor. He was responsible for integrating projection and sound systems for both 35mm and 70mm applications and would assemble and test the entire system made up of components from a variety of manufacturers before shipping to the theatre site. This dramatically reduced time spent on site installing the systems. It is this experience of dealing with a variety of different connectors and outputs that helped to drive design decisions at QSC. 

 

When Barry was hired at QSC in 1990, QSC was mainly a general-purpose amplifier manufacturer. The widescale acceptance of Dolby Stereo in the 1980s became a huge growth accelerator for the amplifier business. Soon, QSC Model 1400 amplifiers became one of the most popular models, as they were sold to Dolby who pre-wired the systems before sending them to the cinemas. Barry’s role at QSC in the 1990s helped him to build direct relationships with cinema owners and operators through attending industry events and tradeshows. This led to the formation of the Cinema business unit. During the film days, QSC manufactured everything after the processor (B chain), while in the digital days (now) QSC supplies the whole chain, including the sound processor. In fact, QSC has become one of, if not the largest suppliers of processors for digital cinema systems.

 

Barry has been able to draw on his considerable projection room experience and on the challenges and frustrations of installation and integration. QSC has two other business units, so the company is able to share knowledge, learnings and understandings from other areas to build and develop products that work within the cinema environment, and within the same ecosystem. 

Part of the value of this View from the Top feature is that it is aimed at the future. Barry sees the development of Cinema On Demand growing, where there are smaller auditoriums entirely rented out by the customer, and the film is transferred over the network to the auditorium server. This is where the new QSC products such as the CMS-5000 Cinema Media Server come into play, as the server has a network speed of 5-10Gbits that allows the film to be delivered over the network in just a few minutes.

 

Another key part of our discussion was the “Networked Cinema”. The network is the backbone of the cinema, and Q-SYS is positioned as the solution to control and integration. Barry sees huge importance and value in the network, and shares insights on continued product development efforts that reflect the shift in AV. The networking of things will continue, along with the ability to integrate and control from one place.

 

QSC has a comprehensive vision of a family of technologies where all components are designed to work as a system, with seamless and simple integration.  Today, cinema content is essentially data, and much of it is already delivered on a network.  Network operation centers or NOCs monitor many cinemas. With a cinema site, there is often a network for systems such as point of sales, ticketing, on-screen advertising, and building functions such as HVAC, lighting, and other operations.

 

QSC has been a leader in networked audio technology going back to 1996 when QSC was the first licensee of CobraNet.  Peak Audio invented CobraNet as a way to use standard Ethernet networks to route digital audio.  This standards-based approach is evident in the Q-SYS Ecosystem where they have continued with Ethernet for the Q-LAN network and Intel processors running Linux for audio processing and control. Q-SYS was launched in 2009 and was initially aimed at the largest and highest performance systems.  Early adopters included theme parks, airports, and cruise ships, where hundreds to thousands of channels must be processed, routed, and controlled with absolute reliability. The power of the Q-SYS Ecosystem goes far beyond its ability to serve as a cinema processor. The flexibility of Q-SYS allows it to include many other important functions and subsystems within the modern cinema complex.   

 

The introduction of immersive audio formats and QSC’s creation of smaller Q-SYS Core processors made Q-SYS the ideal solution for Premium Large Format Cinema. More recent product additions, like the DCIO (Digital Cinema Input/Output) hardware interface and DPA-Q amplifiers, have made Q-SYS a cost-effective choice for the entire multiplex, including the 7.1 screens. Q-SYS control and monitoring is now available for all screens, not just PLF rooms. With the launch of the CMS-5000 Cinema Media Server, Q-SYS has an integrated, end-to-end solution from the server to the loudspeakers; all of it controlled via Q-SYS.

 

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About Peter Knight

Peter Knight is the Commissioning Editor for the Cinema Technology Magazine, along with the Managing Editor for the Mad Cornish Projectionist website. He is still a working projectionist and AV technician with an interest in all things projected both in traditional cinema and elsewhere too. Peter has been running his own business since 2017.

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