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Mix Magazine

This installment of The Bitstream column appeared in the June 2000 issue of Mix Magazine.

The Bitstream

This column discusses discusses KVM products, firewalls and Sharp's SA-CD player…

Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Ye olde saw about wedding accoutrements, “Something old, something new…” loosely fits our rant this month. Not that I’m planning on tying the knot. I’m just grooving on some things for your facility that could make life better. First the old thing: You already know about extensions for your keyboard, monitor and mouse to keep the acoustic noise bottled up somewhere, anywhere, as long as its not in the control room. If you’re lucky enough to have a machine room adjacent to the control room, you can simply use good quality, low capacitance cable. For example, Alpha, Belden and Gepco sell triple and quad minicoax for your RGB analog video and separate low cap twisted pairs for your keyboard and mouse. If the piney smell of solder makes you queasy, then Network Technologies can fix you up with a clean, prefab job that will set you back only $110 for a 50 foot run. And, they have passive cable assemblies that go out to 100 ft.

But hey, what about my 50 meter run down to the spare bathroom where I keep my CPU? A passive extender won’t cut it there, Bucko. You need an active answer to your KVM cravings. KVM stands for “keyboard, video and mouse” and there are several devices that take an active approach to remoting your computer. Most audio geeks would go for one of Geffen’s solutions because that’s all they know. But, we can borrow KVM concepts from pocket protected Information Techs. KVM switches provide a one–to–many connection, allowing you to park your butt in the control room’s sweet spot and control multiple “servers” or CPUs. If you don't need the switching capability, you can simply extend your KVM connection and leave the other server port unused until needed.

Everyone needs Category 5 wiring for general networking. So, given a run of CAT5 cable and a KVM switch, you can purchase two or four server, single console KVM switch versions that let you remotely handle several CPUs from your favorite perch. Providing extension up to 600 feet, the price jumps up from the passive solution into the $1–2000 range.

Competition often leads to consolidation or cooperation. Is your facility partnering (#1 doofy gerund of the last millennium) with some local vidiots to better serve your local market without duplicating facilities? Humm, I thought so. Well, wouldn’t it be nice to connect your LANs, instead of sneakernetting, while maintaining control over access and permissions? Uh huh. Would be nice, huh?

This leads us to our next topic…Something new that you may not be aware of, unless you’ve had a car fire recently, is a firewall. Firewalls are products that confine network traffic to predetermined pathways, keeping hackers out of your LAN while allowing bidirectional traffic that originates from your local network to pass unimpeded.

They used to be fancy software packages, running on big iron, and requiring a team of the aforementioned IT dudes to keep it all together. In 1996, appliance–level devices began appearing from vendors like Netopia that provided inexpensive internet service, via ISDN, for small office environments. Had one, loved it. The need for cost effective, high speed internet connections has ballooned considerably and, with the acceptance of xDSL for home and business, the range of offering has increased in kind.

Today, Netopia is one of many companies selling DSL routers with built–in firewalls. Inexpensive, fairly easy to configure firewall appliances, also known as “personal firewalls,” have also appeared to address internet security issues, especially those stemming from DSL’s inherent lack of security protocols. For under $200, you can pick up an “internet sharing device” that allows multiple LAN clients to use one dialup account and V90 modem. Perfect for the one or two person office. Another option for you home studio types is Open Door Networks’ DoorStop software firewall for Mac OS starting at $60. For personal firewall, antiviral detection and network filtering in one software product, Intego sells packages for Mac OS starting at $150. Network Associates, makers of Virex and Pretty Good Privacy freeware, also sells cost effective VPN (see sidebar) and firewall software for NT and Unix.

For $300, you can grab a hardware hub from Dr. Bott to expand a DSL modems access to your whole in–house tribe. It lacks full blown firewall services but you can't beat the price. For $400 to $800, you can get a full featured, expandable hubs from WatchGuard Technologies.

Finally, the blue item. That would be the “Cocktail Blue” SM-SX100, the most interesting thing I witnessed at Winter CES. By the way, the second most important happening was when Philips showed that a DVD+RW disc created in their prototype DVD-V recorder would play in consumer DVD-V players. Fascinating, Captain.

Sorry, back to the SM-SX100. At the LVCC, along with the 1394 Trade Association (about which I’ll get to after the developer’s conference), home networking booths and Taser International, makers of Electro–Muscular Disruptors (won’t be going there, sorry), was the large, retro spread of Sharp Electronics Corporation. Tasteful dioramas of life-style products, humongous TVs, your basic cool CE gear. Ah, but hiding in a niche, all by itself was a strange, dare I say, homely critter that caught my attention. The front panel said “1 bit amplifier,” which in and of itself is no big thing. Your basic “digital” power amp is fairly common these days, this one being 100 watts stereo into 8 ohms. But the back panel posessed the high groove factor; connectors labeled ”SACD.” Yup, DSD inputs presumably being fed from the forthcoming companion SX-DX1 SACD player shipping in August. A baby version, the SM-SX1 50 watt, 1 bit amp will also ship along with the player. Both the SM-SX100 and SM-SX1 have the proprietary 13 pin connection on the back for direct bitstream coupling of the SX-DX1 player to either amplifier.

No matter what you may think about SACD as a distribution format, one listen to a live performance skillfully recorded on DSD should convince you of the merits of the underlying technology. Then again, have you had your hearing tested lately? Oops, we won’t go there either.

So, old and new, borrowed and blue (and chrome). Stuff to make your facility more ergonomic, more secure and muy sexy. As usual, keep the e-cards and letter comin’ in and stop by the site for links to all the companies mentioned and a good bit more.

Sidebar

Many of these firewall offerings, along with routers, offer other features such as VPN (Virtual Private Network) support to sweeten the deal. VPNs are software–enabled secure connections between LANs that use the internet to safely and inexpensively span long distances. Traffic between LANs is encrypted, sent and decrypted seamlessly, making the remote connection appear to be part of the local network.

Bio

Oliver Masciarotte is an engineer and new media consultant. While contemplating the Byzantine implications of W2K, he secretly wishes more DVDs showed up in his monthly NARAS list.