Spot On Broadcast Audio Player from Sigma Broadcast – Review

“Bong” – the ITV News is brought to you by SpotOn. Although you may not have heard of SpotOn you’ve certainly heard it in operation. From the National Lottery to the ITV News SpotOn is rapidly becoming the replay software of choice for much of the TV industry. Like all really good ideas it’s a simple one; a Windows based “cart machine” with a nice looking front end and a comprehensive set of interfaces. Surely you would think the market would be jammed with this sort of thing from freeware upwards. Well you’d be wrong, yes Windows world is full of music file players and plenty look like a cart wall but as ever the requirements of professional broadcast make them unsuitable for life at the sharp end.

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With SpotOn spreading rapidly through BBC TV, ITN, Meridian, Tyne Tees and Sky it’s worth asking just what makes the product so attractive?

Well for TV the comprehensive GPI interface is a real boon – you want a whoosh every time the vision mixer executes that dissolve then just make the right connection and it will happen at the right time every time. If you have a headline sequence that needs to triggered and then fire three clips over a bed – then SpotOn can do it. Want to save all your files centrally – email them round the organisation, record and edit them with standard Windows tools – all these are possible with SpotOn. On top of that all the outputs of your computer’s soundcards can be utilised simultaneously and you can if you want assign individual outputs to individual buttons. At the moment soundcard driver support is Microsoft Direct X / WDM – no ASIO drivers for instance which is a shame and at the moment makes RME cards outside the loop.

In radio things are not quite so clear cut – most stations already have computer play out systems and most of them come with cart wall solutions. However when you want to go out to play things get a bit trickier. At BBC Wales we use RadioMan as our playout system and while the editor can go walk about, the database and hence the cart wall has to stay at home. So when we went to Rhyl for our summer Big Buzz event I needed a cart wall I could give my presenter to sit in front off so he could feel at home. Cue SpotOn. Loading the files is as easy as getting stuff into any computer and a couple of clicks assign the audio file to one of SpotOn’s many buttons. With up to 40 buttons per page and 8 pages you have a total of 320 files per session. Actually 8 pages is not enough if you wanted to take more than one show out – some of our presenters use four 36 button cartwalls per show. They’re just greedy. You can however dedicate a session to one programme and session changes are a matter of seconds.

I loaded the software on to my Shuttle PC and as the PCI slot is taken up by a Merging Mykerinos card I blagged a firewire sound card from Terratec (more of that in a full review – firewire is looking up!) to provide the I/O. One downside of SpotOn is the dongle – nothing wrong with the dongle it’s just annoying – but in this day and file sharing age file sharing I’m sure it’s a necessary evil.

Fire it up and you can configure how many buttons per page, the colour and font of the buttons and text and how (keyboard shortcut, midi or gpi options are all available) the button is going to be fired. SpotOn will work with a touch screen and each button can output a midi command when triggered to cascade another event.

SpotOn will play .wav, .bwav, .wma and most mp3s, it won’t currently play our mpeg II files which is a shame but surely the future in broadcast will not be compressed.

We had a whale of a time in Rhyl – Tony Christie rammed the Events Pavilion (Is this the way to Ama – Rhyl – O? oh yes it is) and SpotOn behaved impeccably. Sigma Broadcast are a small company and I would recommend a chat with them about support after all the stuff that goes through this is mostly mission critical, but small can be beautiful – I asked for a less click intensive regime for changing keyboard shortcuts and it was programmed for me overnight. Neat.

With 5.1 surround sound support now an option with SpotOn (Sky are using SpotOn for their new HD studio – feeding a grande Calrec Alpha) and with Sigma Broadcast having sold a couple of systems to the States and interest continues to grow. Theatre has got be an option or indeed anywhere with a custom hardware or sampler solution.

I can’t believe it’s taken this long but SpotOn looks to have filled a very obvious gap in the market.



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