CreamWare SCOPE Overview

CreamWare SCOPE Digital Processing Environment

A first assessment by Mel Lambert

In many ways, CreamWare's innovative SCOPE system is impossible to categorize in simplistic phrases. The name alone is impressive, standing for SCalable Object Processing Environment, an electronic "Erector Set" for the next Millennium, if you will. That SCOPE is a combination of interactive software modules running custom-developed algorithms on one or more plug-in PCI-compatible cards loaded with Analog Devices SHARC processors is easy to understand. What makes your mind leap sideways, however, is the exceptional amount of thought that went into developing the programming environment so that non-techies like you and me can easily and effortlessly design our own, application-specific . . .well, "Digital Production Studio in Silicon" springs most readily to mind.

   According to CreamWare, the SCOPE platform is the "realization of every audio engineers dream." The Germany-based firm's concept was to "design a totally modular and controllable real-time audio environment," says company president, Frank Hund. "SCOPE provides [end users] with the ultimate flexibility in audio, powered by the fastest available audio DSP engine on the planet." Grandiose schemes indeed.

In addition to a wide range of potential applications in music recording, post-production, live-sound installation and theatrical design, SCOPE also has enormous potential in such computational-intense applications as test and measurement, as well as R&D. SCOPE also serves as an OEM platform for developing operation-specific audio solutions. For applications that don't require SCOPE's mind-numbing processing power, OEM customers can choose CreamWare's smaller Pulsar hardware platform, which offers 20 I/Os and four SHARC chips. (And to protect third-part developer's intellectual property, CreamWare has included strong encryption and copy protection. The latter is implemented via the hardware, and considered far more secure than dongle-based solutions.)

   SCOPE's hardware complement is impressive, with a lot of raw processing power; each DSP board features no less than 15 Analog Devices SHARC chips, which themselves are amongst the fastest floating-point engines currently available. Running at a master clock speed of some 60 MHz, the total power per board approaches close to 2.7 GFlops. SCOPE features no less than five totally independent S/TDM busses that provide for interconnection between multiple boards and various I/O expansion modules.

   The end result is more DSP capabilities within SCOPE - even a single-board implementation - than most of us would ever need in a PC-compatible package. And, being totally scaleable, SCOPE can easily accommodate more "energetic" software as it become available, without the system being rendered obsolete. In terms of operating software, CreamWare's development team seems to have done its homework. You can run out-of-the-box routines, or build your own utilizing a simple-to-master set of toolkit utilities; if you have ever used a PC- or Mac-based graphics programs, for example, then SCOPE's bundled utilities should pose few problems. And SCOPE's extensive graphics-based toolbox allows the user to combine and configure various library "modules" with external hardware to create custom solutions.

   "SCOPE's user interface and modular architecture enable easy and intuitive access to the system's inherent power," Hund explained during an exclusive interview at the recent AES Convention in Munich, Germany. "We have developed library modules that can be manipulated and re-arranged within the virtual workspace to create the system's audio functions. Since all audio drivers and I/Os are represented as modules, we have created a straightforward environment that provides the end user with outstanding flexibility.

   "CreamWare spent over 100 man-years of development to realize a highly sophisticated, general-purpose audio system with a revolutionary, completely open architecture. Our goal was to create a universal audio system that performs with the reliability of hardware solutions, but with the added flexibility that comes from fully configurable software.

"SCOPE includes a spectrum of powerful, smaller audio modules that can be combined [connected with 'virtual' cables] to form complex audio DSP applications.

   "The library offers over 300 modules for mixing, effects and synthesis, as well as to control parameters from the GUI, via MIDI or via other software programs. The SCOPE environment is remarkably simple, intuitive to handle and doesn't require a degree in rocket science to [develop] breakthrough audio designs.

   "Within [SCOPE's virtual programming environment] a 'device' represents a virtual hardware unit; it includes an audio circuit that can be organized in a block diagram /tree structure, plus a graphical user interface that provides access to device settings and parameters."

SCOPE sertup screen   For audio recording and post applications, SCOPE provides mixing, special effects, synthesis and sampling with extensive routing and blending capabilities that integrate many studio components. By adding an external hard-disk recording system - SCOPE currently communicates directly with E-Magic and similar systems, and will in the near future directly address Pro Tools - a truly integrated "virtual studio" can be created to control all recording and production functions.

"SCOPE's functionality is totally open ended," Hund continued. "Users can add additional DSP and I/O boards to an extent that exceeds any reasonable amount of DSP power [they] will ever need for audio. Thanks to SCOPE's extensive circuit design capabilities, there are already many [third-party] application engineers working on new functionality."

   The concept behind SCOPE is relatively simple to explain: Within the programming "environment," or drag-and-drop circuit-development program, various devices that represent virtual hardware units can be interconnected using a graphical user interface (shown right)  that provides easy access to individual device settings and control parameters. An extensive library of audio modules developed by CreamWare can help shorten the design process, the firm says, since users do not need to spend any time on each algorithm's surrounding infrastructure.

"Instead," Hund pointed out, "they can concentrate on the specific algorithms immediately." Designers can also build individual libraries of DSP modules for use within the SCOPE environment. "And importing your own SHARC DSP object code into SCOPE is simple." SCOPE's initial V1.2 release focuses on virtual analog synthesis, with a library that contains a number of synthesizer "models," as well as a highly polyphonic sample player that reads AKAI S-1000 format libraries (with all filter and envelope settings). A fully-featured sampler with editing is planned for the Fall of this year.

   "Within SCOPE," Hund conceded, "a successful simulation equals a finished product that performs like hardware. The system also provides an ideal OEM platform for developing custom hardware for a small customer base. We offer attractive OEM pricing on our hardware, a [cost factor] that makes use of SCOPE far more economic than [developing and innovating] custom hardware. And, because of the software-based nature of SCOPE development, customers can easily upgrade to enhanced versions at a later date."

   In addition to its audio-design capabilities, SCOPE also features a powerful GUI design package that includes a library of faders, rotary pots, buttons and other elements. Users can thus develop attractive-looking user surfaces for software functions, utilizing the tools provided by CreamWare. Via simple drag-and-drop functions, these and other icons can be moved onto the control surface and connected to audio modules, along with their specified range settings. Color, gradients, transparency, textures and text properties are also provided. In this way, a user can develop an operational surface within just a couple of minutes.
   "Graphic designers who have no idea about programming can handle complete surface design," Hund offered, "without requiring help from a programmer. Even sales, support and application engineers can modify software and execute changes for customers."

   As well as application-specific functionality, SCOPE enables rapid development of all kinds of audio processing. Within a research and engineering environment, for example, SCOPE can be used to develop and prototype algorithms in a modular way, working on a real-time platform. "You can quickly design solutions on SCOPE," Hund considered, "and have them tested and reviewed in the field without spending [anything] on custom hardware. Once the product is defined and tested, [developers] can start custom implementations. The ability to prototype [quickly], with the option to involve users at an early state, extends the creative process for product development." Turnaround times in SCOPE development, Hund says, are far less than with conventional solutions.

Two-Tier Software Options and Effects Processing.

The regular SCOPE software contains all tools required for the development of signal processing systems with specific GUIs; an extended version enables users to take advantage of the system's scripting level. "In this way,' Hund explained, "custom applications can be developed with custom work flows, custom menus and custom interfaces." All elements are controlled through a Java-like scripting language that should be fast and easy to learn for everyone familiar with C++ or Java programming.

   As well as familiar equalization, SCOPE includes algorithms for dynamics processing (compressor, limiter and gate) and a selection of delay effects such as reverb, chorus, phasing and flanging. At the time or writing, CreamWare was working closely with a variety of third-part developers, including Quantec, Prosoniq, Sonic Timeworks and Aphex. (With support like this- and others to be named later- something tells me that SCOPE is destined to become a leading development platform for high-power DSP.)

   In terms of mixing functionality, SCOPE's initial release includes a 32-channel mixer with 16 program and eight auxiliary busses- additional mixers can be added via software to extend these capabilities. All internal busses are 32-bit, with floating-point processing and eventual support for 96 kHz sample rates

For enhanced system test and performance measurement, SCOPE can be configured to perform a variety of customized procedures. Multiple digital I/Os are available for setting up interfaces, while custom test and sweep signals can be generated via presets. The supplied library contains both finished applications, plus component modules. The 32-channel spectrum analyzer application module, for example, contains eight-band analysis modules that can connect to VU-meter type displays within custom applications. (SCOPE can also be interfaced directly with Windows-based software.)

   The current software release offers 32-channel spectrum analysis; FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) analysis with its real-time scope display; THD+N (up to 30 test frequencies between 20 Hz and 20 kHz) plus frequency-response measurement; level monitoring; and signal generation (high-precision sine wave, frequency sweeps, white noise, pink noise, etc.)

Hardware Close-up.

SCOPE PCI circuit boardSCOPE's basis configuration consists of a software package, DSP processor board, 24 I/O board with two MIDI ports, and a sync card with word clock and a nine-pin ADAT-format I/O control port. The main board (shown left) features five independent S/TDM expansion busses, for interconnecting multiple cards, and can operate at master sampling rates of 32, 44.1, 48, 96, 192 or 384 kHz; slave broads will varispeed between 30 and 400 kHz. The I/O board mounts on the main board to provide three ADAT-format optical ports. Master/slave clock rates are 44.1 kHz +/-200% and 48 kHz +100/-300% (ADAT-compatible). CreamWare's Pulsar and Pulsar Plus boards can also be added to provide additional DSP and I/O ports (two ADAT-format, plus S/P DIF or AES/EBU digital, plus analog and MIDI). External A-to-D and D-to-A conversation can be via third-party ADAT-compatible units. (CreamWare's A16 converts ADAT-format data into 16 analog I/Os, with word clock sync.)

   The current system Software Package is Windows 95/98-compatible (Win2000, Mac OS, Linux, BeOS are in preparation for a planned Fall '99 release), and includes a Virtual Studio Environment, an Audio Development Environment; a Graphic User Interface design package, plus a library of ready-to-use devices and development modules (including SCOPE ADAT, Pulsar ADAT, Pulsar AES/EBU and Pulsar analog I/O modules; Windows MM Audio, Windows MM MIDI, ASIO, Direct Sound and Windows MM Audio Host MIDI drivers; integration with various third-party Sound Cards, synthesizers and sample-players; special effects; and test/measurement elements).

   Minimum system configuration is a Pentium-II 266, with 128 MB of RAM, and a single PCI slot (multi-board configurations may require a larger PSU). Recommended: Pentium-II 400, 256 MB of RAM, with a 16/32 MB graphics card.

More information from:
CreamWare GmbH, Wilhelm-Ostwald-Strasse O/K1, 563721 Siegburg, Germany; +49 (2241) 59 58 0; fax +49 (2241) 59 58 57;
CreamWare US Inc., 8555 Cronklin Street, Unit 2, Farmingdale, NY 11735; +1 (604) 435-0540; fax +1 (604) 435-99307;


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