The recent Microsoft Build Developer Conference threw up some interesting glimpses of the future for DJs. On display was a prototype version of the mighty Akai Pro MPC Renaissance, running with a version of Windows Embedded (more on this later). But of most interest for DJs was a slide showing a render of a Numark NS7 II unit, complete with 3 screens. And not a laptop in sight.
Firstly, what is Windows Embedded? You know when you go to an ATM machine, only to be greeted with a load of computer gibberish, and sometimes just a C: prompt? That’s Windows Embedded – a stripped out version of regular Windows optimised purely for the hardware it’s running on. Think point of sale boxes in shops too. You barely get to see it, and almost certainly don’t get to interact with it directly. Remember, this is not Windows as you know it, and what it runs on cannot really be called a PC in the accepted sense, because… wait for it… it’s embedded. Geddit?
Embedding Past and Present
The idea of embedding for DJs isn’t new. Remember Stanton‘s SCS.4DJ? This ran a version of Linux inside that freed you from having to plug in a laptop. Music prep was done on your computer, and transferred onto USB devices that plugged into the SCS.4DJ. And it ran well, and the masses seems to love the idea of laptop-free DJing, even if the unit itself didn’t break sales records.
Numark has also sort of dabbled with the general idea of embedding via the iDJ Pro. Dropping an iPad right into the heart of a controller is a very cool idea, and is something that I expect to see a lot more of. Indeed, the idea of iOS embedding is pretty hot right now via Apple’s announcement of their CarPlay technology. While not truly embedding, the principle of iOS driving hardware without having to directly use an iPhone or iPad is a step in the right direction. Apple already has patents for DJ products, and controllers are a fixture in the majority of their ads these days.
The Case for MPCs
The MPC and its ilk are traditionally standalone units, designed to be used just about anywhere that a music maker wants to. The main issue has been that the demands of producers has increased, but the screen (which is being generous) has stayed the same size. The solution was to hook up the newest generations of grooveboxes to computers, thus opening up a huge screen and enormous feature set to music makers, essentially making them no more than controllers. Booo said the groovebox faithful, as they now had to take 2 boxes with them.. And even though a magical world was open to them, they suddenly felt hampered by this now not-so-portable workflow.
So it makes perfect sense for producers to welcome the idea of Windows Embedded. Not only do they get their standalone music machine back, but they also get a much bigger windows to play with as well. And this machine (in theory) will also play nice with laptops too. I assume it’ll still work with the respective Windows and OS X software too.
The Case for (or against) DJs
The sell to DJs is going to be much harder. The beauty of the current workflow is that music prep is done on the laptop inside the very software that will be running, and it simply plugs in to the controller. To go embedded, you have to do all your track prep the same way, and then transfer it to the DJ unit running embedded software. Think Pioneer and their rekordbox workflow for CDJs.
So it’s not as slick and adds an extra step into the process of getting music out to the masses. But it does ditch the laptop from the workflow. There’s something incredibly cool about NOT having to constantly defer to a separate screen, thus taking attention away from your DJ gear. Looking at this gear, I would love to have a play to see if this is a workable model.
It’s interesting to see Serato‘s software being used in this, especially as OS X is the unofficially preferred platform. Clearly it’s little more than a fancy render at this point, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in some form of reality. Remember that OS X was running happily inside Apple for a very long time, thus it’s not outside the realms of reality that there isn’t a unit held together with gaffer tape and hope running an alpha version.
I do love the idea of a completely self-contained DJ unit running without recourse to any laptop while playing. I want my focus to be on my DJ gear, to the point where I’d love a waveform sized screen right where the strip search is. And if embedded software lets that happen, then I’m all for it. It does of course raise so many questions about software features in hardware, and if the price of embedding will raise the price of hardware even higher than ever. But hey — that’s what comments are for, so that all these issues can be raised and kicked around before companies commit resources to a potential money pit.
Obviously, this Numark unit would cost a fortune, but what of the principle of running an embedded OS so that you wouldn’t need a laptop — sound good? Does the thought of Windows anything scare the crap out of you? Or do you welcome ditching your laptop when playing out?
LINK: Create Digital Music