Twenty Years at the Cutting Edge

by Neil Reed, Managing Director, Custom Consoles

Published in the January 2016 edition of Broadcast Film & Video

The past 20 years have seen enormous changes in all aspects of the broadcast business, fuelled by progress in the wider world of electronics and computing. When Custom Consoles was founded back in February 1996, every television production gallery was illuminated by cathode-ray-tube monitor displays, file-based content management was still considered by many technicians as an unproven alternative to video tape, and fast programme delivery meant a guy on a motorbike.

In the technical furniture sector, system integrators faced the choice of commissioning expensive tailored-made desks or modifying general-purpose desks to accommodate vision mixers, audio panels, rack-mounted equipment, power supplies and the inevitable connecting cables. I will never forget seeing one early ‘high-end’ audio production desk whose designer had thoughtfully provided a cushioned leather wrist-rest along the entire front edge, forgetting that many of the operators would still be using razor blades to perform audio tape edits. Maybe that was 1986 rather than 1996 but you get the general idea: sliced leather.

We were running an SI company ourselves in those days and needed reliable furniture with inbuilt cable management, comfortable to use, robustly built and sensibly priced. It also had to look pretty in order to impress studio guests and, above all, potential studio clients. We became our own most demanding customer and eventually sold off the SI business to concentrate on what had at first been a sideline.

1998 saw the introduction of our first ‘standard’ design: the System One fixed-height graphics desk and side-table. Health and safety legislation was becoming increasingly strict with growing concern about employers’ responsibilities for repetitive strain injury so our thoughts were soon turning to practical ways of reducing RSI.
Motorised height adjustability

2000: We introduced the motorised height-adjustable System Two desk. Developed for use as an editing or graphics workstation shared by different staff, it allows operators to vary their working posture during the course of a working day. The design remained substantially unchanged until recently, when we added a new machine to our production resource portfolio. The worktops are now thermo-foiled to allow choice of finishes and reduced cost.

2002: We moved into our current premises at Leedon House, Billington Road, Leighton Buzzard, giving us 680 square metres of manufacturing space.

2004: The success of the motorised System Two convinced us that a lower-cost manually-adjustable height-adjustable desk would also prove popular. The result was M-Desk. The work-surface height can be set throughout the range of 660 to 900 mm using a telescopic crank handle that returns into the profile of the desk when not required. A variant of M-Desk designed for larger applications, Media Desk has a 1,800 mm width dual-level configuration with individual height-adjustment of the front and rear work surfaces. Media Desk’s raised rear platform matches the front-to-back compactness of LCD flat-screen displays. M-Desk and Media Desk were developed in co-operation with the Furniture Institute Research Association (FIRA) to ensure conformity with BS EN ISO 9241 recommendations and all relevant European standards.

2005: We expanded our headquarters to 1,180 square metres. Measuring 30 x 17 metres with a 3.5 metre ceiling height, the new production area is used for final-assembly. The extra space also allowed a larger demonstration area to be allocated for monitor screen supports and workstation accessories. With the aim of bridging the two techniques of customer-specific and standard-design furniture, we introduced the Module-R series which allows technical control desks to be produced to individual requirements from a range of desk pods, base sections, worktops, rear tops, end-panel modules and extruded legs. The desk pods are available as single sections with a choice of 3U, 6U or 8U chassis capacity. Cabinet construction is in high-quality painted-finished or maple-veneered MDF. Cable management is integrated into all desk sections.
Monitor Walls

2006: We launched the Media Wall. Designed to accommodate large or small arrays of flat-panel monitors and ancillary equipment, it incorporates height-adjustable horizontal beams suspended between 2.3M high silver-anodised (optionally black) aluminium supports. The beams are available in 1,500, 2,000 and 2,500 mm widths. Cable management is via both vertical and horizontal internal trunking. Equipment pods with 19 inch racking behind removable vented panels can be accommodated at floor-level.

2013: EditOne, introduced at IBC2013, goes beyond traditional rectangular styling by using using sculpted MDF support panels rather than metal legs. The curved theme is carried through to the desktop and a raised monitor shelf, both of which are optimised for a centrally seated operator. All furniture in the EditOne range can be shipped in compact flat-pack form for onsite assembly by customers or systems integrators, saving space, cost and delivery time.

2015: MediaPost, launched at IBC2015 is a free-standing portable mount capable of accommodating flat monitor displays of up to 65 inch diagonal screen size. Two MediaPosts can be coupled by a 3 metre wide horizontal beam supporting up to three 65 inch monitors in a single row. It is designed primarily for situations where our standard MediaWall would be too large. Applications include discrete monitors supplementing an existing monitor wall, studio floor monitors, off-camera talent prompts or part of an in-view studio background.
Ongoing demand

Demand for Custom Consoles desks continues at a strong level both in the European market and further afield. Activity during 2015 has included broadcast furniture for BBC Studios & Post Production at Elstree, ITN in London, TBN UK & Europe, a 28-desk flyaway fielded by Gearhouse Broadcast for the 2015 Australian Open Tennis, and major studio projects in Azerbaijan, Belgium and Holland.