Section: Scientific Foundations
Off-the-shelf Operating Systems for Real-time Audio
While operating systems shield the computer hardware from all other software, it provides a comfortable environment for program execution and evades offensive use of hardware by providing various services related to essential tasks. However, integrating discrete and continuous multimedia data demands additional services, especially for real-time processing of continuous-media such as audio and video. To this end interactive systems are sometimes referred to as off-the-shelf operating systems for real-time audio. The difficulty in providing correct real-time services has much to do with human perception. Correctness for real-time audio is more stringent than video because human ear is more sensitive to audio gaps and glitches than human eye is to video jitter  . Here we expose the foundations of existing sound and music operating systems and focus on their major drawbacks with regards to today practices.
An important aspect of any real-time operating system is fault-tolerance with regards to short-time failure of continuous-media computation, delivery delay or missing deadlines. Existing multimedia operating systems are soft real-time where missing a deadline does not necessarily lead to system failure and have their roots in pioneering work in  . Soft real-time is acceptable in simple applications such as video-on-demand delivery, where initial delay in delivery will not directly lead to critical consequences and can be compensated (general scheme used for audio-video synchronization), but with considerable consequences for Interactive Systems: Timing failure in interactive systems will heavily affect inter-operability of models of computation, where incorrect ordering can lead to unpredictable and unreliable results. Moreover, interaction between computing and listening machines (both dynamic with respect of internal computation and physical environment) requires tighter and explicit temporal semantics since interaction between physical environment and the system can be continuous and not demand-driven.
Fulfilling timing requirements of continuous media demands explicit use of scheduling techniques. As shown earlier, existing Interactive Music Systems rely on combined event/signal processing. In real-time, scheduling techniques aim at gluing the two engines together with the aim of timely delivery of computations between agents and components, from the physical environment, as well as to hardware components. The first remark in studying existing system is that they all employ static scheduling, whereas interactive computing demands more and more time-aware and context-aware dynamic methods. The scheduling mechanisms are neither aware of time, nor the nature and semantics of computations at stake. Computational elements are considered in a functional manner and reaction and execution requirements are simply ignored. For example, Max scheduling mechanisms can delay message delivery when many time-critical tasks are requested within one cycle  . SuperCollider uses Earliest-Deadline-First (EDF) algorithms and cycles can be simply missed  . This situation leads to non-deterministic behavior with deterministic components and poses great difficulties for preservation of underlying techniques, art pieces, and algorithms. The situation has become worse with the demand for nomad physical computing where individual programs and modules are available but no action coordination or orchestration is proposed to design integrated systems. System designers are penalized for expressivity, predictability and reliability of their design despite potentially reliable components.
Existing systems have been successful in programing and executing small system comprised of few programs. However, severe problems arise when scaling from program to system-level for moderate or complex programs leading to unpredictable behavior. Computational elements are considered as functions and reaction and execution requirements are simply ignored. System designers have uniformly chosen to hide timing properties from higher abstractions, and despite its utmost importance in multimedia computing, timing becomes an accident of implementation. This confusing situation for both artists and system designers, is quite similar to the one described in Dr. Edward Lee's seminal paper “Computing needs time” stating: “general-purpose computers are increasingly asked to interact with physical processes through integrated media such as audio. [...] and they don't always do it well. The technological basis that engineers have chosen for general-purpose computing [...] does not support these applications well. Changes that ensure this support could improve them and enable many others”  .
Despite all shortcomings, one of the main advantages of environments such as Max and PureData to other available systems, and probably the key to their success, is their ability to handle both synchronous processes (such as audio or video delivery and processing) within an asynchronous environment (user and environmental interactions). Besides this fact, multimedia service scheduling at large has a tendency to go more and more towards computing besides mere on-time delivery. This brings in the important question of hybrid scheduling of heterogeneous time and computing models in such environments, a subject that has had very few studies in multimedia processing but studied in areas such simulation applications. We hope to address this issue scientifically by first an explicit study of current challenges in the domain, and second by proposing appropriate methods for such systems. This research is inscribed in the three year ANR project INEDIT coordinated by the team leader (started in September 2012).