IP Comms Are Transforming AV Productions And Keeping Crews On The Same Page
The difference between a successful AV production and an embarrassing event filled with technical errors often comes down to the crew communication links (Comms) used to keep everyone on the same page. The margin of error is small and the consequences of a lost audio or video signal or missed cue can have a significant impact on a project’s bottom line.Perhaps that’s why intercoms have taken on an ever more important role in live AV events. Intercomscreate the integral links between production crews and directors and the technology to maintain those links is evolving rapidly.
For many productions these days, including live television, corporate events and even dramatic stage productions, the Internet Protocol (IP) is transforming the intercoms market, adding flexibility, scalability and mobility for users. Sophisticated belt packs, I/O matrix systems and are now paired with consumer cell phones and audio networking standards like AES67 and Dante to give production crews the ability to integrate a wide variety of communications tools on a common network.This also makes them easy to use and deploy.
In tandem with IP, the development of wireless intercom systems has increased mobility for production crews. However, the impact of the now completed broadcast TV spectrum auctions in the U.S. has forced intercom companies to develop “frequency agile” solutions that can automatically search and find an unused frequencyto work with. This allows the new generation of Intercom systems to work in environments with significant RF interference from other production companies as well as from high-traffic consumer cell phone use.
Therefore, users of this technology should be aware of interference issues related to this migration to new spectrum bands, especially as an increasing amount of ireless communication systems are deployed at live events. The key most experts say is to plan carefully and understand the environment in which you are operating.
From a manufacturing standpoint, the use of IP-enabled technology has led to the introduction of smaller yet more flexible equipment that can be configured in a myriad of ways for both fixed venues and temporary spaces. In this way, system resources can be shared mong different parts of a production—or they can be used to support multiple studios located in the same building or anywhere in the world. An IP-enabled intercom system can also be employed to route audio (Comms) signals as required (something not possible in ten analog world). Basically, equipment vendors are now integrating a lot of different communications (voice, data, etc.) into the same intercom system, thanks to IP.
However, the loss of traditional intercom and microphone spectrum due to the auction and subsequent channel repack has placed a burden on product development. he recently completed Phase 1 of the U.S. TV station repack has affected a wide array of industries — from broadcast to corporate and even live stage productions — and has introduced a few wrinkles as to what’s available frequency-wise. In addition, if your company works internationally, you should be aware that different countries have different rules that can negatively affect spectrum availability.
[In North America, 900MHz is the most popular band used while 2.4MHz works well there as well as most every place on the planet—without the need for the end-user to have a license.]
Traditional intercom systems have heretofore been matrix based, where routing and mixing signals would typically be sent back to a central location. With an audio-over-IP infrastructure, users are able to eliminate the matrix and distribute that routing and mixing across all the devices that are part of the intercom system. Embracing IP also brings the advantageof a significantly reduced amount of cabling and interconnections required for an IP based intercom system. Essentially it just requires Ethernet cabling and switchesto set up an entire network. Devices can then be plugged in anywhere on the network, and do not have to be routed back to a central location.
And then there’s scalability. With an IP network, the user is not limited by the amount of I/O that was required in a Matrix system. Instead, the limitations are mostly based around available bandwidth, but once that is in place, an unlimited number of audio channels, belt packs and POPs (points of presence) supported by Ethernet cabling and switch s can be leveraged.
Perhaps the best part is that as the Comms industry continues to embrace IP — enabling the use of manufacturer- supplied headsets alongside consumer smart phones—users will see more and more compatibility among third-party devices. That means existing hardware can be used in tandem with new software-enabled devices in a seamless way. There’s also the ability to connect remote locations together in a much more simple and cost-effective way.
Indeed, the popularity of cell phones has generated increased demand for wireless intercoms infrastructures. Using a highly familiar, untethered device just makes sense.
So the key is for manufacturers of Intercom systems to develop wired and wireless solutions that support the AES 67 and Dante protocols so that customers can use standard local area networks at venues or in their home production studios. These new wireless intercom products must also perate in the VHF band, which is undesirable for consumer communication equipment (which is what the spectrum auction winners like AT&T and T-Mobile want to use it for). They can also move from the FM band to AM to make their products more spectrally efficient.
[It’s been said that you could put 200 belt packs and 30 base stations in the same UHF footprint as one four-drop FM system. Five years ago the engineering technology wasn’t even available to do it.] Those are just some of the benefits that moving to IP have brought to the world of Comms. And by all accounts, hat sounds like a good thing.