We had a chance to sit down with Vinnie Macri, Market Outreach Manager for Clear-Com, to talk about intercoms needs in venues, IP infrastructure, how integrators choose the right system, and who should be involved in the deployment of those systems.
Q: What are the main types of venues that use intercoms?
A: “Venues” is a broad topic, but when you think of them, one thinks of Performing Arts to House of Worship to Sporting facilities and anything in between. What they all have in common for intercom is that these venues are places where productions happen – shows! These could be for television or for live audiences or combination special events, like political conventions. These are all productions that require specialized communications to make them successful. For Clear-Com, we have an extensive network of rental partners servicing these facilities. Within the facilities themselves, you will find many permanent installations for broadcast and live shows costing sometimes millions of dollars. Right in the heart is a production intercom system like Clear-Com.
Q: Most venues now have an IP infrastructure onsite. How is this type of network used for intercom systems?
A: First of all, some, not all facilities have an IT infrastructure useable for production. If one refers to infrastructure simply as category cable, then yes – a lot of facilities have category cable run throughout. It is a decision for the production and how the facility has to operate from a tenant’s or user’s perspective that may or may not leverage the category infrastructure. IP protocols are the predominant transport methods used in networking. Clear-Com has designed communication solutions that use standardized IP protocols for over a decade and more recently with specialized products for remote-to-facility productions. These solutions are usable on any IT infrastructure. We find that most modern facilities, or older updated ones, have referred any IT work to a consultant. Within the facility, it is typically the IT department who will manage the network and they are the most helpful in accommodating any intercom devices that sit on the network, whether it’s for in-house maintenance crews use or for a show. Within today’s venues it is the IT department making most of the decisions.
Q: What are the benefits?
A: Routing is the key benefit for network audio, including some intercom applications. Used in intercom workflows, routing primarily involves audio “program” feeds to users, typically talent. Certainly, having IP distributed around a venue makes the cabling and interconnection of devices much easier, and less time consuming for both set-up and tear down no matter if its copper or fiber based. Using an IP network within a venue for intercom deployment is not necessarily of value because these systems tend to be fixed. Where they do become interesting is when we turn to the use of tablets, smartphones and laptops running Clear-Com intercom applications, where users are not fixed and would like to operate with other devices on the network – fixed and remote.
Q: What are the disadvantages? How can they be overcome?
A: Being that the industry is working towards standardizations for low-latency audio transport over a network, it’s with great anticipation that we hope to see more interoperability between manufacturer products and not simply audio network interfacing. The biggest discovery – we wouldn’t say disadvantage – is the lack of understanding about networking and the realization that networking is not necessarily a cheaper solution and requires a lot of design consultation and cooperation between all interested departments. For venues with fixed or virtual intercom devices sitting on a network, there are no disadvantages other than the realization of living in an imperfect IP world with some latency. This of course is a matter of design.
Q: How can an integrator best choose a system that suits its client’s needs?
A: Whenever a consultant is not present and when an integrator is asked to design communication systems for venues, we always suggest that they use our services. Sometimes we recommend a consultant! Clear-Com has worked hard in offering Partners web portal access, including a consultant specific portal, to design tools and system design reviews. Designing and selecting the correct pieces for a specific client use and workflow differs from venue to venue. There is no one size. Clear-Com has a distinct advantage that we offer more solutions than any other intercom manufacturer that includes: analog wired partyline, digital networked wired partyline, numerous wireless partyline, digital matrix, system interfaces, virtual communications and communication sub-systems, such as IFB and commentary.
Q: In an area where staff using the system are often temporary or freelance, what is the best route to deploying a system that is understood and easy to use by people that are often operating in high-pressure environments?
A: There are some aspects of using intercom or deploying intercom that should not be left to chance. Besides the obvious, when you’re over your head, stop digging and ask for help. Most freelance technicians coming into a venue specialize in intercom systems. If you look at some of the biggest shows, there are dozens of independent freelance comms engineers that understand the systems. As a manufacturer, we tend to develop user devices that are familiar and easy to use; however, depending on the complexity of the device and the overall system intention to meet a workflow, we find and recommend appointing an educated A1 to lead the communication team. A clear part that Clear-Com plays is education and we offer many avenues for understanding intercom including tutorials, videos, and accredited courses.
Vinnie Macri is the Market Outreach Manager for Clear-Com. He has experience in the theater, live performance and broadcast intercom, working with customers and consultants in all markets intercom education.