A well-planned optical infrastructure can provide the framework for reliability and future-proofing.
At its core, fiber-optic signal transport, where pulses of light are carried through a strand of transparent material, enables signals to move at a faster rate and further than ever before.
Following its development and adoption by the telecommunicatiHere, fiber was run underwater out to man-made islands. The fibers each carried hundreds of channels of redundant audio and control channels for distribution of audio for PA systems, control for lighting fixtures, and video for projection and LED screens during Kuwait’s 50th Constitution Day Celebration.ons industries in the later part of the 20th century, this technology has become commercially feasible for other industries and a much-needed answer to the broadcast and AV industries’ ever-evolving hunger for more bandwidth over long and short distances that were previously unfeasible, whether for technical or economic reasons.
As it is especially well-suited for high-speed transport of a high rate of data (think HD, 3-D and 4K/UHD), a fiber-optic infrastructure has become, and continues to be, a smart cost-conscious alternative to copper, which by its physical features fights every change between 0 and 1, while maintaining total electrical isolation, immunity from crosstalk, grounding problems and external interference in any cable plant.
The immense benefits of optical transport and its ease of use have supported fast-paced development of fiber-optic components, while driving the price of optical connectivity to an all-time low. All of this comes at a time when the price of copper-based connectivity is at an all-time high.
The widespread availability of optical cabling has led to the development of various audio, video and broadcast products that are capable of converging and simplifying cabling infrastructures, as well as enabling reliable transport and routing of an immense number of audio, control and ultra-high definition video signals over long and short distances. For these reasons and more, fiber-optic cabling is a welcome solution for several different applications. However, as with all of the professional broadcast and AV systems we use, optical transport does have a learning curve with regard to specifying, deploying and maintaining such systems. Here, we discuss the various applications where fiber-optic transmission is well-suited.
With the immense space-savings that can be realized in conduit and patchbays alone, television studios can greatly benefit from a fiber-optic infrastructure. Distance limitations of high-bandwidth video signals can be easily overcome, allowing more flexibility in determining the locations of equipment rack rooms and control rooms relative to the studio floor.
In addition, multiple audio, control, intercom, RF and video signals can be multiplexed onto a single fiber strand or pair, allowing connection panels that previously needed to be permanently mounted within a studio to now be portable and even shared between multiple facilities with automatic discovery and routing upon connection.
This provides a studio with greater operational flexibility while maximizing the ROI of the infrastructure.
OB vans/ENG trucks
When it comes to outside broadcast operations, an efficient deployment of portable equipment is of absolute necessity. For example, during a sporting event at a stadium or an arena, multiple channels of video, camera links, microphone inputs, IFBs and intercoms are required around the field of play, at the commentator position and to tie into the facility’s broadcast control center.
Modern facilities — be it a sporting arena, theater or the like — often have an extensive infrastructure of fiber-optic cabling for temporary deployment, allowing convenient connectivity from the truck bay to different connection points around the facility. As the dark (unlit) fiber is adaptable to the signal it carries, any I/O device that the truck carries can be used by the infrastructure.
If further connectivity is required, portable fiber cables are lightweight, robust and deployed quickly, so they can carry multiple signals, with cabling redundancy, as compared to bulky and heavy copper cable looms that carry a limited number of signals.
Audio and video splits from live productions can be achieved easily using fiber without loss of data and external interference.
Fiber-optic cabling was originally developed for military and civilian communications due to its superior long distance and high-bandwidth capabilities for digital signals. Today, telephone and cable television infrastructures consist of extensive networks of fiber-optic cabling between and within metropolitan areas with significant efforts to push fiber connectivity to “the last mile” to commercial facilities and residential homes.
Unlike the previous generation of copper telecom infrastructures, with fiber optics, adding bandwidth by optical wave division multiplexing, or simply by pulling more strands than is needed, is easier and more cost-effective than ever. Renting a dark fiber or an optically multiplexed wavelength within a metropolitan area on a temporary or permanent basis is now possible, making it easier than ever to get reliable, non-compressed, low latency signals between different sites using endpoints managed by the end customer.
Live event production
The production of live events is becoming increasingly more complicated as patrons expect to be dazzled in new ways at every show they attend. Technical producers are expected to cater to the ever-changing requirements, often at the last minute, involving changes that exceed capacity and/or distance limitations, while still having to keep the event costs on budget.
At an outdoor event, for example, multiple locations may require connectivity over thousands of feet, requiring audio, control and monitoring of remotely connected loudspeakers, cameras and video screens, often in harsh environments. Corporate events and tradeshows can span an entire convention center with multiple breakout and overflow rooms requiring intercom, loudspeaker feeds, video and audio feeds, and video monitoring. Simply put, the weight and volume of fiber-optic cabling is a fraction of what traditional portable copper cabling would cost to achieve this, providing the client with extensive savings in terms of transport and labor during set-up and teardown.
Performance art centers and houses of worship
Today’s performance art centers and contemporary worship facilities feature an extensive array of technical systems to support artistic performances and getting the word out. It is not uncommon that these facilities now include recording and broadcast capabilities as well, not to mention sound reinforcement systems that rival those used by the most prominent touring artists.
Traditional audio infrastructure has previously required expensive, multiple strands of copper wiring per audio channel, as well as loss-inducing splitters for different requirements of sound reinforcement, recording and broadcast feeds. Along with this often comes the headache of maintaining hundreds of circuits and connection points, as well as electrical services, grounding and operating multiple circuits to get signals from A to Z.
When using a modern optical infrastructure instead, all audio signals can be combined on a unified infrastructure, providing noiseless cabling that can be portable, if necessary, and redundant. What you get is an infrastructure that allows lossless splits and decentralized routing control that can be set and configured from anywhere as well as acting as a bridge between different audio formats. Additionally, when more channels are required, I/O devices can simply be added to the existing infrastructure.
As you can see, there are several types of applications that can greatly benefit from a fiber-optic transport infrastructure. Of course, before installing one, it is important to specify the correct cabling and connectors, as well as to make sure the infrastructure has been given a thorough commissioning before being put into use. Educating and tooling yourself to be prepared to provide proper care and maintenance to ensure prolonged, optimal performance is equally important. When specified and used correctly, maintained with the right tools and methods, a fiber-optic infrastructure will provide a very reliable service.
Fiber-optic cabling has immense benefits over a traditional copper cable plant due to its low signal attenuation, the ever-expanding bandwidth availability and its immunity to external interference. Paired with the lower prices of transceivers, cabling solutions and the continuous development of easy-to-deploy tools to install and maintain, this make optical fiber infrastructures an essential piece of a modern cabling workflow. Coupled with today’s innovative audio, visual and broadcast solutions that use optical transport, fiber-optical cabling infrastructures have the potential to unify, simplify and future-proof any cabling infrastructure.
—Kari Eythorsson is Application Engineer, Optocore and BroaMan.