Matrix Intercoms: Where It's At
Today, more than ever, matrix-based intercom systems are seeing increasing adoption among broadcasters. They offer users tremendous flexibility in choosing the number and type of production staff members they can speak with at one time. With many of the latest systems on the market, a director or producer can talk not only to his entire production team, but also with a select group from that team, with the push of a button. There are three main players in this market, Clear-Com, Drake Electronics, and Telex Communications. Here's a smattering of some of their most well-known offerings in this arena.
"Matrix products are what people are moving toward," said Ed Fitzgerald, national sales manager for Clear-Com. To that end, Clear-Com offers the Matrix Plus, a line featuring matrices in sizes ranging from 8 x 8 to 200 x 200. Most of the line's communications features are software-based, so users can customize specific communications functions relatively painlessly. Walter King, senior technical director for KOMO, is one fan. A Matrix Plus has been installed at his station since 2000. "We do simultaneous productions, and we're able to carry them off without any interference between one production and another. We can configure the system to what we need for the second production and put it right back where it was," he said.
Clear-Com has a series of expansion panels from which users can choose. The XP-22, for example, can add 20 additional keys, with write-in strips for each key, to the Matrix Plus. Looking to go more hi-tech in your display? The XPL-22 adds 20 additional keys, with 5-character talk/listen LED displays for each key.
In the fall, Clear-Com will be introducing the Eclipse series, another addition to their matrix intercom product offerings.
Intercoms are somewhat "Do-It-Yourself"-type systems. To that end, Drake Electronics aims to help broadcasters customize matrix intercom systems that work best for their facility. For example, the company offers its 4000 Series II Digital line of matrix intercom solutions. According to Simon Browne, product manager, Drake, the 4000 Series' predecessor, the 3000 Series, was the first digital intercom series in the world. "DirecTV was using the 3000 series about ten years ago," he said.
There are three matrices in the 4000 seriesÑthe Mini (4RU), Master (9RU), and the PiCO (1RU)Ñwhich are all designed around the same central matrix frame. Each has space for a series of 16-port matrix cards, power supplies, and rear-connector units. Each uses the same software.
For control, Drake gives broadcasters the choice of a large array of panels. For example, there is the 4215RBL, whose labels can be typed in. Those looking to go a lot more hi-tech (and more expensive) can opt for the 4222RBL, a user panel that features LCD pushbuttons where the currently assigned audio route appears automatically on the face of each button and where status is indicated by changing colors and other factors.
As with the user panels, Drake offers several types of interconnect options. A single CAT 5 cable is the only connection required to provide both audio and data in both directions between the matrix and user panels or 4-wires at distances of up to 1000m. Connection to a LAN is possible. There are also standard options for digital connection over video coax or multi- or single-mode fibre optic cabling with the 5230 Fibre Optic Multiplexor/ Demultiplexor, which provides up to 12 coaxial panel connections in 1RU.
Like Fitzgerald, Ralph Strader, vice president and general manager, Intercom Products, Telex Communications, sees the industry moving toward matrix intercoms. "The biggest trend is that a lot of people see matrix intercom systems as being the heart of their communications," he said. Telex offers the RTS Digital Matrix line, which features the Cronus, Adam-CS, Adam, Zeus II, and Zeus matrices. Available interfaces include AES Digital Audio, VOIP, and Intelligent Trunking. Similar to Clear-Com and Drake, there is a range of keypanels with which users can customize their systems. The KP-32 series of panels, for example, are available with 4-, 6-, or 8-character alphanumerics. There is also the KP98-7, a pushbutton panel with a LED display.
There are three main interfaces available for RTS Digital Matrix users, the CCB-1, the SSA-324, and the SSA-424. Broadcasters might especially be interested in the SSA-424 and SSA-324. Both feature a TW interface, suitable for balanced and unbalanced systems, allowing any system party line to interface to almost any party-line analog 4-wire (matrix) intercom system in use today.