Intercoms embrace IP for the benefit of users

The use of Internet Protocol equipment in the professional production space is nothing new. Broadcasters use it to send video back and forth internally and between sister stations, telcos use it to deliver video to people’s home, and production crews share and preview video over the World Wide Web and via secure connections.

That’s because the IP infrastructure allows video to be sent as small packets of data that require smaller bandwidth pipes, thus saving cost.

It’s no surprise then that professional intercom systems, which enable crews to communicate and help productions run smoothly, are gravitating in the same way.

All of the major players, such as Bosch (parent to Telex Intercom Systems), Clear-Com Systems and Reidel Communications have recognized the value that an IP-based system can bring to production and are beginning to introduce technology that takes full advantage. With an IP architecture, intercoms can allow hundreds of users to be on the same party line with high-quality results.

Clear-Com recently announced it had purchased the assets of a company called Talk Dynamics, which developed a new system called Core IV that brings the necessary encoding and conversion hardware and software inside the intercom base station, thus saving users money on the cost of external conversion boxes and allowing vendors to offer much more density (more users per party line) than ever before in a single intercom frame.

In fact, Clear-Com’s first foray into IP systems came in the form of a desktop system called Concert, which enables crews to use their desktop computers to orchestrate party line discussions. Working with Clear-Com in several different initiatives, Talk Dynamics developed the technology to make the product possible. Due to the success of that product, Clear-Com decided to buy the company, according to Matt Danilowicz, president at Clear-Com. Now not only does the Concert system run on the I.V.Core, but so does all of Clear-Com’s newest V Series intercom panels.

Danilowicz said while many areas of the production industry have moved to IP quickly, intercoms and audio routing have lagged behind, preferring to embrace the proven time division multiplexing (TDM) technology (also borrowed from the telephony industry) they had always used. These systems use BNC connectors, which are familiar to long-time customers.

“When we discovered what Talk Dynamics was doing, we began to see the potential of IP as the underlying technology behind software-based intercom systems,” said Danilowicz. “The intercom space is the most critical parts of a TV station or production companies activities. That’s why I believe it’s taken so long for our part of the industry to move to IP. Now that people see what it can do for them, they are beginning to embrace it wholeheartedly.”

Currently in the intercom world, most IP implementations use a bridging system that brings in an IP signal, converts it to a TDM signal internally for processing and connects the right people with an external box or software application, then records it back to IP for distribution. By buying Talk Dynamics’ technology, Clear-Com’s strategy is to provide customers with an integrated solution that keeps the signal in the IP format at all times. Existing Clear-Com users can take advantage of Internet connections alongside TDM systems, in a hybrid configuration, enabling older systems to integrate seamlessly with the newer IP systems.

Another benefit of IP is that it enables intercom systems to be scalable through the use of different codecs. The I.V.Core technology uses intelligent processing to manage bandwidth use, either uncompressed, for the best audio quality, or compressed, to save on transmission cost.

“What’s different with our implementation is that we embed the IP in the base station, so that we don’t have to rely on some other box,” Danilowicz said. “The I.V.Core technology was designed with all of the mission critical requirements of the intercom world in mind.”

Due to the acquisition of Talk Dynamics, the Clear-Com V Series panels now offer 32 connections per card while others in the industry offer 16. The IP-based system is also a lot easier to use for a computer savvy staff, because it uses standard Cat 5 cabling that costs less than standard video cable.

“It’s clear that our industry has to use more technology from the computer world in order to be more efficient and deploy systems more cost-effectively,” Danilowicz said. “There’s no other way around it. What we need is an open, standards-based solution. The I.V.Core technology will allow us to get there sooner than we ever thought possible.”

The other growth area for intercomsare wireless applications that leverage an IP network. Current designs employ DECT technology, a cellular technology that’s similar to portable phones in the home.

The value proposition is clear: IP-based intercom systems enable productions to connect remotely located people wherever they might be. For example, voice over IP (VoIP) technology was used during the Summer Olympics Games to allow engineers in Beijing — using an intercom system from Bosch’s Telex Communications Systems — to talk with colleagues in New York. The system used an RTS Intelligent Trunking system design to create a global communications network. The time and cost savings it facilitated cannot be overstated.

IP connections typically require double the bandwidth of a wired phone call, but if a high-speed Internet connection is available, production crews can take full advantage. Secure IP networks will also provide benefits internally. This will facilitate a full range of new applications that companies like Clear-Com see as their future — a future where crews can discuss issues and coordinate a production involving people across the ocean as easily as if they were in the same room.