Turner Studios, the in-house production studio for Turner Broadcasting, was established in the late 1990s to phase out external post-production work and cut costs. Since that time, the facility has grown tremendously, including the addition of seven new audio rooms, four of them in the past year. Among the equipment serving these audio rooms are several patchbays. In an audio production room, patchbays allow the operators to connect, disconnect and reconnect equipment to meet the ever-changing requirements of production dynamics.
Turner Studios chose Switchcraft EZ Norm patchbays for the equipment room serving sound design rooms 22, 23, 24 and 25. Each room’s section on the patchbays is color-coded.
What is normal?
The face of an audio patchbay has connectors arranged in pairs of rows. Each connector in the top row can be paired with the one immediately below it. Such a pair can be considered a crosspoint. The way one crosspoint connector relates to its counterpart is called normaling. A pair of connectors with no normaling is not connected; the signal coming into the back of the top connector ends there until someone plugs a patchcord into the connector to carry it elsewhere. For a pair with half normaling, the signal going to the top connector is pre-wired to the bottom one. Plugging a patchcord into the bottom connector in a half-normaled crosspoint will break the connection between the top and bottom connectors. In full normaling, the top connector is pre-wired to the bottom one, and the act of plugging a cord into either connector will disconnect it from the other.
Most audio patchbays are made so that production-room operators can pre-wire the normaling of each pair of connectors by attaching jumper wires on the back of the connectors with a special “punchdown” tool. Most of the Turner Studios facility is equipped with such punchdown patchbays. And, for a while, the facility found these patchbays to be adequate. But setting and re-setting the normaling jumpers is a tedious process, and access to the rear of a patchbay can be difficult when it is mounted in large racks with other equipment.
There are other patchbays that use insertable cards to set the normaling for each crosspoint. They are less cumbersome than the punchdown patchbays, but they still can be difficult to use in a fully wired patchbay. For these reasons, and in light of Turner Studios’ continuing expansion, the facility decided to explore new options.
Why not routers?
We considered using audio routers, but realized they wouldn’t fit the bill for several reasons. The first is cost. Routers are expensive. For an audio room with only about a hundred crosspoints, a router is overkill. Also, the four newest audio production rooms, designated sound-design rooms (SDRs) 22, 23, 24 and 25, were to be isolated from the rest of the facility and were built specifically to serve the needs of two particular networks within Turner Broadcasting. Two of the four rooms were built to serve TNT Latin America, while the other two were built to serve Cartoon Network Latin America. These clients did not want to bear the expense of buying routers and tying them in with the rest of the facility. The second reason for not using routers is that they occupy quite a bit of rack space. The third reason is complexity. Routers require a fair amount of time and effort to program. By contrast, patchbays are relatively inexpensive, small and simple.
Making a switch
With routers eliminated as an option, we turned our attention to patchbays. During this time, a demonstration of the Switchcraft EZ Norm patchbay at the Turner facility in Atlanta revealed an unusual new feature. Each pair of crosspoint connectors on this patchbay has a small, rotary, front-panel switch that allows the operator to select or change the normal setting for that particular crosspoint with the twist of a small, slotted screwdriver. This feature eliminates the problems that we encountered when normaling the punchdown patchbays. Instead of facing the difficulties of gaining access to the electrical connections at the back of the patchbay and using awkward punchdown jumper connections and tools to set normals, this patchbay would allow the operators to set the normal for each crosspoint simply by rotating switches on the front panel. Seeing this made it an easy decision to go with the patchbay.
Current and future use
Turner Studios purchased seven EZ Norm patchbays to serve SDRs 22, 23, 24 and 25, and the engineers installed them in a central machine room that serves these four audio rooms. The installation proceeded without a hitch, and the patchbays are making the operators’ lives a little easier. The facility is still expanding, and it plans to purchase more of the patchbays for two additional audio production rooms, which are soon to be built.
Peter Young is a broadcast engineer at Turner Studios Engineering.
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