SEATTLE—NAB 2018 was a watershed year for IP technology introductions in the intercom space, with a bevy of new products showcased from various vendors. As these products have begun delivering, customers are learning the advantages of IP-based facility communications.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND SCALABILITY
For Guy Low, content and creative manager at RTS/Bosch, the company’s introduction of its ODIN OMNEO digital intercom matrix at the show marked a significant milestone in the company’s product line. “For our existing RTS matrix customers in the broadcast field, this is an active way to incorporate a new, more compact, more energy-efficient system, with all the technology required, into their existing infrastructure,” he said. “Energy efficiency is a key component. Scalability is very important. So there’s a lot going on inside this rack unit format here.”
Doug Heinzen, North American marketing manager for the company, noted ODIN’s “Swiss Army Knife” characteristics.
“You think of all of the cards and boards that we used to have to put into the Atom, or the Atom M chassis, are now actually all integrated on an FPGA and they’re done in software,” he said. “So you never have to open the chassis to have an additional functionality.”
Customers can start off with an initial 16 ports on the box, but through software upgrades or licensing, the number of ports can be increased up to 128 ports in a single chassis, according to Heinzen.
Clear-Com has rolled out its E-IPA high-density audio-and-intercom-over-IP connection card for the Eclipse HX digital matrix intercom family, which it claims “offers the highest density for IP connectivity for any of the major intercom manufacturers at 64 ports in a single card,” according to the Bob Boster, president of Alameda, Calif.-based company. “We actually license it at different number of ports, so you don’t necessarily have to buy it with the full 64, but 64 ports is far in excess of our competitors who are at lesser numbers than that.” Boster added that there are a number of advantages to the new product, though not all of them will all be relevant to every customer.
“For some customers, there is a simplicity in wiring infrastructure,” he said. “There’s a management advantage in terms of routing and moving around and dynamically modifying their system elements very simply. There’s a standardization advantage to being able to put in a platform where everything is all on the IP platform, and it allows them to have a sort of standardization of infrastructure, that otherwise would have been some mixture of fiber and copper, a variety of different connection types, so there’s kind of an advantage there.”
A WHOLE NEW SET OF SKILLS
Riedel has been leveraging IP for its Artist digital matrix intercom ecosystem for several years, offering integrated support for AVB, AES67, Dante, and VoIP, according to Rick Seegull, systems consulting manager for the German-based company.
“Our Bolero wireless intercom system uses antennas that are distributed over AES67 networks that can be layered atop existing IP infrastructures,” he said. “Our SmartPanels link to the Artist matrix using AES67.“Because of lower bandwidth requirements, audio is simply easier to move,” Seegull added. “And for customers that aren’t quite ready to change their entire workflows over to IP, audio is a great way to ease into the world of IP while learning new skills.”
He pointed out that the challenge of managing and maintaining IP networks requires a whole new set of skills for technicians and new levels of cooperation between technicians and their IT departments.
“IT networks are collaborative in nature, so it will be up to everyone—manufacturers, operators, engineers, and IT professionals—to work together on delivering the best results for the technical infrastructures of the future.”
IP BRINGS SCALABILITY
John Schur, president of TV Solutions Group at Telos Alliance, emphasized the importance of a simplified infrastructure with IP.
“Where traditional intercoms have used a matrix, where you have point-to-point cabling from the matrix to each individual device in the system, there are tremendous savings in an IP-based system because, just like a computer network, you run Ethernet cabling from routers and switchers,” he said. “Almost an infinite number of devices can be attached to the network without having to run additional cabling.”
Schur says the Telos’ Infinity system is scalable for similar reasons.
“For the IP infrastructure, you’re able to plug in almost any number of belt packs and panels to your network,” he said. “In our case, we’re supporting open standards, so an IP-based intercom can use AES67. That allows the intercom to seamlessly interface with other devices.
“We make a VX telephony system and so you can interface your telephone system to your intercom system with no additional hardware,” Schur added. “Everything’s on the network, and it’s a matter of making those connections in software.”
Gordon Kapes, president of Studio Technologies said that its platform offers the benefits of using the Dante protocol over standard Ethernet networks.
This Dante Audio-over-Ethernet Technology “is a major strength, eliminating the need for a separate proprietary wiring scheme,” Kapes said. “This can save cost on the initial implementation, adding yet another application to the Ethernet network resources that are now so ubiquitous to all facilities. Long-term benefits of utilizing Dante is that it allows for simple moving, adding, or rearranging of the physical intercom resources. “For users, I think the biggest benefit is flexibility and having the ability to utilize products from a variety of vendors to achieve the desired system performance,” he added. “It’s quite simple: Let’s say that the core of the intercom system is provided by one vendor. This would be good as there would be consistent user interfaces, control, etc.; but then functions such as interconnecting the usual signal sources, and sending signals to other normal destinations, would be trivial.”
In addition to the IP revolution, wireless intercom vendors in particular, are dealing with changes in RF spectrum availability.
“The biggest challenge for wireless users is realizing how quickly the 600 MHz auction is impacting business,” said James Stoffo, CTO of Radio Active Designs in East Rutherford, N.J. “T-Mobile is rapidly deploying the channels they purchased. They are not only staying on schedule but are ahead in some areas. Many industry professionals have already opted out of operating in the 600MHz band, just to avoid any possible pitfalls.”
RAD manufactures the UV- 1G wireless intercom system that features the company’s proprietary Enhanced Narrow Band technology, according to Stoffo.
“UV-1G is a unique modulation scheme that is 10 times more spectrally efficient than the current FM technology on the market,” he said. “This proprietary approach is a form of Amplitude Modulation, and it makes the transmitter’s occupied bandwidth—a critical figure in wireless frequency coordination—more predictable. RAD made sure that setup was quick and intuitive, he added.
“One person can set up a pair of antennas for a limitless number of belt-packs in no time,” he said. “The hardware interface and software app are simple to use, making it a breeze to change parameters of the pack including radio frequencies, assignments and audio routing. Users can move from studio to studio and quickly change parameters to fit their needs.”
PLUG AND PLAY
Eartec makes wireless headset systems that originally were developed for high school football coaching, markets that have guided the company’s product development, according to company President John Hooper.
“These people, whatever they get, it has to come out of a box and work,” he said. “They’re not going to read instructions, they’ve got to be able to put the batteries in and turn the thing on, and it better work.” For the full duplex communication industry, we’re supplying a set that’s very simple to use and therefore very cost effective,” Hooper added. “We’re just getting ready to introduce a set where you can get eight people all talking, without a base station. This set is designed to work in theaters and TV studios.”
There will be lots to watch in the next few years for intercom systems as IP standards firm up.