Labels, Cables and Other Assorted Rantings

You might not have noticed, but my last blather was about a lack of labels on TVs. So on account of inertia being my favorite state, I decided to stay with the label theme in this here column.
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You might not have noticed, but my last blather was about a lack of labels on TVs. So on account of inertia being my favorite state, I decided to stay with the label theme in this here column.

Take racks, for instance.

If you're in the TV technology business in just about any position other than that of camcorder owner, chances are you deal with equipment racks. Equipment racks have equipment. Equipment has inputs and outputs.

Are you with me so far? Okay, go to one of your racks. Close your eyes. Spin around. Stick your finger out. Open your eyes. What patchjacks correspond to the inputs and outputs of the equipment you're pointing at?

If you couldn't answer that question instantly, it doesn't mean you're not a genius with total recall of your patchfield. I haven't met one of those. But I've met plenty of people (usually folks I've trained) who can answer the question instantly, even in each other's facilities.

The secret is pretty simple. When you install a piece of equipment in a rack, you label its front panel with the designations of its input and/or output jacks. Duh!

That way, when you need to do something with those I/Os in a hurry, you don't need to spend hours on your knees staring at the tiny legends above bantam patch holes obscured by cords.

NEURON ON THE RUN

Did I say "in a hurry" a paragraph or so ago? Nellie the Neuron says I did.

I can think of plenty of times when you might be in a hurry to patch something, but I can think of even more times when you might be in a hurry to do something with nothing to do with patching.

For instance, suppose you take a break, the toilet overflows, and the water is heading for the tape library. Quick! Whom do you call?

That's not the best moment to wonder where the phone book is stashed. A piece of gaffer tape near the toilet with the number of the plumber or building engineer and the location of the water cutoff valve can be just the right thing in the right place at the right time.

"But, Mario, what if it's not your toilet? What if you discover water dripping down into the tape library or the master-control racks?"

I'm glad you asked (whoever you are--and how do you keep showing up in my columns?). More labels help--know your upstairs neighbor's number or know the number of a 24-hour roofer. Cheapo plastic tarps help, too. They also work for construction dust. They might not be pretty, but having them handy is some of the best protection money can buy.

"But, Mario, won't the equipment under the tarps get hot?"

That's why you also want labels showing numbers to call and procedures to follow in the event of air-conditioning failure, power failure, hurricane, tornado, fire, theft and just about anything else that anyone buys insurance for.

And about your hot-equipment question--racks look neat when they present a fully covered face, and some racks function best that way. Air conditioning is forced through them, and any holes before the bottom will let the cool air out. But other, un-air-conditioned racks need ventilation, and empty panels, ugly as they might look, are a good way to achieve that.

STACKED RACKS

Then there's stacking. Equipment stacked from bottom to top makes for a very neat-looking rack. It also makes for a rack likely to be full of dead equipment. Anything with ventilation holes on the bottom and top (and lots of stuff that ain't got those holes) needs space above and below it for cooling. That means less stuff in a rack, which makes it look less neat. Live with it if you want your equipment to live, too.

One of the cool things (literally) at this year's NAB show was Belden's reintroduction of RG-179 coax as 179DT. The DT is supposed to stand for digital truck, because the company figures the tiny cable is good for getting serial digital signals around in small facilities. It's lightweight, and it's also literally cool, because the thin cable allows better air circulation.

But if you use it, you'd better get hold of some size-large label tags (gaffer tape stuck to itself as a flag works fine), on account of there ain't any room on such a tiny circumference to write where the other end of the cable is going.

While I'm on the subject of rack cabling, suppose you wire up all your equipment and have a Medusa's-hair mess in the middle of the rack. So you get out your cable ties and make everything neat.

Wrong move! First of all, at some point, you're going to want to pull a piece of equipment out of the rack. Maybe you just need to make an adjustment. If there ain't enough loose cable to allow you to get to the adjustment, you're going to have to go around to the back of the rack, disconnect all the cables (don't forget to label them), add extensions, and then pull the equipment out. Remember that part about being in a hurry? A nice long service loop on each piece of rack equipment is critical.

Nice, neat ties can be a digital-video nightmare, too. Belden has run tests on mangled pieces of cable with ends twisted together and stubs attached, and they'll run the high frequencies of an HD-SDI signal better than cable tied exactly once a foot. If it was tied once-a-foot away from one tie and the next tie was two feet away and the next five inches and the next 14 inches and on and on like that there, you'd be in better shape.

But cables weren't what I wanted to rant about in this issue. It was labels, remember? Maybe they rhyme, but they're spelled differently.

Have you noticed how many folks watch TV in the wrong shape. Geez! Hundreds of thousands--maybe millions--of widescreen TVs have been sold in the United States, and the way I see it, almost all of them stretch out regular programs to fit, making everyone look fat. Now, then, maybe there are a few activists who want to see everyone look fat, and maybe there are a few geniuses who'd rather watch fat faces than suffer aspect-ratio burn-in problems, but for the most part, these folks would probably rather see everything in the correct shape.

If you go to Europe and watch TV, everything is the correct shape. That's because the signals are labeled. Widescreen signals come with a widescreen flag. We could easily do the same here if more people would pledge allegiance to a widescreen flag than to a broadcast flag. You ATSC, CEA, SBE, SCTE and SMPTE members can work on that.

SPEAKING OF INTERCOMS

For the rest of you, I've got an instant labeling project. TV intercoms started as party lines. That's why they're still called PLs. And a fair number of folks still use PLs. That's why you find them on the latest Telex panels.

Now then, maybe someone monitors more than one PL. A video shader might be monitoring the camera PL and the lighting PL. A maintenance engineer might be monitoring audio and engineering PLs. Maybe someone is monitoring all the PLs in a facility to listen for problems.

And what does the supreme monitor hear? "I've got a problem."

That should be a call to action--except for two things. The monitor's got no idea who "I" is. And the monitor can't even ask without causing trouble.

Suppose the person seeking help was calling on the lighting PL. The monitor might start by asking of the camera PL, "Who has a problem?" That could elicit a chorus of "Not me," or something in a similar vein, disrupting the show.

Do everyone a favor by learning intercom etiquette. Always label yourself and your channel. "This is Claudio on audio. I'm miking the rodeo." "This is Heidi on lighting. The gaffers are fighting." "This is Sam on cams. My viewfinder went 'Blam.'" Get the idea?

"This is Mabel on cable. I'm out of labels." Now that's a tragedy!"