Whether we are talking about conferences, conventions, dance recitals, theatrical productions, news conferences or any other live event coverage, the scourge of the A/V technician is this:
On all but the largest or most “bleeding edge” gigs, it is still lowly copper that gets signals from one place to another. Flexible glass fibreoptic cable runs are starting to make inroads, with some caveats, especially with the new products released by BlackMagic Design in recent history. The only problem is that fibreoptic is still more difficult to repair in the field, requires specific equipment and is somewhat more prone to damage by the routine hazards of live event production.
If a scissor lift runs over my RG6 coaxial copper cable, I can quickly splice in a new section of cable with the tools and connectors I keep in my ditty bag. Things get more complicated with fibre…
Okay… okay… I get it… Besides, this series isn’t supposed to be for the geeks but for those wonderful folks who put food on our plates and keep our roofs over our heads by hiring us.
If I may sum up the issues in my own inimitable way…
Lazy Electrons Won’t Jump!
So on a typical multi-camera live gig, I’ve got:
- video feeds from each camera on coaxial cable;
- intercom feeds to each camera operator and sometimes an event producer;
- audio feeds to the Front of House (FoH) mix desk of my video playback components;
- audio feeds from the FoH audio mix desk of program audio for video recordings and webstreaming;
- data feed from the laptop that is playing back the keynote speakers’ PowerPoints;
- potentially an audio feed from said laptop;
- data and/or video feeds to the in-room projectors to make all the pretty pictures nice and big;
- possible video feeds to LCD panel monitors in the room;
- possible confidence monitor for the presenters;
- internet connection for live webstreaming;
- multiple AC electrical runs, some of which should be coordinated with the audio technician to make sure we are on the ground plane to minimize 60 cycle (in North America) hum on the audio lines;
And that doesn’t even take into consideration what the audio and lighting guys have on the floor! That is just the multicam side of things.
You are probably asking yourself “Why is he telling me all this??? That’s why I hired him!”
That is why you hired me, or someone like me.
Assuming you did.
You see, this is where Grey Power comes into play.
When I talk with a client (or potential client) about their upcoming event, I try exceptionally hard to “data mine” every bit of how they see the event working so that I can preplan this most under-appreciated part of what I do. I build a road map in my head of how those lazy electrons get from one place to another, what the cable path looks like, how long each cable run is and any concerns that arise from such things as signal loss due to cable length, given the specified resolution and frequency.
Why does this matter?
Have you ever been to an event and had a screen blank out, a camera flicker or lose colour occasionally, a noisy audio track?
99.9% of these sorts of things are absolutely preventable with carefully considered preplanning.
<insert Shaun’s First Rule of Successful Event Planning here>
Visual productions require cable runs. Sometimes lots of them. An experienced visual production services provider will take all of this into consideration when quoting on your event and will ensure an efficient, clean setup.
I can run HD video signals approximately 300 feet without reclocking; data signals approximately 150 feet; audio is more of a wildcard and dependent on a lot of variables. This all factors into my setup planning. If your video production services provider can’t tell you how far their signals can travel, you may have hired the wrong provider…
Involve your technicians early. (Remember I said you’d see this again?)
In the next couple of instalments I’ll talk more in-depth about why wireless for video is a bad idea, my take on wireless audio and wifi internet connections, which are all interrelated now, and not necessarily in a good way…
I would like to end on the most mundane but single most important cable consideration: AC power.
Gear these days uses significantly less power than when I started. On my average conference set up now, I get by with a single 15 amp service with room to spare. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes it is imperative to get onto the same power supply as the audio console, especially in large conference centres with many distributed power sources. To do that, I need to be invited to site surveys with the facility people, building engineers and audio services supplier. I can get this solved in minutes just by being there. Again, we all speak the same language. LET US speak. Please. You’ll thank us later.
Also, where we set up our mix area will be dictated by several factors including sight lines, cable run lengths but also proximity to our AC source or drop. Little things like nearby transformers or light dimmers can make a mess of our nice “clean” power.
I typically carry a medium duty industrial UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) on most gigs these days that is designed to help deal with occasional brownouts (voltage sags) or even a short electrical blackout, which is particularly devastating in some webcast scenarios. BUT that only tides me over for a very short period of time and is designed to buy me time to sort the issue out or safely shut down critical electronic equipment. I like to refer to my UPS as The Heaviest Thing I Hope I Never Have To Use On Location.
Again, why do I bring all this up?
A lot of clients think they are doing me a favour by saying “Just tell me what question to ask and I’ll get you an answer on our tour”.
Please – just let me come along. I promise to behave and frankly at some point, I’ll probably head off in another direction and take those weird tech geeks with me and go stand in a dark corner somewhere with our Maglites out pointing at stuff on the ceiling, speaking a language you probably don’t understand.
We’ll be solving the world’s problems, one ground loop at a time.
Thanks for reading!