Opinion

The evolving intercom system for broadcast – the expert view

Dr. Karsten Konrad, Product Manager – Intercom.

Intercom systems have adapted as modern broadcast workflows and productions become even more demanding. The aim is to reduce set-up time and costs, improve connectivity and allow greater user mobility. Experts from Robert Bosch ME, Riedel and Clear-Com weigh in on the evolution of the technology.

Riedel Communications

“The intercom system is the nerve centre of a production unit, because if you cannot communicate, you cannot do anything. With the implementation of standards such as AES67 and SMPTE 2110, we are giving customers the interoperability they require and the ability to meet modern-day challenges such as remote production and much more. ““We deal with two types of user groups – the creative person who sits and operates the intercom panel, and the technician who sets up the system and monitors it. We are continuously adding and improving features and the connectivity of our intercom system, which is very important for the technician, who also wants a flexible and easy-to-maintain solution. In addition, we are putting a lot of effort to improve the user interface for both groups of users, to simplify the workflows as much as possible, making it similar to smartphone interfaces.

“What intercom systems are achieving now by combining the robustness of the analogue connection, to the speech quality of a digital system and the latency of a closed system … seems like a bit of magic and it is a significant milestone. We are now seeing the first fully IP-based installations. Four years ago, people were not sure what path to direct their considerable investments that need to last the next 10 to 15 years.

“With the implementation of standards such as AES67 and SMPTE 2110, we are giving customers the ability to meet modern-day challenges such as remote production and much more” Dr. Karsten Konrad, Product Manager Intercom, Riedel communications

“Going forward, with more bandwidth available, it will be easier to connect stadiums back to production facilities, and you may not need an OB van – just a truck with some cameras sending feeds to the control room. Of course, for wireless communication within live production scenarios, we would still have dedicated frequencies such as DECT, since broadcasters need reliable systems for communication in a stadium, for instance, with 50,000 people using smartphone devices. You cannot manage the live broadcast of the opening of an Olympics ceremony on a WiFi system.”

 

Robert Bosch Middle East FZe

“For a number of reasons, the modern broadcast sector is experiencing an unprecedented surge in viewer expectations. The most obvious example of this is the now widespread adoption of 4K. [It] sets a bar that everyone has to meet, including us. Our response is to move just as quickly, developing new solutions based on what we believe is the future of broadcasting – audio over IP. “Also, we recognise that our customers are under pressure to achieve more with less. In outside broadcast scenarios, for example, efficiency is everything. Our answer to that challenge is to make our users’ lives easier with new products which fit an incredible number of digital audio-over-IP channels into a single rack unit. What once would have occupied a significant amount of rack space in an OB truck is now just 1RU. That’s the kind of innovation that directly benefits the end user.

“The biggest change is clearly the move from a more traditional analogue set-up to the more contemporary digital production workflows we see today. We believe that the current transition towards IP is the most significant change in broadcasting for decades.

“New products fit an incredible number of digital audio-over-IP channels into a single rack unit” Sanjay Kumar, Sales Manager Intercom MEA, Robert Bosch Middle East FZE

“[As to why broadcasters would hesitate to upgrade their intercom systems], well, there are always budgets to consider. It could also be argued that the adoption of IP requires new training for staff – an incredibly worthwhile investment, but still something to take seriously.

“The coming challenges surround the volume of data needed to be sent over long distances and the ease with which this is achieved. Many broadcasters are under so much more pressure to produce a high-quality product with less time and a reduced budget. The onus is on [intercom manufacturers] to make that work, and [also] ensure a smooth transition from legacy products to the next generation of intercoms.”

 

Clear-Com

Simon Browne, VP Product Management.

“When I started in this business 30 years ago, everything was hardwired. The customer had to decide what each panel and key would do in advance, and to change it, you would have to take it back to the factory to rewire it. So software control in the 1980s was the biggest change. The customer had the flexibility to decide later what each key would do. Among the more recent changes in production workfloroger painews has been a shift from a fixed position to a more mobile position, with people doing more jobs. Lastly, from purpose-built devices, we run applications on people’s smartphones so they can be at home, travelling or in another country and still monitor production.

“One of the recent surprises for me personally is the fast disappearance of four-wire audio systems. Three years ago, I would have thought the two-wire analogue party line would have disappeared first. People are following the money and devices are getting cheaper and becoming more IP-centric.

“From purpose-built devices, we run applications on people’s smartphones so they can be [in a remote location] and still monitor production” Simon Browne, VP Product Management, Clear-Com

“What has not changed is that people still expect mic and speaker connectivity and physical keys. While users have explored touch interfaces, broadcasters largely prefer the established system. I think also what differentiates broadcast intercom is that users prefer a bespoke belt pack on their hip rather than using a telephone.

“There is a huge drive towards standards such as AES67 and SMPTE 2110, and we are part of that move to ensure continuity and interconnectivity. With the intercom system we have more control logic, more tally systems, more discovery and more scalability, and we are looking at the emerging IP standards so we can build a distributed intercom system and communicate across multiple manufacturers’ platforms.

“We are moving from centralised intercom to decentralised intercom systems. Configurations may be placed on the cloud so customers can download them wherever they are.

“We have customers who are into traditional TV programming and others into groundbreaking production systems. Our challenge is to handle both these sets of customers.”