Google+

The Secrets of My Success, Pt. 1

I get a lot of questions from other tech leaders. And I’m OK with that. I really do enjoy helping people and solving problems. But I’m only one person, and I’m a busy one at that. Sometimes, emails and twitter questions can pile up and go weeks without being answered. I generally get to them eventually, but I feel bad when it take so long. 

In the interest of spreading the wealth (of knowledge), I’m going to share with you the secret to acquiring knowledge. Learning new things has been one of my keys for staying employed, and I think it’s one thing that makes me good at what I do. So here you go; some of the secrets I’ve employed to learning more about this crazy trade.

Read the Manual

Yes, I know. Most of us pride ourselves on being able to take any new piece of gear out of the box and start using it without reading the manual. Well-designed equipment will even make that possible—at least to some extent. But when you start getting into the technical details of how to do something, often the fastest way to figure it out is read the manual. 

I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve answered from people by simple downloading the manual for the product they’re having trouble with and reading it. Sometimes, I even cut and paste the relevant section in my answer. 

Often, you will even discover cool features of a product that you didn’t know existed by reading the manual. I don’t even know how many times I’ve thought to myself, “I wish this box would do …” only to find it does because I read the manual.

I will acknowledge that many manuals are not worth the paper they’re not printed on (everything is a PDF now, right?) I’ve seen a manual for a mixer say, “The PFL button engages PFL mode,” and nothing more about it. Well, now that’s super-helpful isn’t it. I sort of figured pushing a button labeled PFL would do something related to PFL. And if you’re familiar with what PFL is, you probably don’t need that less than helpful sentence. But if you don’t know what PFL is, you need to go searching. 

Use Online Help

More and more software is coming with built-in help that is actually useful. Just the other day, we were trying to figure out how to run a particular report in our new system-design software. We knew what we wanted was possible, but it wasn’t immediately obvious. So I hit the big ? button. It took me to online help section that eventually led me to the solution. 

More and more, companies are using YouTube for really helpful instruction videos. I was trying to learn some new to me lighting software a while back, and discovered a whole slew of videos from the creator of the software. My learning curve shortened dramatically.

Again, I’ve done this for others. Many times, when I get a question about software, I’ll either launch my copy or download a demo and look for help. It’s amazing how many times the answer is right there. But sometimes the answer is there, but it doesn’t work. I was trying to convince a Blackmagic routing switcher to work the other day and while the manual told me what to do, I wasn’t getting the result I wanted. In that case, it’s time to pull out the big guns.

Use the Google

Google is probably the single greatest technical resource for a technical director today. You really should learn how to use it. Seriously. I’ve had questions come in and I’ve literally typed the question into Google and sent out a response based on my findings. 

See, here’s the thing. Chances are, someone else has already needed to do what you’re trying to do. And they’ve probably already written something about it online. And Google knows where it is. Now, you could email me and ask, or you could just go to Google. Google is faster, by the way. 

Google has become really good at taking in natural language questions and giving you good results. I was going to give you an example, but I do it so regularly that it’s become like breathing; I don’t even think about it. Just try it. 

Someone asked me once if I had any online resources for training volunteers. You know what I did? I used the Google (and reminded them about this cool site called ChurchTechArts). When someone asks if I’ve heard about an obscure product, I use the Google. Do I remember where an article by someone is on a particular topic? Use the Google.

Next time, more top tips for acquiring knowledge!

“Gear

Today's post is brought to you by DPA Microphones. DPA's range of microphones have earned their reputation  for exceptional clarity,  high resolution, above all, pure, uncolored accurate sound. Whether recording or sound reinforcement, theatrical or broadcast, DPA's miking solutions have become the choice of professionals with uncompromising demands for sonic excellence.

CHCC Rennovation: Main PA and Lobby

Because of the cool rigging bar, we only needed two pick points to fly the array and get the angle we needed. Gotta love good hardware.

Because of the cool rigging bar, we only needed two pick points to fly the array and get the angle we needed. Gotta love good hardware.

By now it should not be news to anyone that we put in a Bose RoomMatch PA in Coast Hills. I have taken no small amount of flack for that decision, but I stand by it, especially now that we really have it dialed in. As I’ve said before, there are other PA’s that we could have used, but none fit the budget and provided the directivity control RoomMatch does. And in that room, we really need control.

Asymmetric and Symmetric Boxes

As far as I know, we are one of the first installations to use both types of boxes in the arrays. Now, I should point out that RoomMatch may look like a line array, but it’s not. It’s billed as a Progressive Directivity Array. That means each box covers a specific part of the seating area. There is some combining at lower frequencies, but for the most part, the boxes don’t interoperate much. 

Because of that, we were able to mix and match boxes for a very specific design. I wanted to provide some sense of stereo imaging across a wide chunk of seating in the middle, and keep as much sound off the walls as possible. To meet those goals, we used boxes that were narrow on the outside and wider in the middle at the top of the array. The arrays are mirror imaged and the coverage is indeed pretty tight.

I do love a good rack. Amp rack, that is...Get your mind out of the gutter.

I do love a good rack. Amp rack, that is...Get your mind out of the gutter.

Keep The Colors Straight

Apparently, when I wired up the arrays, it was dark and I was tired. I inadvertently wired a few NL4s wrong and we had some phase issues initially. But once we got that sorted out and began the tuning process, it was all fun. 

A couple of guys from Bose came down and started taking measurements throughout the coverage area. They averaged those together and we came up with a room curve. Interestingly, the curve they came up with was shockingly similar to the one I put in using a LAMA transfer function with the measurement mic at FOH. 

We ended up with about 4 filters in the system, and two of them are there to tame room anomalies. Otherwise, the system sounds really good out of the box. We did a little gain shading in the amps to dial out some summing that was happening with the LF elements in the arrays, and to compensate for the air loss at the HF end. But otherwise, the system is pretty flat. 

Stereo Imaging for Days

I really wanted to have an LR system, but didn’t expect to get great stereo imaging. I was surprised to be wrong on this point. Throughout almost the entire center four sections and much of the back outside sections, there is an excellent sense of stereo. We played a bunch of tracks through the system and each time we kept looking at each other saying, “Wow, the stereo field is amazing!” It’s some of the best I’ve heard in a live PA. 

But vocals image right in the center where they should and speaking sounds fantastically present. So I’m very pleased with that. Time will tell if they really utilize the stereo image as well is can be, but it’s nice to have it available. 

This is a terrible photo of the subs. but you get the idea.

This is a terrible photo of the subs. but you get the idea.

Big Bottom

The system also has four dual-18” subs in a cardioid pattern flown over the center of the proscenium. They are in a 2x2 arrangement and once we got the timing right, it’s pretty remarkable how little low end there is on stage. But throughout the whole seating area, there is plenty. We ended up dialing those back a little bit because Coast Hills has never been thumping the bass. There’s headroom there, however, should the new style of worship desire more bass. 

Because the main boxes go down so low, the subs are really only working at the very low end, just like they are supposed to. Off hand, I don’t recall where they are working, but I believe it’s from about 30-90 Hz. 

Good Lobby Sound

For the last 5 years I’ve been frustrated by the sound in our lobby. It was terrible, really. We had a bunch of ceiling speakers mounted in the walls. Under the best of conditions these won’t sound good, and these were not good conditions. 

I spent a little more money in the lobby than I ordinarily would have, but I’m glad I did. We hung four RU8 Utility Speakers from Bose up in the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. The RU8 is a dual 8” plus a horn configuration, and it’s driven by a PowerMatch 8250. The 8250 puts out 250 watts into 8 channels, so each speaker is powered individually. I went with 8 channels because someday, they want to blow the front of the building out and put speakers out front. So they have 4 channels to expand into. 

I didn’t have time to do any tuning of the lobby speakers, but I thought they sounded acceptable out of the box. At some point, I want to go in and play with the Smaart rig and tweak them a little bit, but for starters, it works. My choice of Bose speakers for the lobby was based on the idea that I wanted them voice matched to the mains. As you walk in from outside into the lobby, then into the sanctuary, it just keeps getting louder, but it sounds the same. I think we hit that goal. 

Overall, I’m very pleased with the system. It has enough headroom to get really loud if they want, but it sounds clear at lower volumes. It’s very present without being harsh and has a nice, warm low end that doesn’t mask the midrange. And the lobby sounds good. That’s a win in my book.

Roland

ChurchTechWeekly--Foiled Again!

Yesdterday after lunch, I notced a slight swelling on the side of my face near the top of my jaw. By the time I went home, it had become worse. But, I figured I could tough it out and do the show. During dinner, it swelled even more and was becoming quite painful. I decided to go to urgent care. 

Long story short, I have an infection of a salivary gland. Its not terribly serious, but it did keep us from recordeing the show last night. Hopefully, we can get back on track for next week and from there on out. We have many great guests and shows planned, so stay tuned! 

CHCC Renovation: The Lobby Video

It's gratifying to know that the video was done before the floor was!

It's gratifying to know that the video was done before the floor was!

For the last 10-15 years, the Coast Hills lobby has been the home of some really high-tech video. A pair of 27” CRT displays flanked the doors to the sanctuary. They were fed by—wait for it—RF modulated video, originally from the Panasonic MX-50, which was all composite. Yeah, it looked awesome. 

A few years ago, we upgraded to a Ross Crossover Solo, but I didn’t update the video because it kept getting cut from the budget. Thankfully, we had a flood. One of the CRTs was destroyed (Yes!) and the other mysteriously stopped working. Hmmm…

So it was time to update when we re-did the lobby. Somewhat on a lark, I did a Sketchup design of the new lobby to help leadership visualize what was being discussed. In that design, I stuck four 55” flat screens on the side walls, and four 42” flat screens in front of the doors for digital signage. We ultimately trimmed down to two screens on the right of the lobby, but that was it. 

TV Locations Left Side.jpg

Routing Needed

The previous CRTs were fed the same signal from a DA. I wanted to be able to address each screen individually. That meant a matrix switcher. I spent a fair amount of time going back and forth between which one to buy and ultimately decided on a Blackmagic Compact VideoHub, a 40x40 SDI matrix. When I installed it and fired up the software, I immediately regretted it. The software is very flaky and after 3 hours, I never did get VideoHub Control to work. Thankfully, the other VideoHub software works, though only through USB. While it will work, I will not likely use any more of their products. The bitter taste of poor implementation lingers long after the sweetness of the low price is gone. Next time, Ross or For-A.

Anyway, each TV in the lobby—and the building for that matter—is its own destination on the router. That means we can route program, ProPresenter, or any of our four digital signage channels, or any other source to any TV. The wiring is more complex, but the flexibility it provides is pretty great. 

Digital Signage Choices

I looked around at plenty of options for digital signage. We could have used ProPresenter with a couple of Dual Head2Gos; or AppleTVs or even four Mac Minis with Keynote. But I settled on DigitalSignage.com. They provide signage for many restaurants, hotels and other retail venues. It’s not the most elegant user interface, but it is very powerful. There are robust scheduling rules that make it possible to come up with really custom signage for each event during the week. The service is free, and they sell custom-built players. We went with the MediaBox 200, which is basically an Intel NUC with a Core i3 processor and dual HDMI outputs. 

Two of them give us access to four channels of digital signage. It’s all accessible from the web, so it’s easy to manage. The only trouble we had was with our firewall. We had to assign static IPs to each MediaBox and open up those ports so they could communicate with the cloud server unencumbered. 

Again, time will tell if that was a good choice or not, but I can report that their tech support is pretty good and the system does work as advertised once it’s configured correctly. 

Monitor Options

While you can go to Costco or Amazon and buy a cheap display for your lobby, we chose to buy LG commercial grade displays for our install. The cost is about 30%-40% more, but the power supplies are more robust, and the displays are warranted for use in commercial installations. If the display was only going to be used occasionally, or was for a weekend only use, I would likely go consumer grade. But these will be on 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week, so they need to be robust. They can also be controlled via RS-232 if you like.

As the router is SDI, and the displays take HDMI, we had to convert. I used the Monoprice HD-SDI to HDMI converters for this job. At under $100 each, they are the most budget-friendly options around, and they seem to work just great. I’ve had one around for testing for over a year, and we’ve had no issues with it. My guess is we’ll have the occasional power supply go bad on them, but we’d have to replace all of the 3-4 times before it would have made sense to go with a more expensive option. I don’t think that will happen in the next 5-7 years. But I could be wrong…

So, that’s the lobby. Next time, we’ll talk about the PA and the lobby speakers.

“Gear

Today's post is brought to you by myMix. myMix is an intuitive, easy-to-use personal monitor mixing and multi-track recording system that puts each user in control of their own mix! myMix features two line-level balanced 1/4" TRS outputs and one 1/8" (3.5mm) headphone output, the ability to store up to 20 named profiles on each station, 4-band fully parametric stereo output EQ recording of up to 18 tracks plus stereo on an SD card. Learn more at myMixaudio.com