Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: July 2014 (Page 1 of 2)

What’s the Difference: Pre-Fade vs. Post-Fade


Today, we’re back to our What’s the Difference series. These are going to be short posts where we look at commonly misunderstood terms in the tech world. Nearly every audio console offers aux sends with a pre-fade or post-fade option, but what does that mean?

It’s the Pick Off Point Again

As we discussed in the last episode (AFL/PFL), pre-fade and post-fade are really all about the pick off point. That is to say, at what point in the channel strip is the aux send being picked off. A pre-fade aux takes the signal before (pre) the fader. So, the level of the fader has no impact on the level of the aux send. A post-fade aux takes the signal after (post) the fader so the level of the fader does impact the level of the send. Sometimes, it’s really that simple. See, I told you these were going to be short posts.

Options, We Have Options

Back in the days of analog consoles, it was often possible to change the pick off point. I remember reading the manual of our old Soundcraft Series 2 in which it described breaking solder jumpers to move the pick off from pre-fade, post-EQ to pre-fade, pre-EQ. Sometimes, it could be done with jumper blocks on the board.

With the advent of digital consoles and DSP, it’s now easier than ever to change the pick off point. For example, Digico allows for pre-fade, pre-mute; pre-fade, post-mute; and post-fade, post-mute options. Pre-fade and pre-mute are both pre-processing while post-fade is after the processing block. Even the Behringer X32 allows for each aux of each channel to be set pre-EQ, post-EQ, pre-fade, post-fade. 


I especially appreciate the signal flow diagram showing your aux options. 

I especially appreciate the signal flow diagram showing your aux options. 

You’ll have to break out the manual to see what options your board has.

Why Use Them?

Generally speaking, we use pre-fade sends for monitors and post-fade sends for FX. Post-fade sends are also useful for things like broadcast mixes, and feeds to ancillary rooms. We want monitors to be pre-fade because we don’t want to be changing the musician’s mixes each time we make a house mix adjustment. If you’re getting complaints from musicians that their mixes keep changing, make sure you’re set to pre-fade auxes. 

For FX, we want the level going to the FX processor to be tracking with the dry signal going to the mix. If you sent pre-fade signals to an FX processor, even if you pulled the channel down, the FX would still be in the mix. Similarly, if you’re using a post-fade aux bus to mix broadcast, you want the fader changes of the mix to track to the broadcast mix. 

Adding to the Confusion

Some manufacturers make analog boards with a few pre-fade auxes and a one or two knobs labeled FX. The FX knobs are simply post-fade auxes that often feed an internal FX system. Typically, there is an output on the board to use an external processor with those FX sends, so don’t be limited to the internal FX (which may or may not be any good). 

Many analog boards will let you switch the send for each aux or a pair of auxes to pre or post. Again, be sure the switches are in the right spot if you want to keep your musicians happy.

Pre-fade and post-fade is one of those concepts that is really quite simple, but can cause a lot of problems if not implemented correctly. Hopefully, this post helps with that.

“Gear

Today’s post is brought to you by DiGiCo. DiGiCo audio mixing consoles deliver solutions that provide extreme flexibility, are easy to use and have an expandable infrastructure, while still providing the best possible audio quality. Visit their website to learn more.

Today’s post is brought to you by Pacific Coast Entertainment. Pacific Coast Entertainment is the premier event production company servicing Southern California and the western states. PCE offers a complete line of Lighting, Audio, Video, and Staging equipment for rentals, sales and installs. Where old fashion customer service meets high tech solutions. PCE, your one stop tech resource.

CTA Review: Livestream HD500 Studio

Streaming video continues to be a hot topic amongst churches, and it’s a topic I get asked about frequently. More and more manufacturers are building turnkey solutions designed to make it easy and we’re back to look at another one. This time, from what is likely the most popular streaming destination for churches, Livestream. 

Livestream recently released a series of products called Livestream Studio. As of this writing, there are four hardware solutions along with the standalone software. We received the mid-range and highly portable HD500 model for testing, though the software is consistent across the line. 

Self-Contained and Portable

The first thing you notice about the HD500 is that it looks like a small desktop PC with a handle on top. It ships with a magical carrying bag from Tom Bihn (seriously, this bag is nice!) What sets the unit apart is that it also has a 17” 1900×1200 LCD screen built into one side, protected by a removable metal cover. Weighing just 15 pounds, it’s easy to carry around, and would certainly qualify as carry-on luggage. 

Inside the box is a six core Intel Core I7 running at 3.2 GHz. An Nvidia GForce GT520 graphics card drives the built-in display, along with an external one that can be set up as a multi-viewer. There is a 2.5” 500 GB hard drive inside, and with 7 USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0 ports, you have plenty of ways to add more storage. 

Each of the Livestream Studio systems are built around Blackmagic cards; in this case a Decklink Quad and a Decklink Studio. The Quad gives you 4 HD/SD SDI inputs, and the Studio can be configured for input or output for a local live mix. In output mode, one can mix four cameras (along with internal graphics) to both a stream and local video output. 

The cards support embedded audio on the SDI inputs. The Decklink Studio card will accept analog and AES inputs, or you can use a USB audio interface. The built-in audio mixer in the software allows you to mix sources or have audio follow video. 

Everything you need fits neatly into the carry bag, making this an ideal solution for portable churches even if they don’t want to stream. The latest software update to the Studio software now allows for recording of up to four video streams at once. You can select from iso camera feeds, and a pre-graphics “clean” or post-graphics “dirty” feed. 

Full-Featured Software

Rather than relying on third-party software control, Livestream built their own. It has a clean, modern interface, and is easy to learn. Whenever I test systems like this, I always try to see how far I can get without looking at a manual. With this system, I had multiple inputs configured, was able to switch both a live feed and get a stream running in about 20 minutes. 

For the demo, they also included the Livestream Studio Keyboard. It’s an Apple Extended keyboard, with custom key silk screened icons for every function. In no time at all, I was switching between our four cameras, adding lower thirds, and sending video to my Livestream account. 

I’m not exactly sure why, but the latency from the HD500 to what I saw on my laptop via my Livestream page was a matter of seconds. Most streaming appliances I’ve tested add a good 20-30 seconds of latency; this was more like 2-3. Setting up my account was as simple as entering my username and password, then hitting “Stream.” 

Built-In Multi-Viewer

The built-in screen will display the four camera sources plus preview and program. The source windows are too small for accurate judgments of focus and exposure. But, the system provides both VGA or HDMI port, which allow for a configurable multi-viewer of any size. There are quite a few screen layouts to choose from, and with a simple drag-and-drop interface, you decide what goes in which box. You can even add a clock, a stream window (to verify it’s online) as well as a viewer count. 

Much to my delight, when I plugged the second display in, it was immediately recognized by the system and the multi-view window appeared. I had fully expected to at least re-start the software, if not the OS. In fact, this rather summarizes my experience with this box; everything works pretty much as you’d expect without a lot of fiddling on your part. You can pretty much plug in and go. 

Graphic Options

Livestream Studio features a two-channel graphic engine with some pretty cool features. It’s easy to build lower thirds and full screen graphics in the editor. Where it gets interesting is the dynamic features. The graphic window offers a design mode, where as you might expect, you layout your graphics, text, logos and other features. Once complete, you enter data mode, which allows you to change the content of the text boxes on the fly with minimal trouble. For example, you could build a lower third graphic with dynamic text. Then, create several possible lines of text for different pastors or speakers. Simply clicking the line makes it active. In just a few minutes, you have a full set of graphics for your staff. And there is only one layout to update with new graphics for each new series.

Moreover, the graphics can contain video windows. Thus, you can build complex multi-input picture-in-picture effects that go to air with a single click. What I like about the software is that once everything is set up, it’s easy to operate, and completely visual. While it’s not hard to set up, it would take no time at all to train a volunteer to handle fairly complex graphic overlays. 

Other Cool Features

A new feature called Remote Camera allows you to turn a computer desktop (via network) into an input. Studio will accept network camera feeds from a variety of sources. This includes Google Glass, Android and iOS devices, and Windows PCs.  This could be handy for including sermon notes on the stream or IMAG screens. Even better, imagine the interactivity you could create for special events. You can also pull in content from your Livestream account as another input source. I didn’t get a chance to test this feature, but it may make it possible to stream from one location to another easily. Quality would be my main concern—but, the quality of the stream I sent from the HD500 was quite good.

Each of the four inputs has a scaler available to it, making it easy to mix and match input formats. For my tests, I pulled in a SD SDI feed, a 1080i output from my switcher and another 1080i camera. It converted each source to 1080i as needed without issue, sync’ing everything up in the process. For IMAG systems, everything should be running genlock, and the system allows that. 

Tally is not supported directly, but a recent software update makes Studio compatible with the tally system made by metaSETZ. Tally is often forgotten with these systems, and I’m glad to see it’s available. 

While this unit is obviously made to stream to Livestream, it’s also possible to send video to UStream, or YouTube Live. You can also use any RTMP compatible server or CDN, such as Wowza Media Server, Akamai, Flash Media Server. 

Conclusion

With an MSRP of $8500, the HD500 isn’t inexpensive (though you can find it for considerably less). But, when you consider that you can walk into a venue with a bag on your shoulder and in under 5 minutes be ready to stream, switch and iso record a service, it’s a compelling option. It’s easy to use (I never once consulted a manual or help file to figure anything out), and as far as I could tell, stable. We had no problems streaming a weekend, and the video quality was quite good with minimal latency.

The inclusion of the built-in monitor makes it especially appealing for portable churches. Not having to trudge a monitor in and out each week would be a huge benefit of this system. The system comes with a year of  phone support a one year warranty and software updates are free
.

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

What’s the Difference: AFL-PFL

In this series, we’ll look at two things and talk about their differences. For the first installment, we’ll look at a common button on most audio consoles. The labels may vary, but the difference is important.


AFL/PFL—What’s the Difference?

AFL stands for After-Fade Listen while PFL stands for Pre-Fade Listen. Depending on the current state of your console, pressing solo in either mode may result in the same thing. Or it may be completely different. 

Both AFL and PFL are solo modes. When you press the solo button on the channel, the output of that channel is routed to the solo bus and you hear it all by itself. We use solo for auditioning an input, checking for signal, and possibly setting EQ. We’ll get to this later. 

On many consoles, you can also solo groups, VCAs and the master. So what’s the difference between AFL and PFL?

It’s All About the Pick-off Point

Pre-Fade Listen is just what it sounds like; the signal is picked off from the channel strip before the fader. Most of the time, it’s also pre-EQ, pre-dynamics and pre-Mute. You’ll have to read your manual to find out where the pick point is. Sometimes it’s after the HPF and LPF, but not always. Some digital consoles allow you to choose the PFL point, which is cool. Because PFL is pre-processing, it’s a great way to check the quality of the incoming signal before you do anything to it. 

After-Fade Listen is a pick-off point after the fader. Typically, it’s also after EQ, dynamics and mute. So that means anything you’ve done to the signal with any of those processing blocks will be reflected in the solo output. In AFL mode, you will hear the effects of EQ, dynamics and filters. If the fader is off on a channel that you AFL, you won’t hear anything. It’s after the fader, remmember. 

When To Use Them?

PFL is most useful for checking signal. When I line check a stage, I set the console to PFL and use the headphones to verify each input. Most of the time, the faders are all down (or turned off with VCAs), so nothing comes through the house. But I can hear it clearly with PFL. It’s also useful for verifying signal of a muted mic during a service. It’s not a bad idea to PFL your pastor’s mic a few minutes before he goes up to be sure you have signal. This has saved me many times. 

AFL is useful for seeing if what you’re doing is helping or hurting the sound. If you’re trying to zero in on an offending frequency on an instrument, a quick AFL while you check the EQ can save you a lot of time. Many of my FOH friends and I generally prefer to EQ channels in the context of the mix—because it is a mix after all—but sometimes some isolation is helpful to solve a particular problem.

AFL is also useful to hear the blend of a group of instruments or vocals. I use it often on the BGV VCA to hear how my vocals are blending. Because the AFL happens after faders, I hear the blend based on the fader position. A quick AFL of the VCA can make short work of getting your vocals or drum mic’s blended.

Bonus: Solo In Place

This is known by a few other names, but what it does is the same. When SIP is pressed, instead of routing the PFL’d or AFL’d signal to the headphones or solo outputs, it routes it to the main L&R buss. That means everything but the solo’d channel is shut off and all you hear is that solo signal.

This can be useful or incredibly dangerous, depending on the situation. When you’re running a rehearsal, SIP can be helpful to identify a channel that might be lighting up a room resonance or something similar. But during a service, it can be devastating. It’s so dangerous that Digico requires you to press the SIP button for full two seconds just to engage it, and then it blinks red the entire time. 

Don’t try out SIP during a service—ever! I rarely use SIP as I much prefer to EQ and alter dynamics within the context of the mix. But that’s what it does. Proceed with caution.

“Gear

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The Secrets of My Success, Pt. 2

Last time, I gave you the first two secrets of acquiring knowledge. I’ve employed the crazy tactic of reading the manual and reading online help for years and learned a ton. But sometimes, the answer you’re searching for is not there, or you are still not getting the results you want. At that point, you have to expand your search radius. 


Image courtesy of  Jacob Bøtter

Image courtesy of Jacob Bøtter

Contact Tech Support

This goes overlooked more than it should. It’s true that some companies have terrible phone support (we’re looking at you, Blackmagic…) but others are stellar. I’ve had some tech support staff help troubleshoot problems that turned out to not be theirs. One even contacted support at another company and helped me solve a tricky problem between platforms. 

I have learned so much by talking with good tech support reps. Often times, I learn not only about their product, but about a protocol, system or just how something works. Good tech support teams are invaluable and when you find them, you want to keep their number close. 

Use Your Network

I put this last for a reason. I’m a big fan of having a network of people I can call when I get stuck. But I usually only call on them after I exhausted the above options. The reason for this is simply time. Most often, I can find an answer quicker in the manual, online or with Google than I can from a friend. My friends are great, but they’re also busy. I don’t expect them to drop everything and help me solve a problem.

Sometimes I’ll shoot a quick text to a friend with a question, but if I don’t hear back right away, I’ll work through the previous steps. Many times, by the time they get back to me, I have my answer. There are times that I can’t find an answer, or the question is so specific that I really do need advice or counsel from a friend, and that’s really the best use of your network. 

If I want to know how to invert a selection in Photoshop, I’m not going to ask my friend Ken—even though he could surely tell me. I can find that on Google in under a second. But if I’m trying to decide if I should upgrade to Photoshop CC or stick with CS5, we’re going to have a conversation. See the difference?


Bonus Round: Use the Search Box

This is something else I get all the time; someone will ask me, “Hey, I think you wrote an article on thus and so a while back. Do you know where it is?” Chances are, the answer is no, I have no idea. I write well over 200 articles a year and have been doing so for 7 years. Even if I did remember writing the post—which I probably don’t—I couldn’t tell you the URL. 

But, Squarespace has this great search tool. The search box is right over there on the right, and you too can do exactly what I’m going to do; type some keywords into the search box and see what comes up. Again, you could email me and wait 2-4 weeks for me to do a quick search on my site and send you the result, or you could do it yourself. Not that I mind hearing from all of you, but you can probably get the answer faster on your own. 

So that’s it. That’s how I look so smart all the time. I learned a while ago that I don’t need to know all the answers, I just need to know where to find them. Today, that’s easier than ever. And you can do it from your phone. To be fair, I am really good at seeing how a whole bunch of disparate information fits together in a cohesive whole. That’s a natural talent that I’ve worked hard to hone. But you too can learn this skill. It all starts with a quick glance around the old inter-webs.

Roland

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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

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CHCC Renovation: 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 2×2 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 RMU208 Utility Speakers from Bose up in the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. The RMU208 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 40×40 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

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