Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Equipment (Page 2 of 33)

LED Walls vs. Projectors

One of the trends we’re seeing in the integration Biz is the meteoric rise of LED video walls. As few as 5-7 years ago, video walls really only made sense for outdoor sports stadiums and really big churches with really big budgets. Here we are in 2016 however, and the calculus has changed. 

A question we’re fielding a lot lately is, “When does it make sense to consider a video wall instead of a projector?” I wish there was a hard and fast rule for that, but I’m not sure there is. But here are a few parameters we look at.

Ambient Light Levels

In the past year or so, I’ve worked with churches that are not the modern “black box” style of sanctuary. One had a giant 300 sq. ft. stained glass window right next to their screen. And yeah, it faced south. My first thought was video wall for them for two reasons. First, it would have the punch that no projector ever would making it possible to actually overcome all that ambient lighting. Second, and maybe more importantly for me, the blacks would actually be black. You see, a screen will only ever be as dark as the white screen ever gets. When there is that much ambient light in the room, it’s never going to be darker than light grey.

That destroys contrast which makes the already not bright enough projector seem even more washed out. By contrast (see what I did there?), the background of a video wall—the space between the pixels—is black. And when the LED is off, it’s black. I don’t care what the contrast ratio spec says about a projector, it only matters if the room is very dark. In a full light situation, the screen looses. 

Projector Brightness

This one is a little more subjective, but we’re finding that if a church wants to talk about a projector in the 12-14K lumen range or higher, we should probably start talking about a video wall. Now, I should make it clear that a video wall is not going to be the same initial cost as a 14K lumen projector. It’s going to cost more up front. However, when we do the math, often the delta is low enough that it makes sense to go with a video wall. 

Video walls don’t need lamp changes, they can be mounted to the wall or flown and don’t require a clear path from viewing screen to projector. The overall service life of a video wall is likely to be longer, and they generally require less maintenance. At the end of the day the wall may still be more money, but the extra value it brings is often worth it. Not every time, but sometimes. 

Screen Location

Some churches want to use a big screen as a backdrop to their stage. Projectors can be problematic because if people get too close to the screen, they’ll cast shadows unless you do rear projection. But rear projection requires a big backstage area. If you want to do a wide screen, you’ll need to blend the projectors, and that can be tricky and may need adjusting from time to time. And the screen will still be competing with stage light. 

When we switched from a 16K projector to a video wall at Coast Hills, the biggest thing we all noticed was that the stage lights had no effect on the video image. Whereas before we had to be really careful where we pointed the lights, how much haze we used and even where we hung fixtures, the video wall had enough power to punch through all of it. And the blacks stayed black no matter what. 

Like I said, there are no hard and fast rules. Yet. Video wall technology is advancing at breakneck speed and almost every year we’re seeing an increase in pixel density, and a decrease in weight and cost. Brightness isn’t changing much; they’re already bright enough. But we’re also seeing refresh rates go up, and processing quality improve all the time. 

All of that to say, if you’re thinking about replacing or upgrading some projectors, especially larger ones, it’s worth looking into video walls. They don’t make sense in every case, but when they do, they’re a big win.

Mixing Class With Me at SALT

Normally, I don’t like doing self-promotional posts. But my friend Luke pointed out we’re going to a lot of trouble to arrange this class, and it might be good if people knew about it. So here we go.

Most of you know that I’ve been part of the SALT conference for the last few years. Last year, I had the privilege to organize the audio track. This year, SALT organizer (and good friend) Luke McElroy asked if I would do a pre-conference mixing class. Never one to back down from a challenge, and always wanting to be part of my favorite conference of the year, I said yes. 

Here’s the deal: On Wednesday, Oct. 12, I’ll be teaching a class called Becoming the Mix Master. I did not name the class. But it’s kinda fun. Instead of teaching you how to drop beats and spin vinyl, I’ll be teaching you the basics of mixing. 

Fundamentals Not Basic

Basic is probably the wrong word; perhaps fundamentals is better. I’ve only got 3.5 (maybe 4 if I push it) hours to work with, so I can’t teach you everything that I’ve learned in 25 years of mixing. However, I will teach you the fundamentals of crafting a good mix. And don’t worry; none of this will be gear or plugin dependent. Everything I teach will be things you can take back to your church the following Sunday and use—no matter what equipment you have or how big or small your church is. 

Break It Down

Playing up on the Sir Mix A Lot theme, I’m going to start off having you listen to a mix that I’ll put together. Then we’ll spend the next few hours breaking down how I got there. We’ll talk about things like mic selection and placement; building proper gain structure; setting your console up for success; proper use of high pass filters and EQ; selective compression; and effects. If I have time, I’ll show you my super-secret trick for helping the lead vocal stand out without being painful. OK, it’s not super-secret—I’ve written about it here several times. 

Gear Independence

As I said, this will be a gear-independent class. My buddy Jake Cody from Yamaha has agreed to provide consoles for me to work on, which is super-cool. Most of you know I’m a Digico guy, but to prove the gear doesn’t matter as much as the technique, I’ll be doing this whole thing on the very capable CL. For fun, we may also demonstrate some of the techniques on a TF-5 as well, just to prove the point. My goal is to create a training session that you can use regardless of what you mix on. 


As I said, this whole shindig will take place on the first day of the SALT conference, Wednesday, October 12. The cost for this littleconfab will be a whopping $79. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Luke is generously sharing some of the funds with me, though I told him I’d do it for free. You can register for the class here: http://saltnashville.com/salt16-labs/. Space is limited, but I hear there some room left. 

And really, you should be coming to the SALT conference anyway—it’s really one of the best conferences of the year. There are some exciting changes coming to this year’s event, and this is the one that I look forward to. I know the team responsible for the event and I can tell you they have a huge heart to help the church and the church tech. 

So come on out and hang with me for a few hours this fall. I don’t claim to be the best, but I’ve learned a few things over the years and look forward to sharing them. And if you listen to the podcast or read this website, please say hi before or after the class.  

Elite Core

InfoComm 2016 Coverage: Martin Audio, L’Acoustics & Bose

Alright—we’re in the home stretch! This is our last installment of our InfoComm 2016 coverage. As we wrap up in the land of audio, we’ll listen to some new speakers that were rolled out. I got to hear each one of these, and so these are first hand (or first ear…) reports.

Martin CDD Live

CDD Live 8

CDD Live 8

We started taking a serious look at CDD last year at InfoComm. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed; more low-cost boxes for small to mid-size rooms. Whatever. Or that’s what I thought until I heard them. Honestly, I was blown away at the price/performance ratio. A few months later, we set them up with some of our other favorite boxes for a shootout. Again, we were very pleased with the CDD series. I’ve since installed two systems and have been extremely happy with the way the systems turn out. 

Now many people think Martin Audio and think MLA, a big, expensive, powered, very impressive line array with tons of DSP. They took their experience with MLA and applied it to CDD, adding bi-amplified power to the speakers and tweaking the enclosures a bit. They also threw in some DSP for good measure. They also added Dante connectivity. 

Like last year, I knew about them going in, so I wasn’t prepared to be surprised. But when they fired up the new Live boxes, again, we were surprised at how good they sounded. The CDD Live 8 particularly blew us away, especially in light of how small it is. The subs also sound fantastic—loud, low and tight. Like the CDD line, the CDD Live line is very cost-effective, and with the build-in DSP, you could even eliminate an outboard DSP for basic systems. You know we’ll be installing a bunch of these guys.

L’Acoustics Kiva II

I’ve become a big fan of L’Acoustics over the last few years as I’ve heard more of their systems and installed a couple of them. They’re easy to tune, are voiced very consistently throughout the entire line and sound great even with stock presets. The Kiva line array is a very solid, small- to mid-sized system. It’s built on dual 6.5” LF drivers and a 1.5” compression HF driver and VDOSC waveguide. It’s a great sounding box for smaller rooms, or as delays for larger spaces. 

Again, when a company rolls out a II of anything, I tend to think, “Whatever.” Then they played the Kiva II. Wow! The Kiva sounds great, but when they switched over to the II, it was like a blanket came off the speaker. While it looks the same physically (and all the hardware still works), they completely redesigned the guts. There is a ton more articulation in the upper-midrange, and they even squeezed 6 dB more output out of it! That may not sound like much, but that’s a double-double of amplifier power. And as a 16 Ohm box, you can hang a bunch of them off the new LA12x amplifier—13,600 watts at 2.7 Ohms! According to the marketing folks, LA12x sounds cooler than LA13.6x. So there you go. Great stuff from L’Acoustics. I can’t wait to set one of these up!

Bose ShowMatch

Speaking of mid-size line array systems, we finally got to see the production prototypes of the new system from Bose, dubbed ShowMatch. Though, calling it a line array is technically incorrect. It looks like a line array, but it’s really a progressive directivity array, which they have now dubbed DeltaQ™. It’s based on the same concept as RoomMatch, with multiple vertical coverage options, and different horizontal waveguides. The difference is, in ShowMatch, the waveguides are field swappable. The rigging system is very cool, and will allow for fast, flexible setups for tours. 

For installs, it’s a smaller footprint than RoomMatch, but has similar voicing and output. I heard a early pre-production prototype a while back, and they sounded extremely good. Having done a few RoomMatch systems now, I’m always amazed at the accuracy of the coverage and the even intelligibility throughout the seating areas. ShowMatch will be one more arrow in our quiver full of great PAs to work with. 

They also announced new PowerShare amps, which are going to be a boon to anyone who does 70V systems. Unlike most amps that have a fixes, maximum output on any given channel, PowerShare allocates power to each output based on the load. This means the entire output of the amp could be available to one channel if needed. They’re 1 RU high, so they don’t take up much rack space and are priced well. They also created a few new wall controls for remote volume. 

All in all, InfoComm 2016 was a good show. Our industry has matured to the point where we’re not seeing groundbreaking new products each year, but there is a lot of good iteration happening, as well as convergence. Next time, we’ll be back to our regular scheduled programming.

Elite Core

InfoComm 2016 Coverage: Symetrix & Yamaha

Well, I sort of missed a week here, but we’re back with our final two installments of InfoComm 2016 coverage. We’re finally to the good stuff—Audio! We have some electronics today and speakers next time. 

Symetrix Solus is Back

A while back, Symetrix killed off the Solus line, which was a little sad. But it’s back now, and with two more letters. The Solus NX 4×4, 8×8 and 16×8 will be available soon and will feature all analog inputs and outputs. The count will match the product names—what a concept! The nice thing about the Solus NX line is that it’s now configurable in Composer, and is fully open DSP. Some installations don’t need Dante, and there’s no sense paying for what you don’t need. 

They also showed a cool new interface builder as part of Composer which will make it easier than ever to do web-based custom controllers for the full line of DSPs. Composer is currently at version 5.1 and 5.2 is coming soon with even more third-party Dante devices available for control. Personally, I was hoping for control of the Atterotech DIO3, and I got it. Though to be fair, Atterotech finally updated their software, too, so I don’t have to use their terrible Unify software any more. 

Symetrix showed the new ARC-3 control last year, and it’s been shipping for a while. This is a great little control for times when you need more than buttons and pots. The display is very crisp and easy to read and should prove to be a powerful control. 

Yamaha CL 4.0

There is no denying that the CL consoles (and QLs for that matter) have been hugely successful. And Yamaha continues to do what Yamaha does; roll out new features that make our lives better. We got to see v. 4 software at the show and while there are a ton of new features, the big ones for me are these: If you have Shure ULXD4D and ULXD4Q wireless systems in your Dante network, you can now see receiver gain, mute, frequency, diversity, battery, RF strength, and audio level right on the console. How great will it be to monitor the pastor’s battery level right from his channel strip? They also included new EQ models, which look very cool. I’ll have to hear them to give you a full run down, but I like what I see. A new four-band multi band comp is now available as well. The new version of stage mix allows for up to 10 iOS devices to connect to a single console for monitor mixing, which will be a huge boon to churches with limited budgets and stage space. There are some other enhancements, but those are the big ones. Personally, the ULX-D integration is enough for me to upgrade, but I’m a big fan of multi-band comps, so I’m looking forward to trying it out this summer. 

As audio becomes more networked, I think we’ll see more of this type of integration. While networking has its drawbacks, these are some of the big wins we can expect as everything ties together. 

Next time, we’ll preview some new speakers that continue to make it easier and more affordable to get great audio.

This post is brought to you by Nemosyn. The guitar player practices, the keyboard player practices, the vocalists practice, how does a sound guy practice? Nemosyn record. Practice. Perfect your mix. Visit their website at Nemosyn.com.

InfoComm 2016 Coverage: Laser Projectors and More!

Back to our InfoComm 2016 coverage today. Probably my favorite show of the year, it has something for everyone. Today, we’ll look at laser-phosphor projectors and some cool new stuff from Marshall.

Christie Arena featuring the new HS Laser Phosphor projectors, edge blended

Christie Arena featuring the new HS Laser Phosphor projectors, edge blended

Frickin’ Laser Beams

Another thing we saw a lot of was laser beams. Or, more accurately, laser phosphor projectors. We may finally be on the cusp of those big, expensive, hot and fragile projector bulbs going the way of the dodo. Christie showed off their new HS series projectors, which pack 13K lumens into a small, quiet package. They have two models, a WU 1920×1200 pixels and HD 1920×1080 pixels. They had them set up in “Christie Arena,” and they looked quite good. Plenty of color, punch and contrast. Being 1 DLP units, they didn’t quite blend as nicely as the 3 DLP units across the booth, but for single screen applications (or if you’re using an external blending unit), they would rock. Pricing is getting better for LP units as well. 

Also on the LP (laser phosphor, if you forgot) bandwagon is Hitachi. The new LP-WU9750B sports 8000 lumens of 1920×1200 single DLP power. They’re doing some cool stuff with the blue light, running it through a phosphor rod to get better accuracy. Hard to tell for sure, but they looked good in their booth. Hitachi has become our go-to affordable mid-size projector, and we think these are going to be good options for a lot of churches. 

It looks more impressive throwing an image. But I got distracted talking with a friend at the booth.

It looks more impressive throwing an image. But I got distracted talking with a friend at the booth.

What’s better than a laser driving your projector? How about a laser driving your 4K projector! That’s right, Barco showed off the F90-4K13 projector. 11,800 lumens (not 12K…11,800; I appreciate the accuracy, though maybe it should be called the F90-4K11.8?), 3840×2400 pixels, and an engine that meets the full Rec. 709 color space. I’ll admit, it looked really nice. Now, if you don’t really need that many pixels (or have that large a budget), the F90-W13 also looked very good. It delivers 13,000 lumens in the center of the screen at 1920×1200 pixels. Like most LPs (maybe all) it’s a single chip DLP and delivers somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 hours of light source life. On both those product pages, Barco offers a good white paper on how LP projectors work. Might be worth the read. 

All kinds of cool stuff for your video rack from Marshall.

All kinds of cool stuff for your video rack from Marshall.

Marshall Goodies

Marshall has been coming on strong the last few years with the introduction of their Lynx series of monitors, the small HD POV cameras with HD-SDI out and the mini converters. This year, we saw a 17” engineering monitor that had full color space capability, the ability to be fully calibrated and great metering and signal quality monitoring capabilities. The V-R173-DLW looked very accurate and like many Marshall products offers tremendous value.

One of our favorite little problem solvers is the VSW-2200. It’s a deceptively simple 4 HD-SDI in, 1 out seamless switcher/scaler. What makes it super-cool is that it also incorporates a built-in quad-view display (on a separate HDMI output), and can be set up and controlled via software. It’s a vertical interval switch, but more than that, it scales every input to a common output resolution so you can switch completely seamlessly. If you only need to switch a few sources, this is a cool solution.

More to come next time!

Elite Core

Conduit is Likely Cheaper

Image courtesy of Mike Sessler. Wait...that's me!

Image courtesy of Mike Sessler. Wait…that’s me!

I get to talk to a lot of churches now. Being involved with a number of church renovation projects each year, I hear some interesting strategies. One of those strategies is to not run conduit for AVL wiring, but to plan on doing what we call “free air” wiring instead. Free air is just what it sounds like; the cable is running through free air. There may be ceiling trusses or beams to attach to, but for the most part, the cable is just running up there in the air, outside of conduit. 

Now, I get the premise behind this; conduit is expensive! Those pesky electrical contractors (ECs) charge a pretty penny to install and terminate conduit. And when you talk to an AVL integrator, they are going to want a lot of conduit! So it seems like a great way to save money is to skip the whole conduit thing and just have the AV company free air all the wire. Or at least a lot of it. That should save a ton of cash, which lowers the overall cost of the project. Win-win!

Not So Fast

That’s the big problem with running wire free air; it’s not so fast. Let’s take the example of pulling speaker wire up to a stack of speakers. There will likely be several runs of individual cable going up to each speaker cluster. If there is a conduit that starts at the rack room, and ends at the speakers, it’s a simple matter of laying out the cable and pulling it through the conduit. It doesn’t take long at all. However, if that speaker wire has to be threaded through the ceiling trusses, across and over, down and around, all from a lift, it’s going to take a while. A good long while. 

Now you might think that installing conduit will also take a while, since it has to traverse the path as well. That’s true. However, conduit comes in 10’ rigid pieces, and it only has to be attached in a few points. It’s a lot faster and easier to make that look good than it is to pull cable through the same space. Moreover, if the conduit runs are laid out wisely, the EC can start pulling multiple conduit through the same path, which makes if even faster for the cable pull. 

Labor Rates

Another cost imbalance is that most of the time, the AV installer is charging a higher labor rate than the EC is for the conduit installer. So if you skimp on conduit (which can be installed by a lower labor rate worker), and make the wire pull harder for the higher labor rate AV installer, you’re not saving anything. 

Cable Types 

But wait, there’s more! Did you know that code requires you to use what is called plenum-rated cable if you don’t pull it through conduit? And did you know that plenum-rated cable is 2-3 times as expensive as the non-plenum-rated version? That’s because in case of a fire, codes want to minimize the amount of poisonous gasses that fill the air. Normal cable has a PVC jacket on it that will burn and give off highly toxic gasses. Those gasses can incapacitate or kill people before the fire does. So that’s bad. 

Thus, if you’re going to free air cable through what is known as a plenum space (a space where air moves through that you might breathe), you have to use plenum-rated cable. So sure, you may have saved a little money on conduit, but if your cable bill is 3 times what it should be, have you saved anything? 

Run Extra Conduit

One more tip; if you’re running conduit—or rather if you’re paying your EC to run conduit—have them run an extra tube here and there. Now, it may not be necessary to run a spare conduit to each TV in the lobby, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have an extra, empty conduit between FOH and the amp room. Or between FOH booths in a building. Or maybe even a spare tube between the amp room and the ceiling (for later TBD use).

This is especially true if you’re going to cut the floor in a major remodel. If you’re cutting the floor, the biggest cost of that job is the concrete work. Adding a few extra unused pieces of PVC conduit underground costs almost nothing, and may well save you a lot of headaches down the road. 

Do yourself and your church a favor…don’t skimp on the conduit budget.

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

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