Wireless microphones can be an incredibly useful tool across all areas of higher education, from use in lectures and at external events to live performances and presentations. However as wireless products are increasingly in demand, establishments face a number of challenges, not least a cluttered spectrum, the desire for everything to be networked and the need for devices that work with minimal input from staff. No matter where wireless technology is in use, however, the need for high-quality, reliable audio remains a constant.
Wireless in Education Environments
As education environments have developed, audio plays an increasingly important role. Many universities are situated on large campuses and often have multiple sites, sometimes in different countries. This being the case, lectures are increasingly recorded and live streamed to multiple facilities or captured to be viewed by students in their own time.
Similarly, distance learning, which is seen as a flexible and efficient way to gain qualifications, relies heavily on recorded content to disseminate course material to a dispersed audience. Not only this, but many universities supplement their finances by hosting external events such as conferences and expos. All of these need a solid base of reliable, high-quality audio to be able to reach the required audience.
Wireless microphones can offer a straightforward, yet sophisticated and effective way to achieve this, offering an easy-to-use technology that users such as students, lecturers and visitors can adopt with little to no learning curve. However, in the higher education field, there is no one-size fits all solution, and it is important to opt for devices that integrate with other systems while enabling AV technicians to work efficiently and effectively.
One of the biggest issues facing many wireless microphone users across the globe is the continued spectrum sell-off which can make it difficult to find available frequencies. For facilities in crowded RF environments, such as city centers, this will prove a particular challenge as spectrum sell-off continues in the coming years.
One option here is to consider the DECT – Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications – frequency band, which has already proven itself in the conference space. DECT-based wireless systems such as Microflex Wireless (MXW) can be a sensible option for colleges and universities as there is unlikely to be much DECT usage across a campus. In busy areas it is possible to carry out a DECT scan to check usage, highlight how many channels are available and lock them in, creating a simple yet effective solution.
UHF continues to be used for live performance and this can also be managed and monitored thanks to tools such as Wireless Workbench software. Again, the spectrum will be scanned, the clearest frequency identified and these frequencies will be uploaded to the system. This is particularly useful during live events, such as a performance in the student union, as it gives users the ability to see what’s going on in the spectrum and if any interference appears, or battery life is low, to act accordingly.
As there is so much activity across campuses when it comes to wireless technology, spectrum management is crucial and only by working with the university and integrators will the best solution be reached. Often this will involve a combination of technologies, utilizing UHF in the auditorium and DECT in lecture halls, for example.
Benefits of a Wireless System
One major benefit of wireless systems is the ability to remotely monitor devices and proactively identify any potential issues before they impact on a lesson or an event. Whereas in the past AV technicians would have to physically visit each room on campus to check the status of equipment, or react at short notice if a bodypack or other piece of kit was reported as missing, now this can all be done from their desktop. As equipment can sit on the network using software such as SystemOn, inventories can be stored and automatically updated meaning it is possible to confirm that all equipment is in situ and that it is ready to be used.
A key issue in university environments is microphone battery life as no one wants a microphone to fail mid-way through a lecture. However, as devices are being used regularly throughout the day by different users, it is easy to see how they could end up low on charge or being accidentally removed from a room.
In addition to opting for systems that have a long battery life and are easy to charge, this is again where the ability to remotely monitor and manage kit comes into its own. MXW, for example, has a 10 hour plus battery life and is charged simply by placing it into the charging station. As these chargers are networked it is easy to accurately monitor their status to see how much charge is left on each device and if it will last for the duration of a session.
As well as operating on a room-by-room basis, it is also possible to take a campus-wide approach to monitoring. With Wireless Workbench, AV technicians can set up their dashboard to accurately see what is going on at any location across the campus and create alerts to highlight any issues.
So if, for example, a microphone is missing, the alert will highlight which mic it is and where it’s missing from, avoiding any potential delays to classes taking place in that room. It is also possible to carry out a building scan each morning to make users aware of any issues and if any mics need charging. This will have a huge effect on the productivity and efficiency of AV teams, enabling them to manage large amounts of kit from a central location, prioritize their activities and avoid any disruption to workflows.
Wireless systems are undoubtedly helping to transform the higher education experience, allowing voices to be clearly heard and ideas to be shared. To that extent, besides a portfolio of high quality, networked wireless microphone systems, Shure is committed to demystifying the world of wireless and offers many educational sessions to help with this.
Find out more about wireless technology by attending a Shure Audio Institute seminar.