Tackling Challenging AV Environments for Historic Attractions

I attended the Intelligent AV (IAV 17) event hosted by the AV Cultural Forum (AVCF) and the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) AV. Prior to this year, the AVCF had hosted smaller events, but, this July they held the event at a central London location provided by RIBA and were able to include an exhibition space for the first time. The event provided an excellent opportunity to meet and talk to end users and give them a chance to get hands-on experience with a range of technologies, from projectors and mounting solutions to control systems and the latest audio gear, all under the theme of Intelligent AV.

The AVCF audience is made up of AV managers, technicians, and senior technicians, some of whom are looking after incredible historic buildings, from iconic sites to world-renowned museums. As you’d expect, these sites have many unique challenges that you wouldn’t find in corporate buildings when it comes to conference and meeting spaces. These include figuring out how to set up AV equipment in ways that meet the requirements of listed historic buildings, and managing estates spread over vast areas. Finding equipment that is unobtrusive yet effective in challenging spaces – and keeping it working to its full potential – can be a huge task for AV teams. Quite often these organizations will also have budget constraints as well, as many are run by charitable trusts.

That being the case, IAV 17 was a great opportunity to discuss the main concerns when it comes to working with AV/IT in museums and historic settings and consider potential ways in which these challenges can be overcome.

Transitioning to network audio

Again compared to corporations, this sector is still making the transition to networked audio conferencing systems, so this proved to be a key topic of conversation. While many AV managers are keen to move to networks, it can be difficult to install large amounts of cabling in areas where cabling needs to be kept out sight, resulting in more standalone AV systems. Any work on historic buildings must be done in sympathy with the surroundings and this is also true when it comes to the hardware. Ceiling array microphones like Microflex® Advance and other unobtrusive conferencing systems have the advantage of being able to be discreetly installed, which helps maintain the integrity of a historical space. Dante integration means that it will sit seamlessly within an AV/IT infrastructure.

The benefits of networked systems to technicians on the ground was clear to everyone at the conference. In historic sites, conference spaces aren’t necessarily arranged for convenience and can be dispersed across wide and varied areas. Being able to monitor RF, wireless mic battery levels or video remotely from one location is a huge plus when working on these kinds of sites, saving time and increasing efficiency.

Wireless Microphone Technology

Shure's Wireless Workbench Software

I gave a presentation on Shure’s Wireless Workbench system control software. Although the vast majority of my audience used wireless microphones on a daily basis, a show of hands revealed that they didn’t have as much experience using software to monitor the RF spectrum, so it was great to highlight the benefits of Wireless Workbench.

This seminar led to a discussion about the impending 700MhZ spectrum sell off. There is clear concern among much of the AVCF audience. Many have been holding off refreshing their wireless mic stock as they wait for confirmation about government buyback schemes, concerned that they may not have much to spend if these schemes prove to be less generous than hoped. Many also wanted to know which portion of the spectrum is now most suitable for their needs. The good news is that Shure has mic offerings across the spectrum. For instance, if you only want one or two channels, GLX-D Advanced is a license-free wireless system that works over the 2.4GHz WiFi spectrum.  In addition to 2.4GHz, we also offer 1.8GHz systems that the government has allotted for use with wireless microphone systems, and we’re looking into additional solutions.

Clearly, there are still discussions to be had in order to ensure people are aware of their options. However, they know which frequency is most suitable for them, and they are aware of the issues surrounding congestion, which will only get worse following the selloff.

License free DECT

When it comes to alternatives, historic buildings could go down the DECT route, which is often preferred by corporations. Currently, UHF wireless is the preferred option for most as it’s been used reliably for some time, but DECT, which is license-free and requires small receivers only, could be a good option.

Historic buildings clearly have a lot of challenges when it comes to AV/IT and, while they may be at different parts of the AV conversation from corporations, when it comes to issues such as networking and RF there is a clear desire to learn more about the latest technology and incorporate it into the unique spaces in which they work. As DECT technology develops, there is a huge potential for technicians working in historic sites to upgrade to tools that will allow for effective conferences in stunning spaces without damaging the historic appeal of these buildings.

 

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John Ellis

John Ellis

John Ellis is a Regional Sales Manager for the Shure UK Systems Group. When he is not out meeting with London’s top AV integrators and consultants, you will find him demonstrating the finest modern jive dance steps this side of the Thames.

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